England’s so-called “golden generation” never scaled the heights that were expected of them. Quarter-finals were as good as it got. They had such supreme talent at their disposal that the last-eight was never going to be enough. When you have the creativity and goals of Frank Lampard, the blood-and-thunder of Steven Gerrard, the raw unthinking brilliance of Wayne Rooney, the dynamism of Michael Owen, the solidity of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, the dexterity of Ashley Cole and the virtuosity of Paul Scholes, it is only natural that your sights be set very, very high indeed.
The man in charge of stewarding them through the choppy waters of international football was a certain Sven-Göran Eriksson. He became something of a cult figure in England, partly because of the occasionally brilliant football his team produced and partly because of his well-publicised dealings in his “private” life.
This is the story of a player, a manager, a playboy and journeyman maverick.
Sven came from a humble beginning, his father working as a bus conductor and his mother in a sewing factory. He had a sharp mind from an early age and was a reasonable athlete.
He began his career as a player in 1964, emerging as a youth product from the Torsby IF academy. He would later establish himself as a right-back, but played in a more advanced position in his early days, scoring 23 goals in 109 games for the lower-league outfit. He stayed there for a total of seven years before switching to SK Sifhälla where he remained for a solitary season before once again moving on.
His destination was KB Karlskoga FF where he would spend one more season before hanging up his boots and embarking on his true calling, the coaching side of the game.
Management – Early Steps
In a reversal of the state of affairs in later years when the manager would be his assistant with England, Sven was invited to become semi-legendary Swedish manager Tord Grip’s assistant at Degerfors IF. It was a relatively short-lived partnership in this first instance as Grip left to become manager of the Sweden national team.
Twice in two years, Sven led his side to the 3rd division play-offs, winning on the second occasion and gaining promotion. His stock was on the rise, but it was still a surprise when he was appointed manager of first division IFK Göteborg in 1979. It was with the club that he announced himself to the world as one of the game’s most promising young managers.
They finished as runners-up in the league before winning the Svenska Cupen, the country’s premier cup competition. But better was still to come. In the 1981-82 campaign, Sven led the side to the greatest campaign in their history, winning a historic treble of league, cup and UEFA Cup. It was the first time a Swedish club had won a European trophy.
A move abroad was inevitable.
Adventures on the Continent
Sven moved to Portuguese giants Benfica in 1982 and, in his first stint with the club, would win three trophies in two years. His two triumphs in the league and one in the cup earnt him even more recognition. At the end of the season, Sven nearly won a second UEFA Cup title, beating the likes of Real Betis and Roma on the way to the final. Sadly, Benfica were denied by Anderlecht over two legs in the Brussels showdown, but Eriksson’s reputation soared nonetheless.
Roma were clearly impressed with what they had seen in the European competition. They appointed Eriksson in the summer of 1984. He did not have the same blistering start to life at the club as he had done with his first two employers but still managed to get his hands on even more silverware. Roma won the Coppa Italia, beating Sampdoria 4-1 over two legs in the final.
Eriksson left Roma after three seasons but would remain in sunny Italy. He joined Fiorentina just a month after departing Stadio Olimpico. Florence, it transpired, would be one of the unhappiest destinations of Sven’s early career.
He departed after two seasons, finishing 8th and 7th in successive seasons – not a shameful outcome of events by any means, but a far cry from the trophy-laden paradigm that was the first decade of his career.
He would return to Benfica the following season where he would stay for three seasons, winning two trophies and taking his tally with the Portuguese club to five. But his second spell with the club was very much a case of “what if?”
They finished as runners-up in the league in a season in which their only silverware was the Super Cup. But Eriksson offset his doubters by reaching the final of the Champions League, or the European Cup as it was then known. Benfica flew past Icelandic side Fram in the first knockout round before putting Budapest Honved to the sword by a 9-0 scoreline over two legs.
In the quarter-final, Eriksson’s side won 4-0 against Soviet opposition, Dnipro. It meant that they had reached the semi-finals of the world’s most prestigious cup competition without conceding a goal. It was an achievement which stood as a testament to the defensive competency that the Swede has made his hallmark. Their record was sullied by Marseille in the first leg of the semi-final as the French side beat Benfica 2-1 at Stade Vélodrome. In front of their own fans, however, Benfica managed to turn things around, earning a 1-0 win which secured passage to the final in Vienna.
Their opposition there would be a generation AC Milan side. It featured the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten. If Sven wanted to breach the Milan defence, he would have to find a way around three of the greatest defenders to have ever graced a football pitch, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta.
In the end, the task was too much. AC Milan triumphed 1-0 and won their second European Cup in as many years. But, after a disappointing couple of years in Italy, Sven’s career trajectory was looking up once more. The following campaign, Benfica finished as league champions under his stewardship. That would be his last trophy with the club in his second spell; he left for an attractive Sampdoria side in 1992.
Back to Italy
When Sven joined Sampdoria in 1992, Italian football was going through something of a purple patch. Lucrative TV deals and the success of Italian sides in Europe had combined to create a luxurious league, full of superstar talent and glamour.
And Sampdoria was undeniably one of the most glamorous of the lot. Just two seasons before Sven’s arrival in Genoa, Samp had won Serie A under the supervision of Vujadin Boškov. The following campaign, they slid all the way down to 7th in the league but very nearly won the greatest honour in the club’s history when they made the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. They were only denied in extra-time by a now-iconic Ronald Koeman free-kick.
Still, things were looking positive for them. They lost star striker Gianluca Vialli to Juventus, but they still had a lot of talent in their ranks with players like Roberto Mancini. Under Sven, they became a tighter unit but did not progress a great deal in his first season. Again, they finished 7th in the final league standings and didn’t do anything of note in the cup competitions.
The following year, Sven lifted Samp four places to a very creditable 3rd place. In addition, they won that year’s Coppa Italia. They beat Ancona in the final, drawing the first-leg at home 0-0 before producing a stunning 6-1 victory in the decisive match. It was the 11th trophy of Sven’s managerial career.
That, it turned out, would be the high point of his Sampdoria career. They slipped to 8th the following campaign, a position they would maintain the following season. After one more season with the club, in which they finished 6th and qualified for the UEFA Cup, Sven was on the move again.
Lazio – The Golden Years
The following season was a sliding doors moment for Sven. Lazio had finished 4th the previous campaign and the role was an attractive looking post for the Swede who by now had established himself as a manager who could win trophies with almost any club he joined.
In his first season with the Rome club, it might have seemed to the uninitiated that they had gone backwards as they fell from 4th to 7th in the league. In the cup competitions, however, they excelled. They reached the final of both the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup, winning the former.
They edged out Juventus, Napoli and city rivals Roma before reaching the final against AC Milan. It could hardly have been a tougher run, but they passed the test with flying colours. In the home leg, Sven’s side lost 1-0 thanks to a last-minute George Weah goal before turning it around with a 3-1 victory at Stadio Olimpico.
In the UEFA Cup, Lazio enjoyed a relatively straightforward pathway to the quarter-finals where they would beat a good Auxerre side on aggregate. In the semis, they squeezed past Atletico Madrid in a tie which perfectly exemplified Sven’s best defensive qualities as a manager.
In the final, it wasn’t to be. It was an all-Italian affair against a fantastic Inter Milan side featuring the likes of Kanu, Ronaldo, Youri Djorkaeff, Diego Simeone and Javier Zanetti. Lazio had too built an excellent team, but on the day Pavel Nedved and company were no match for Inter. They lost 3-0, with Ronaldo putting in a performance for the ages.
It might have seemed like the only way was down for Lazio and Sven, but again the best was yet to come. They won the Super Cup the following year and added even more silverware when they won the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup, beating Mallorca 2-1 in the final at Villa Park. Their cup form was no flash in the pan either; they further proved their credentials when they pushed Juventus all the way for the title, finishing behind them by one point. A 1-1 draw with Sven’s old club Fiorentina on the penultimate day of the season ultimately cost them.
The following campaign, Eriksson again upped the standard, this time winning the UEFA Super Cup, the Coppa Italia and – most significantly Serie A for the first time in his career. This time, it was Lazio who finished one point ahead of Juventus. This was Sven’s finest hour.
The following season proved to be something of a disappointment, Lazio sliding to 3rd and without silverware other than the Super Cup, but Sven was still propelled by his previous successes into a job which would come to define his career.
It was the end of the relationship between Sven and Italy. Sweden and Italy have always had close footballing ties going back to the days of the Gre-No-Li at AC Milan, and Sven’s adventures in the country have only served to deepen them.
In January 2001, Sven Sven-Göran Eriksson was appointed England manager. He was the first foreign coach in the history of the national team. There were doubts in some quarters who firmly believed that a national team manager should always be from the country itself.
His doubters were made to eat their words almost immediately. He took over following the resignation of Kevin Keegan who had left the national team in a precarious position in their bid to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Under his supervision, England managed to turn things around before they were set to face Germany in Munich. That game has gone down in England folklore and, in terms of individual matches, is probably the high-point of Eriksson’s managerial career
They won 5-1 with Michael Owen scoring a famous hat-trick. All of a sudden, Sven was a national treasure. England later qualified for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea where Eriksson would oversee the first of three major tournaments with England.
It was, it is fair to say, a mixed tournament. As luck would have it, England’s first game in the group stages was against none other than Sven’s homeland, Sweden. They drew 1-1 and were made to rue missed chances. Their best result of the tournament came in the next match when they beat rivals Argentina thanks to a goal on the stroke of half-time from captain David Beckham. They rounded off the group stages with an unimpressive scoreless draw with Nigeria. They progressed onto the next round but, as they had not topped their group, knew there would be a stern test ahead.
England whooshed past Denmark, Sven’s side subjecting his Scandinavian cousins to a 3-0 mauling. Up next was Brazil, the eventual champions. The Three Lions took the lead in the first half, but Rivaldo equalised in added time before the break. Then Ronaldinho embarrassed David Seamen with an audacious chipped free-kick. England were heading home.
They topped their qualifying group for Euro 2004 without losing a match, and things looked like they were continuing to be well up until the 91st minute of their opening match of the tournament in Lisbon. Their opponents were France, and England led 1-0. But two devastating Zinedine Zidane gut-punches completely changed the picture. England turned things around, beating Switzerland 3-0 in a match that introduced a young Wayne Rooney to the international scene before beating Croatia in a fantastic 4-2 thriller. They qualified for the knockout rounds, but again they were going through as runners-up.
In their only knockout match, they lost on penalties to Portugal in a match which is best remembered in England for a disallowed Sol Campbell goal which would have seen them through. Sven faced criticism from the English press for his team selection, opting to play Paul Scholes on the left-wing as well as some other unusual choices.
The World Cup in 2006 would prove to be Sven’s last as England manager. They did this time go through as group winners but were far from impressive in doing so. They overcame Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago before again drawing with Sweden. In the knockouts, they put out Ecuador before losing to Portugal on penalties once more.
The tournament is remembered as much for goings-on off the pitch as it was for events on it. The infamy of England’s WAGs’ activities in Baden Baden has been well-documented and led many to criticise Eriksson for what was perceived to be a lack of discipline.
It was this that brought about his downfall.
Since leaving the England post, Sven has been unable to recapture his former glories. He almost immediately joined Manchester City – a Manchester City which were yet to be taken over by their current mega-rich owners – and held his post for a year before moving on. His only full season with City saw them reach 9th in the Premier League table, but they were a largely unimpressive outfit. The suggestion was that Eriksson’s football was beginning to look dated.
He had two further spells as an international manager with Mexico and then a supremely talented Ivory Coast side, but he was unable to make his mark with either.
His next destination was Leicester City in the Championship. He saved them from a relegation upon taking over, leading them to mid-table comfort. The following season they were aiming for a play-off place but didn’t make it, finishing 9th.
That was the man’s last meaningful role in football. He has since worked for several clubs in China and the Philippines. However, it seems likely that this is the end of Eriksson’s career in football.
Sven-Göran Eriksson Career Honours
Division Three Västra Svealand: 1978
Svenska Cupen: 1978–79, 1981–82
UEFA Cup: 1981–82
Primeira Divisão: 1982–83, 1983–84, 1990–91
Taça de Portugal: 1982–83
Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira: 1989
European Cup runner-up: 1989–90
UEFA Cup runner-up: 1982–83
Coppa Italia: 1985–86
Coppa Italia: 1993–94
Serie A: 1999–2000
Coppa Italia: 1997–98, 1999–2000
Supercoppa Italiana: 1998, 2000
UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup: 1998–99
UEFA Super Cup: 1999
UEFA Cup runner-up: 1997–98