Eriksson proves worth as Man City sets pace in Premiership

by Robert Millward

LONDON (AP) Eriksson for England?

His team on top in the Premier League after three shutout victories, Sven-Goran Eriksson can do no wrong in his return to club soccer with Manchester City. If he carries on like this, maybe the former England coach will get his old job back.

Maybe not.

But it’s the usual cry that goes up when a manager of a club soccer team is doing well and there is doubts over the current national team manager.

If anyone else had been in charge of City and had taken the team to the top of the Premier League with victories over West Ham, Derby and — more important — defending champion Manchester United, then there would have been headlines calling for him to take over the England job from Steve McClaren.

But this is Eriksson. England fans had five years of the Swede before he quit a year ago after another disappointing World Cup. They know all about his tactical blunders, bewildering lineups, illogical substitutions and lack of charisma.

This is the Swede who had England’s most talented lineup in four decades and still couldn’t get the team past the quarterfinals of two World Cups and a European Championship.

Now he’s back in club management. In that role, he led three clubs in three countries to domestic league and cup doubles and also won European trophies.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing twist if he led Manchester City to its first league title triumph since 1968, while England is still waiting for its first success since 1966?

Granted, it’s only three games into the new season. But Eriksson’s instant success at City — which hasn’t won any kind of a title since the 1976 League Cup — is something out of a storybook.

Eriksson took over July 6. Although he was handed millions to spend by the club’s new owner, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he had to do it quickly and the Swede bought eight new players.

None of them — two Brazilians, two Bulgarians, a Swiss, a Croat, a Spaniard and an Italian — are English and none had ever played in the Premier League.

That’s why it’s so remarkable that this rebuilt City team leads the standings by two points. It also has a seven-point advantage over neighbor United.

While the euphoria shows no sign of stopping, Eriksson is not letting it get to him.

“We have a long way to go before we are a top team,” he said. “We are here and we are fighting but there are a lot of things for me to work on. There are a lot of players here who have never played in the Premier League. They are not used to the pace and you can see it sometimes.”

But he is enjoying the new atmosphere at City, especially as fans look down the standings at United, which has spent the last 30 or so years gloating over their nine Premier League titles, eight F.A. Cups and a Champions League since City last won a title.

“It’s good for the confidence, especially of the new players,” Eriksson said. “There are so many new things in the club, but we can only be happy with a start like this. From here we have to go on and be as good as we can be.”

Eriksson’s next test comes at Arsenal on Saturday. If City wins there, then that would be really “Svensational.”