LONDON — The campaign to get rid of England head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is in overdrive following the inept, as bad as it gets 1-0 defeat in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. The English media has never been Eriksson’s greatest ally, even when the national team was winning, so the first loss at Windsor Park since 1927 has seen the vitriol flowing over the past few days.
And once the hack pack get their teeth into someone they don’t let go. Even if England wins the World Cup, credit will be given to the players rather than the coach. The media don’t do backing down.
Eriksson has been criticized for just about everything except having bad breath. Passionless. Unable to motivate. Tactically inept as a coach. A man who has some of the best England players for a generation has turned them into a laughing stock, though the team that was beaten by representatives of Luton, Plymouth, Motherwell and Peterborough in Belfast should also have a very critical finger pointed at them.
The problem with the Eriksson-must-go campaign is that it would cost the Football Association more than £10 million to comply with the Swede’s critics as his £5 million a year contract runs until 2008. Also, there is no realistic, available candidate, but never let such matters get in the way of a good booting.
And rarely has the metaphorical boot been put in as it has over the past two days. Eriksson, who maintained he would not resign (and give up £10 million of compensation . . . ?), and the players deserve every ounce of vitriol spat in their direction. While football would be boring if Goliath always beat David, Northern Ireland is ranked 116th in the world, below giants such as Rwanda, Gabon and Turkmenistan who are harder to pronounce than beat.
England’s side contained players costing £130 million in the transfer market, the Irish a humble £4 million. Eriksson, the £5 million man, was outcoached by Lawrie Sanchez who earns £250,000. It is only right that serious questions were asked, even if it was the first defeat in 22 qualifying games under Eriksson. On the other hand, it was arguably the most embarrassing competitive defeat for 50 years — 24 hours after the head coach claimed England would be a match for Brazil.
Qualification still rests in England’s hands but it will have to play much, much better than it did in Belfast to secure home wins over Austria and Poland.
Tactically, England was a mess in Northern Ireland. David Beckham, for whom the 4-5-1 system gives the platform to show off his skills, threaded the ball at will with passes of up to 60 meters. It looked superb but he never really hurt the Irish, with some claiming that by indulging Beckham, Eriksson has created a huge negative, bypassing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard who once more were largely anonymous.
Even so, Eriksson still has the backing of the players because he has never sought confrontation with them, supporting the squad through every controversy which is either professional genuine loyalty or agenda-led loyalty, depending on your stance.
IMAGINE BEING CHARGED with an offense where there are, in effect, no witnesses and no evidence. Even worse, you are found guilty and the charge in question was racism, leaving a slur against you even though you have a zero-tolerance policy toward it. Millwall, whose fans’ excesses in the past have left a stain on the club, is rightly angry at the way it has been treated by the Football Association, which should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute for wasting good money by leveling a trumped-up charge against the Londoners.
It was an absolute, total, complete and utter waste of money for both parties who are probably £50,000 each worse off and the culprits are the F.A.’s compliance department, which brought the charge in the first place.
Earlier this week Millwall, as it was always going to, won its appeal after a disciplinary commission amazingly found it initially guilty and fined it £25,000 for failing to ensure that its spectators “refrained from racist and/or abusive behavior.”
It is difficult to understand how Millwall was, (a) charged in the first place and, (b) found guilty. Of course, there are no explanations from the F.A. and unlike in a court of law, Millwall, which is already £3 million in debt, was not awarded costs.
In the 76th minute of the game at the Den, Millwall’s Marvin Elliott and Djimi Traore of Liverpool, who are both black, squared up to each other, though no yellow cards were shown. Referee Alan Wiley, the nearest assistant referee, police officers and stewards heard no racist chanting while the media, never slow to take a dig at Millwall, reported nothing. Traore made no complaint. Nobody on the night saw or heard anything wrong. For all intents and purposes, nothing happened.
A few days later some e-mails arrived at F.A. headquarters from Liverpool fans — one subsequently admitted he had made his account up entirely — alleging racist chanting during the tie, though there was no proof the senders were at the game.
The F.A. asked Sky Sports, which was covering the game, for the match video, which was inconclusive. The soundtrack around the 76th minute was then digitally enhanced and there was a belief that there was “non-sequential booing” from apparently one person for a few seconds.
Millwall was subsequently charged, and there can be few other instances when the match officials, stewards, police, spectators and players offered no evidence yet charges were still made. The F.A. decided to push ahead with a charge that had no substance and was based on spurious e-mails plus some sounds from a digitally enhanced video that were taken as monkey noises.
How the disciplinary commission ever found Millwall guilty in the first place beggars belief but as ever, no reasons or explanations are given. The appeal panel was swift in deciding Millwall should be cleared of all charges, leaving the club innocent but £50,000 worse off.
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