The legacy of every England manager tends to hang on a single moment or personality trait that sticks in the popular imagination.
Think Glenn Hoddle and his musings about reincarnation. Or Roy Hodgson taking a boat trip down the River Seine instead of scouting Iceland at Euro 2016.
And take your pick about Graham Taylor from ‘The Impossible Job’, the only TV programme that comes with explicit instructions to watch between your fingers.
It’s a peculiarly human trait to condense periods of time into bitesize chunks. And when it comes to Sven-Goran Eriksson, it’s hard not to think of him as a professional seducer who stumbled into football management by mistake.
That’s not to disparage Eriksson’s achievements – particularly with Lazio during the era where Serie A was the world’s toughest league – but rather to point out that the tabloid depiction of him as some sort of latter-day Don Juan had substance.
We all remember the 5-1 in Munich and beating Argentina in 2002. But, when it comes to Sven, we equally remember Nancy Dell’Olio and Ulrika Jonsson.
With a balding lid and trademark spectacles, Eriksson appeared an unlikely lady killer. But, while the Swede didn’t look like a Ken doll, he more than compensated with his air of sophistication.
This is why it doesn’t take a massive leap of imagination to believe the story in Dietmar Hamann’s book, ‘The Didi Man’, about what Sven said to him while on a post-season tour to Thailand with Manchester City in 2008.
“One morning I was on a sun lounger by the pool when I saw Sven walking towards me carrying a silver tray with a bottle of champagne and two glasses on it,” Hamman wrote.
“It was still only ten o’clock in the morning…Sven came over and put the champagne on the table next to me, then placed one glass in front of me and the other by his lounger.
“I looked up and said, ‘Boss, what are we celebrating?’… He turned to me and smiled that gentle smile of his and took on the air of a Buddhist philosopher as he said, ‘Life, Kaiser.’ Then after pausing for dramatic effect, ‘We are celebrating…life.’”
There are many reasons why this is so funny; the inclusion of ‘Kaiser’ that highlights the inherent ridiculousness of the situation, the c’est la vie attitude of somebody unconcerned with life’s myriad difficulties.
And, as Nick Miller wrote for our friends at Football 365, it’s “also impossible to picture Sven wearing anything other than a silk robe and slippers, airily wandering around the poolside to sip bubbly with his bemused midfielder.”
In short, he was the Swedish James Bond. The man many aspire to be. Somebody with his life priorities in order. Somebody unlikely to be poring over footage of the Andorran Premier League like Pep Guardiola.
• • • •
• • • •
But that wasn’t all he said. Hamman continued: “With a glass of champagne in hand, he stood and looked out towards the horizon.”
“He took a deep breath, then he spoke in that higgledy-piggeldy Swedish accent. ‘You know Kaiser, I like this place. I think I will manage for another five years and come back here and live with two women. Yes. I think I need two beautiful women.'”
It’s here that we reach classic Sven. Cartoon Sven.
“Two women. Two beautiful women.” It’s the line that if you or I delivered, it would be delivered with the smoothness of a rice cake.
But this a man who once wrote of a woman called Malin: “I was not interested in a steady relationship. It happened that I met other women, too.”
In his mouth, those words become chicken soup for the soul.
It’s worth noting that Sven was on the verge of the sack when he delivered the most glorious quote in football history. A promising start at City had given way to mid-table mediocrity and owner Thaksin Shinawatra had resolved to fire the popular Swede.
Support in the dressing room mattered little and an 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2007-08 season, where City players barely lifted a finger in effort, confirmed his departure.
Remembering the tour, Eriksson told us: “No players wanted to go, and neither did I, but I told the players and myself, we have to go. We still are employed by Manchester City and we must be professional.
“Even if you know you’re going to be sacked, you still have to be professional until the end, and then I can say I have done my job and my work. That’s important.
“But it was not good. At that point, everybody knew I would not be the manager the season after, but Thaksin Shinawatra didn’t say anything. I was not sacked at that time. It wasn’t until the last day of the tour that he told me he wanted to change manager.”
In those circumstances, what better than some early morning champagne and dreams of two beautiful women?
Nobody could have handled losing their job quite like Sven.
By Michael Lee