Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The English Firestorm
By Imtiaz Mussa

Keep it here at Sportszilla as in the coming months, we will get you prepared for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The first match takes place on June 9th.

When I returned from the Cheap Seats tonight, I went on to BBC Sport expecting to read about Monday Night Football between West Ham and Fulham. But the front page had something entirely different. It was no shock that there was a great deal of controversy surrounding England manager Sven Goran Eriksson ever since he was named England’s manager. And it seems that the recent turn of events have done him in as it has been announced that he will be leaving the team after the 2006 World Cup.

In order to fully understand what happened I feel like I have to discuss the nature of the British media. I had the best four months of my life living in England in 2004 and when I wanted some comedy, I used to just turn to the newspaper. Aside from the Times and Guardian, most of England’s newspapers are a joke. Most of them are not much better than the New York Post. So it should be no surprise to hear that The Sun is part of Newscorp which is also behind FOX and the New York Post. Comparatively speaking, the English media is like vultures that will go for just about anything and will do anything to really stir things up.

Let’s get right to the spark that set the fire. News of the World utilized an undercover reporter to pose as a rich Arab. He had invited Eriksson and his agent to Dubai to discuss with him the possibility of Sven accepting a coaching role at a football academy. Instead, Sven recommended that the man buy Premiership team Aston Villa and that Sven would be willing to move from London to Birmingham to run the show. First English manager to be infuriated: current Villa boss David O’Leary. But O’Leary should have seen this coming. Eriksson who is on contract with the English FA until 2008 was reportedly looking for a way out so that he could manage Villa for £5 million a year. What caused the biggest controversy was what he said after. Erksson said that if he were manager of a club like Villa, he would not want to have anything to do with transfers because there is so much corruption. There were three managers/clubs that he implied that are guilty of scandals. Now in order to guess what clubs these may be, I’m going to refer to my roommate Damon who studied in London with me and is a hardcore Arsenal fan.

CLUB ONE is a struggling Premiership outfit whose manager Eriksson labelled "the worst" at taking backhanders.
Sven also mentioned that he has known the man for 20 years.

Imtiaz: The 20 year relationship is the big clue to all of this. There aren’t too many managers who have been associated with the game that long. The other question to answer is what is meant by struggling. Manchester United is struggling by their own standards having crashed out of Europe. Coming in second in the Premiership is not much of a consolation considering how big the gap between first and second is. So Sir Alex Ferguson is one of my guess but the other one is Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. You can’t help but feel a little suspicious of how he left Portsmouth last year to take over major rivals Southampton only to come back to Portsmouth this season. Pompey is in 19th and Redknapp has been around long enough.

CLUB TWO is one of the country's most famous names whose boss Still accused of being involved in a big transfer "scam"
Damon: Without doubt, this is one is Arsene Wenger over at Arsenal. The man is infamous for stealing other teams’ best youth players and one time, pretty much got caught for it. Mathieu Flamini is a young French midfielder who played for Marseille. He signed for Arsenal on July 23, 2004. He rejected a long-term senior contract with Marseille, after verbally agreeing to sign it, team coach Jose Anigo expressing, "This is a beautiful treason. He used me." On January 13, 2005 the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Flamini's transfer to Arsenal, which had been sanctioned by FIFA, was illegal. This decision could force Arsenal to pay Marseille further compensation for the player, having already paid around £300 thousand, or even force Flamini to return to the French club. However, because the Court of Arbitration for Sport has no direct jurisdiction over English football, and FIFA sanctioned the transfer, it is highly unlikely that Arsenal will be forced to pay more compensation for the player or that Flamini will be forced to leave Arsenal. Nevertheless, it is still a transfer scandal that has made Wenger infamous for his practices.

CLUB THREE is another leading side which allegedly paid over the odds for players in "illegal deals".
Both of us: This has got to be Chelsea. There is no way that a team that has as much money as they do is not involved in some sort of scandal. Especially when Sven mentions overpaying, you have to think about all the money that has been thrown since Roman Abramovich has taken over. And of course, Chelsea is leading the Premiership and will not be caught.

Now Sven has been no angel. He seemingly has found himself in Clinton-esque scandals since becoming England manager. But the English can’t help but feel satisfied with the job he did. Sure only one team can win the World Cup but had it not been for a fluky Ronaldinho free kick that sailed over David Seaman in the quarters in 2002, who knows what would have happened. Remember, England had already had one huge success in the tournament by surviving the Group of Death and defeating Falkland nemesis Argentina 1-0 thanks to a David Beckham penalty. And that brings me to Sven’s other great accomplishment; David Beckham. There is no doubt that Becks is a fantastic player but Sven turned him from the man-child that got sent off against Argentina in 1998 and made him captain of England, a role that may be just as difficult as being the country’s prime minister. Beckham has had his moments (missing key penalties) but has grown to be very fond of Eriksson. It would not be crazy to think that if Real Madrid chooses to wait until the summer when Eriksson will be officially free and make him their new manager.

Now while I said that the News of the World expose was the spark that set the fire, I believed that it was time for Sven to go. There is only so much scrutiny that one can take in England and while Sven has done well, you knew that this latest incident put it over the top. He started out on a level lower than that of any England manager who preceded him because he was the first one who was not English. Eriksson had to earn the nation’s respect and did so with the 2002 run. But generally, international managers don’t’ last for more than one World Cup. All of the other major countries have made managerial changes since 2002. The United States is the exception because not only did they love what Bruce Arena did in 2002 but they feel that it is in the best interest of the players to keep as much consistency as possible. Plus, Arena is not exactly in a position to move on to another job unless he wishes to go back to the MLS or take another job with the US Soccer Federation.

Now what does this mean for England? As far as the World Cup, not much. These players have played long enough under Sven to know their roles. But who will be the next manager? Here are the favorites:
Ottmar Hitzfeld: The former Bayern Munich boss is looking to get back into the game and as far credentials go, is the best candidate out there. But would the English FA be willing to go with another foreigner?

Sam Allerdyce: Big Sam deserves a lot of credit for what he has done with Bolton Wanderers. He took them from being in the Championship to a UEFA contender in the Premiership. The only way he takes the job is if he feels like he has done everything he could have with Bolton and is ready to move on to a bigger challenge.

Martin O’Neill: The former Celtic manager left the club at the end of the 2004/2005 season to take care of his wife who was suffering from lymphoma. Prior to his run at Celtic, he managed Leicester City, winning promotion and finishing in the top ten for four years. He has been a popular choice to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s heir at Manchester United but can he really wait?

Speaking of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, Fergie was supposed to retire after the 2001/2002 season but decided to hold off. The rumor was that Sven Goran Eriksson was going to be offered the job within days of Ferguson’s departure.

Steve McClaren: He was Sven’s number two and long rumored to be the heir apparent. He has had a strong run with Middlesborough but the club is struggling this season. So what better time to jump ship than now? Plus having been around the team, he knows the core personnel and is very familiar with the system. He is the favorite and my pick.

Sven Goran Eriksson has done a good job as England manager and will not be out on the market very long. His legacy in England is the growth, development, and maturation of David Beckham, a player who has become a leader right before our eyes. Oh and Sven looks like Mr. Burns.

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