Sven-Goran Eriksson focus

Another shot at glory

August 4, 2011
By Norman Hubbard
(Archive)

To some, he is an amiable bland charlatan; to others, one of the most distinguished managers of his generation. There are those who will insist that Sven-Goran Eriksson's principal gift is for polarising opinions and plenty who will insist that, instead, his most evident talent is for identifying individuals who either possess or promise large sums of money and that his career is a global dash for cash.

Jose Mourinho, Sven-Goran Eriksson
PA PhotosSven-Goran Eriksson wants to take Leicester into the big time

They may not be dissuaded this season, but Eriksson's amply-funded Leicester City side begin the Championship season as the favourites, along with West Ham, for automatic promotion. As it is 11 years, dating back to Lazio's Serie A and the Coppa Italia triumphs in 2000, since the last concrete, if silver-clad, achievement on his CV, it would be a timely reminder to the doubters of his credentials.

Yet Eriksson did take Leicester from 24th to 10th last season. His famously unflustered demeanour was an asset at the foot of the Championship, and a study of his recent work suggests he has a habit of responding after hitting rock-bottom. For a quietly-spoken character, he has an irrepressibility. The 2006 World Cup indicated he could become toxic property in England, but he rebuilt his reputation at Manchester City and, after the abrupt ending to his adventure at Notts County, where supposedly wealthy owners turned out to be swindlers, he was appointed Ivory Coast manager. Following an underwhelming World Cup, Leicester and another sizeable budget beckoned.

Real Madrid were paid a reported £1 million to play in Saturday's pre-season friendly at the newly-renamed King Power Stadium where Thai tycoon Vichai Raksriaksorn is signing the cheques. Eriksson has long excelled at finding grounds to spend. In place of a defence that conceded more than twice as many goals as QPR, last season's Championship winners, comes a different goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, and an entire new back four.

The full-backs, John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky, may have become associated with own goals and all kinds of defensive disasters at Fulham and Liverpool respectively, but they come with a pedigree. Alongside Sean St Ledger, Matt Mills arrives at a price: the best part of £5 million, an extraordinary sum for a Championship centre-back.

With the exception of the Huddersfield midfielder Lee Peltier, Eriksson has recruited from higher levels or raided rivals - Neil Danns, among Crystal Palace's premier performers, and David Nugent, a prize asset for Portsmouth, were both out of contract. It was no secret both were available, and this has not been an exercise in revealing the scale and breadth of Eriksson's contacts.

Konchesky and Nugent debuted for England during his six-year reign; Emile Heskey, who rejected a move to Leicester, was a regular presence in Eriksson's attack. Midfielders Michael Johnson, who is on loan, and Gelson Fernandes played for him at Eastlands. So did Schmeichel and two other England charges, left-back Michael Ball and striker Darius Vassell.

It could be deemed the tried-and-trusted approach. It has been duplicated by promotion rivals. The Manchester City reunion at Leicester is being mirrored by the Bolton old boys regrouping at West Ham, where Sam Allardyce has signed Kevin Nolan, Abdoulaye Faye, Matt Taylor and Joey O'Brien - Wanderers who have roamed south. Should City win the Championship, the uninformed could be forgiven for wondering if it was Manchester, not Leicester.

Shane Long
PA PhotosShane Long has chosen to move to the Premier League

That Allardyce and Eriksson are following the same blueprint is highlighted by their pursuit of Reading's Shane Long, arguably the Championship's finest striker. The fee, should either see off competition from the Premier League, could be in the region of £8 million. As ever, Eriksson isn't operating on the cheap.

In the final year of his Leicester contract, this is an all-or-nothing season: promotion or bust. Fail and it is easy to see him re-emerging somewhere else, smiling graciously while giving little away. His track record, however, suggests he should succeed if only because, when the well-established preconceptions and sometimes vitriolic views of the Swede are ignored, Eriksson tends to do roughly as well as he should with the players and budget at his disposal.

The two exceptions are his early success in his homeland, when IFK Gothenburg became the first Swedish side to win a European trophy, and taking Benfica to the European Cup final in 1990. Yet, disregarding the unhelpful 'golden generation' tag, England's three successive quarter-final exits were probably a fair reflection of the personnel at his disposal. Lazio won a flurry of trophies in an era of lavish spending but when, without such an advantage at Roma, Fiorentina and Sampdoria, Eriksson generally finished between sixth and eighth: about right, given the players in his sides and the greater resources others benefited from.

As Leicester have displayed more largesse than any other Championship club in the summer transfer market and have assembled arguably the division's outstanding squad, that is auspicious. Eriksson, the deliberately vague enigma, could be back in the Premier League.