A couple of weeks back, someone asked the question: “was Sven Goran Eriksson getting the most from a poor England side, or was he underachieving?” And here is my answer.
Unfortunately, as always, a question isn’t as simple as it first appears, and can really be broken down into a few “sub” questions:
How good was Sven?
Were the players in the England side good?
What is a good performance for the England side?
How much was down to Sven?
The first part is quite easy: Under Sven, England qualified for 3 major championships, with, up until the game against Northern Ireland, an unbeaten record – and only ever losing 5 competitive games, 3 of which in quarter finals, 1 to the eventual world cup winners, and 2 on penalties, and it must also be mentioned that no other European country achieved 3 consecutive quarter finals, and only Brazil did worldwide – Not bad! And to cap it all, England went from ranked 17th in the world, when he took the job, to 4th in the world, before the shock defeat to Portugal in the world cup (slipping 1 place to fifth). He is officially rated as England`s second most successful manager after Sir Alf Ramsay. Overall, he was very successful. And to add to this, we now have what scientists would call a “control”. Since he became Man City manager, we can see how good at managing he is compared to some of “the greats” – and an early victory against Manchester United, and them sitting in a champions league spot, proves he can cut it with the best, so it seems there is little to fault about Sven.
The second question is not much harder: The likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Sol Campbell, Wayne Rooney, and so on are all good players. I could go on for pages listing all the good players Sven had to choose from, so I think that yes, the England squad was good.
Unfortunately, you then have to pick the right players – playing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard is like playing a centre back at full back, and no-one in there right mind would do that would they Steve? Quite simply, the 2 play in identical positions, but other than that, I can find little to fault his team selections. In fact, much has been said about his negative substitutions, but with only 5 defeats in his career as England manger, they can hardly be faulted. But, picking the right players is even more complex than just picking the players in the right positions. The Ashley Cole/Joe Cole combination worked well, and the recent example of the Heskey/Owen combination proved how much a difference it can make. And back to the Frank Lampard/Steven Gerard problem, they just didn’t play together. But once again, we must look at the results, and say that his methods did actually work.
The last two questions however are much harder to answer, as they are a matter of opinion. In fact, before the Sven era, it was not something I personally had much of an opinion about, my earliest memories of supporting England were the France ’98 world cup – but that is for another time. Going into the next world cup, I still did not follow much football, as I spent all my time playing it, and going into Euro ’04, I still didn`t have much of an idea who Wayne Rooney was. But when we got to 2006, I had had enough time to look at our squad, look at the players, see how good they were, and look at other teams players, and asses how good they were. I checked to see who people thought could win, and as far as I could see, it would be a 3 hoarse race, between England, Brazil, and Argentina. My money went strait on Brazil to win. People mentioned Italy, but one look at there side, and I said “no way” – I still do.
Argentina and Germany immediately appeared to be the two best teams playing, and with poor performances from England, Brazil, and Italy, I naively decided England and Brazil would both pick up there form later in the tournament. Neither did, but that didn’t change the fact that in that world cup, I had expected England to reach the quarter finals, and they failed miserably – although so did Brazil, and in fact, so did Argentina and Germany. But that is one defeat, in 1 major championship, that I can say “we should have won” – I didn’t expect the final, so it was a near miss, I’m sure the others were the same. Overall, from what I now know and understand, a semi-final is a good performance, a quarter final is average, and anything less is a disaster. On that basis, which I will leave open to debate, England under Sven did averagely in 1 major championship. Not a disaster really, and compared to the man that took his job, absolutely marvellous.
And the final question “how much was down to Sven?” is interesting to say the least.
He picked the players, he was blamed when England lost – although in my opinion unfairly – and the players got credit when England won. He was accused of making negative substitutions, but they worked, generally. He picked the teams and he set out the tactics. Once again, returning to our “control”, we have another manager, with the same set of players, some better than Sven ever had, and we are on the verge of failing to qualify for Europe, needing a victory against a strong Croatia side, thanks to a last gasp winner for Israel.
In summary, as a manger, Sven converted a team ranked 17th to 4th, he only lost 5 games, he was the second most successful England manager ever, he achieved a feat bettered only by Brazil, he lost his chance for glory by penalties, twice, and following his reign, Steve McClaren has failed to achieve the same standards with a better group of players.
In answer to the question “was Sven Goran Eriksson getting the most from a poor England side, or was he underachieving?” I must answer, that he was getting exactly what England should have expected. Not better, not worse. With the players, we could have done better, but equally, as our current manager is proving, we could have done much, much worse.
Written by pompeycarpet.
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