Coaching history not on Eriksson's side

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! SportsSeptember 26, 2008

Sven Goran Eriksson is in familiar mode. This is what he does best.

Three months into his new position as Mexico's national head soccer coach, Eriksson is on a charm offensive and making short work of winning over El Tri's passionate yet initially skeptical fans.

He is saying all the right things about Mexico's lifestyle and culture and is swift to pacify would-be antagonists with a disarming smile and some placatory words.

Innately a people-person, the 60-year-old Swede has used his classy and cultured nature to good effect over the past few decades, whether while talking to the media, potential employers or the latest in the string of beautiful women he has seduced.

Mexico loves him already, and it didn't take much.

A swift command of Spanish, helped in no small part by his prior knowledge of Italian and Portuguese, a few platitudes about his interest in Mayan culture, three wins in CONCACAF qualifying, and it was done.

Yet those with prior knowledge of Eriksson would point out that a flying start is no guarantee of long-standing success.

Eriksson's last two positions, with England and then Manchester City, both saw him idolized by fans early in his tenure.

On each occasion, he departed in less than ideal circumstances, with his reputation tainted.

When Eriksson talks about his ambitions for Mexico, that sound you can hear in the background is the public lapping up his every word.

"When I went to England there were many critics who said I didn't know anything about English football and I should not be coach of England," he said, in defense of initial criticisms of his appointment with Mexico. "It is normal.

"But I don't like Mexico. I love it.

"You have maybe three national teams in the world that bring a lot of fans wherever they go, home or away. Mexico, England and Brazil. You see the power of the fans, there are a lot of similarities in that way.

"There will come harder times I am sure, but I am enjoying it. I couldn't dream of having so many professional football players. They work extremely hard with very good discipline, and it is another beautiful surprise for me.

"I think in the future we will compete with all the best teams in the world."

Mexico's superb fans deserve success, and they believe they have found the man to deliver it.

Victories against Honduras, Canada and Jamaica have been greeted with some general optimism, even though they were routinely expected.

Yet if Eriksson is to lead Mexico's supremely talented batch of youngsters to the fulfilment of their potential, he will need to avoid the pitfalls that have tripped him in the past.

On the surface, his achievement in taking England to three straight quarterfinals – the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 plus Euro 2004 – was a fine one.

Despite the miserable reign of Steve McClaren that followed, however, Eriksson still is not remembered with genuine warmth.

It is felt by many that he wasted England's best crop of players for years and allowed his personal affairs, including alleged liaisons with a television presenter and a member of the FA staff, to overshadow his tenure.

By the end the perception of Eriksson was as slippery rather than smooth: a tabloid newspaper sting involving a fake sheik claimed he was planning his possible exit from the national team job while still in charge.

He parted company with England following a penalty shootout defeat to Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, then waited a year before accepting the manager's position with Manchester City.

The season started brightly, with signings such as Elano and Martin Petrov shining. Ten straight home wins and a pair of victories over local rivals Manchester United prompted great excitement.

But things fell apart quickly.

A late-season collapse and a fallout with owner Thaksin Shinawatra sealed Eriksson's fate, and his final game was a demoralizing 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough.

So, internationally, Eriksson's reputation is truly on the line with Mexico. Yet the problem with CONCACAF is that a lack of high-level opposition in the opening rounds makes it hard to get an accurate gauge of a team's progress.

Eriksson knows that the matches against the United States in the final phase will go some way toward defining his success in the job.

"The United States is a big rival for Mexico in this region," he said. "The games mean a lot to both sets of fans and players. Those games will be a good indication of how we are doing."

Eriksson insists he has not had to make any major differences to his approach with Mexico compared to his prior appointments. But maybe that should set off some alarms.

Part of the problem with Eriksson is that he has a very effective Plan A, one which normally works very well in the early stages.

But once that has been worked out and countered by his rivals, there often is little in the way of a backup plan. New ideas are not his forte.

"Is there one way to train a team in Mexico and another way in England and another way in Italy?" he said. "No, I don't think so. I think you can use the same methods and the same ideas wherever you go."