Sven lost his magic touch long ago

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Sven-Goran Eriksson's latest managerial misadventure ended in the sort of typically inglorious fashion that has become all too familiar for a man once seen as one of the world's greatest soccer coaches.

On Thursday, Eriksson was fired as Mexico's national team manager after only 10 months in charge, following a dismal run of results that has threatened El Tri's chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. For the Swede, it was yet another backward step in a career that has become increasingly tortured in recent years. And the way in which Eriksson has morphed from being one of the most respected and sought-after head coaches into a laughingstock is remarkable.

Good coaches don't suddenly become bad overnight, so what can possibly have happened to Eriksson? Perhaps it is the simple matter of time and circumstance catching up to him.

The 61-year-old has often found himself in the right place at the right time during his 30 years in the dugout. His stock began to seriously rise toward the end of the 1990s in Italy as he lifted the fortunes of Serie A underachievers Lazio. Eriksson's side won six trophies in three years, highlighted by the league title in 2000.

Those efforts were distinguished and praiseworthy, yet it is often forgotten that owner Sergio Cragnotti lavished hundreds of millions worth of spending on the squad within a four-year period. Even then, Eriksson quit in 2000 after poor results and fan pressure, enabling him to take the England national team job for which he had already been earmarked.

With England, he managed three quarterfinals in major tournaments, a better record than any England boss since 1966. However, he did have arguably the finest collection of English talent for several generations to work with, and when he ultimately was fired in 2006 the perception was one of underachievement.

After sitting tight for a year, while collecting payoff money from the English FA, Eriksson took over at Manchester City in July 2007. Like with England, he made a fantastic start, leading City to a memorable derby win over local rivals Manchester United on the way to an early second-place spot in the English Premier League standings. Once again, though, things fell apart, and by the time City lost the last game of the 2007-08 season, 8-1 at Middlesbrough, then-owner Thaksin Shinawatra had already decided Eriksson should be ousted.

Looking to rebuild his career, Eriksson decided to try his hand again on the international scene and took over the Mexico job immediately. This time, there were not even any positive early signs to buy him some time. Mexico's gifted but often unruly crop of youngsters failed to respond to his approach and Eriksson never gained the approval of his players or the Mexican nation.

Scraping through the third round of CONCACAF qualifying was never going to appease the critics or the public, and a defeat to the United States in Columbus at the start of the Hexagonal stage put him on the brink. Losing in Honduras last week tipped him over the edge.

"We just couldn't take any chances with World Cup qualification," Mexican federation president Justino Compean said.

Rightly so. CONCACAF is far from being the strongest of regions, but with the United States likely to run clear at the top, there will be fierce competition between Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras for the two remaining automatic spots for South Africa. No team can afford to be seen as a soft touch, and Mexico was on the way to becoming exactly that.

So is this the end for Eriksson in top level management? Not so fast.

Just hours after his axing, links with Portsmouth in the EPL began to surface. However badly Eriksson does, it seems, there is never any shortage of those who believe in him. Every time he has found himself out of work, there have been offers aplenty from those unable to see that this is a coach who no longer seems to have the magic touch.

This time it will be easy for desperate clubs to dismiss the results of international matches in a distant continent. Club chairmen often see merely what they want to and will disregard the conclusion that Mexico got out before it was too late to admit the truth.

That time has run out on Sven-Goran Eriksson.

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