EVERYWHERE you look at this World Cup, there are teams in crisis, with managers on the verge of meltdown. And amid all this, Sven carries on unperturbed, as Sven always does.
I’m sure that if an asteroid hit the earth, the last words we would hear from Sven before we all turned to ash would be: “Welllllllla, this is very unfortunate.”
(Most British football managers in a similar situation would, of course, say: “You can’t legislate for things like that.”)
Sven’s career has taken an increasingly baffling series of left turns since he led England to the glory of two successive World Cup quarter-finals. (Oh, what the nation would give now…) First Mexico, then Notts County, now the Ivory Coast.
Who knows where next? He doesn’t strike me as being daft enough to go on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (though you can bet he’s been asked), but I wouldn’t rule out an appearance on Countdown.
The adventure with Ivory Coast, which only began in March, will end after the World Cup. For Sven, that end could come as soon as Friday after last night’s defeat against Brazil in Johannesburg. (The outcome of today’s match between Portugal and North Korea will go a long way to telling us more on that front.)
Even so, Sven could still be in the competition for longer than England. That would possibly cause him some amusement, not that he would ever say so publicly.
He’s charming, is Sven. He bears his setbacks with grace and humility. Those characteristics won him back a lot of respect in England during his year in charge of Manchester City under Thaksin Shinawatra’s ownership.
When he completed the press conference for what – it had become clear – would be his final competitive game in charge of City, away at Middlesbrough, the journalists present gave him a round of applause. It’s not the sort of behaviour that journalists commonly exhibit.
Eriksson might have appreciated the irony that his World Cup hopes were damaged last night by one of the players he signed for City.
Elano was brilliant for about three months after Eriksson brought him in from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2007. Then he suffered an injury on international duty with Brazil and found the rigours of the Premier League caught up with him. (Sure, he was inconsistent. On the other hand, he was arguably the most reliable penalty taker City have ever had.)
Now playing his club football in Turkey with Galatasaray, Elano had a mixed night against Eriksson. He scored Brazil’s third after Luis Fabiano had grabbed two, but then had to be helped off after an appalling tackle by Cheike Tiote, one that could easily have broken his leg.
There was a sour element to his match. Luis Fabiano handled the ball in the build-up to his second goal (“It was involuntary,” he claimed. “They got a free goal,” said Eriksson) while team-mate Kaka fell victim to the tournament’s most unjust red card to date.
His collision with Abdelkader Keite was innocuous. That the Ivory Coast man fell to the ground clutching his face when the (minimal) impact had been in his chest was disgraceful.
As the game ended in niggly manner, Sven watched on, betraying little emotion, keeping his head while other international managers are losing theirs. It doesn’t mean he’ll succeed. It just means he won’t spontaneously combust.
On the subject of which, it’s time to assess the mood in the France camp.