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British papers bay for Sven’s blood

London: Muted at first, but then with increasing virulence, a sound to chill the blood is now heard in the land. The English newspaper pack have begun baying for the head of national soccer manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

“The assassins are sharpening their knives again,” commented the Manchester Evening News. “The agenda has been set. Sven is living on borrowed time.”

Tabloid disenchantment with Eriksson surfaced after England’s passionless display in the World Cup quarter finals against Brazil in June.

Embarrassing revelations of an affair with a publicity-hungry TV presenter followed and a 2-2 draw with lowly Macedonia this month provided further fuel for Eriksson’s enemies.

“When the print media turn against an England manager the electronic branch usually follow,” said Glenn Moore, a correspondent for The Independent. “Together they can create an irresistible momentum.”

Graham Taylor, one of Eriksson’s predecessors, suffered more than most at the hands of the national press. His fate was sealed when the mass circulation Sun newspaper caricatured him as a turnip after England’s indifferent performances at the 1992 European championship.

“Never mind about parliament banning fox hunting,” Taylor said. “The League Managers’ Association would present a good case to ban the hunting of football managers.

“I sometimes wonder which is the more bloodcurdling.”

As yet the momentum is hardly irresistible, even in those sections of the Press opposed from the start to the appointment of a foreign manager. But it has been enough to draw a dreaded vote of confidence from the FA, often the death knell for a manager.

“We are hugely supportive of Sven,” said FA director of marketing and communication Paul Barber. “He has done a great job. England have one defeat from 13 competitive matches and that was to Brazil, who became world champions.”

Eriksson’s record is one reason to retain his services. A second is the cost, an estimated £10 million of buying out his contract. A third is the paucity of alternatives. The 54-year-old Swede has also avoided saying anything notably silly without ever offering any particular insights.

Recent England managers have not been so careful, particularly Eriksson’s immediate predecessor Kevin Keegan who offered such pearls as “Football’s always easier when you’ve got the ball” and “We managed to wrong a few rights”.

After Keegan’s repeated emotional outbursts, Eriksson was able to present himself as a latter-day Aristotle with an air of unruffled calm.

England under Keegan had lost 1-0 to Germany, the catalyst for his resignation. Under Eriksson they beat the same opponents 5-1 and the more excitable commentators in the tabloid press talked confidently of lifting the World Cup followed by a peerage for Eriksson.

Rather like Tim Henman at Wimbledon every year, England fell short of those unrealistic expectations and for the first time grumblings about Eriksson’s management style surfaced.

His unemotional demeanour during the 2-1 defeat to Brazil was now called unacceptable passivity. He was also directly blamed for England’s failure to impose themselves on a team playing one short for much of the second half.

A tawdry tale of a brief liaison, related by his compatriot Ulrika Jonsson who has been in the papers seemingly every day since with further “revelations” about her various affairs, hardly helped.

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