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FA prepare to tighten bond with Eriksson

The Football Association will offer Sven-Goran Eriksson an extension to his contract, provided England qualify for Euro 2004. Senior FA officials have already floated the idea with the highly regarded coach, who has agreed to sit down and discuss his future with them in October or November. The principle guiding all parties is one of “let’s qualify, then let’s talk”.

Eriksson’s special relationship with England’s players and supporters was again in evidence during Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Croatia and the FA are keen for the connection to continue.

FA powerbrokers are constantly telling Eriksson how highly he is thought of by them and the public, stressing that he would not receive this level of support at any club.

The governing body of English football know that it would strengthen squad morale further during the build-up to next summer’s European Championship finals if such a respected coach committed himself to England’s cause long-term. An understanding is in place between Eriksson and the FA to meet properly either after the trip to Turkey on October 11 or the home-and-away play-offs on November 15 and 19.

Should England fail to make the summer tournament in Portugal through automatic or play-off route, Eriksson has observed that England will not want him to see out a contract due to expire in July 2006. Such a possibility is played down by his many FA backers, who insist that Eriksson will leave only of his own volition because they would never sack him.

They have pointed out to the small band of Eriksson critics within the FA that obvious alternative managers of the requisite calibre hardly leap into genuine contention. Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager and an esteemed former assistant of Eriksson’s with England, remains the favourite.

One possible scenario is Eriksson informing the FA this winter that he will not continue after Euro 2004 and the FA asking McClaren to work alongside him in Portugal and then take over. Ever since Kevin Keegan suddenly resigned in the Wembley loos, the FA have been mindful about planning long-term with the England manager.

This has led to Mark Palios, the FA’s chief executive, drafting a contingency plan should Eriksson quit to the proposal to offer him a new contract. All eventualities are being covered.

Eriksson’s £3.5 million a year deal runs until the World Cup in Germany in 2006, but there has been relentless speculation that he will bow out the moment England’s interest in Euro 2004 ends. The former Lazio, Sampdoria and Benfica coach is known to miss the day-to-day involvement of club management and has been strongly linked with a move to Chelsea.

Eriksson has told people within the FA that he regrets the photographs of him entering the London home of Roman Abramovich, the new Chelsea owner. His future will be clarified at the FA meeting; he will first be asked exactly what his ambitions are and, assuming England have qualified, the FA will offer him a contract extension, probably to Euro 2008.

Signing such a new deal would not preclude a club swooping for Eriksson, particularly one of Chelsea’s financial clout, but the FA would at least enjoy increased compensation.

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