| Sven: Courting controversy
London, Jan. 15: The Pakistani-origin reporter, Mazher Mahmood, who continues to entertain News of the World readers in his role as the “Fake Sheikh”, has claimed yet another victim with his latest journalistic sting operation.
This time it is the England football coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, 57, who was tricked into flying to Dubai and conned into apparently confessing he could be enticed into leaving his present job even though his contract, worth '3 million a year, has another two years to run.
Eriksson even claimed he could persuade David Beckham to end his contract with the Spanish club Real Madrid ' although this practice known as “tapping up” is illegal ' and return to England to join Aston Villa.
The “rich Arabs” who met Eriksson and his agent and his lawyer in Dubai, put them up at the seven-star Burj Al-Arab Hotel, paid '900 for one lobster and champagne dinner and took them cruising on a luxury 72-ft yacht, Eternity, were none other than reporter Mahmood and a fellow conspirator.
Eriksson was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons last year when his affair with Bangladesh-born Faria Alam, then a secretary at the Football Association, was revealed.
Alam, 39, is currently one of the housemates on Celebrity Big Brother, a reality television show, where she has been insisting she, as a single woman, did “nothing wrong”, either in having an affair with an unmarried man or in selling her story for lots of money.
It seems unlikely that the FA will drop Eriksson months before the World Cup but the Swede has again revealed an uncanny ability to make the tabloid newspapers because of his colourful personal life.
The latest embarrassment for Eriksson represents one more coup for Mahmood who has managed to tap into the British psyche so far as Arabs are concerned.
When those who are vain or greedy are approached by an “Arab”, they immediately smell easy money.
Four years ago, Mahmood (whose picture byline is never used save as a dark shadow) netted a royal victim ' Prince Edward’s wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex ' who then ran a public relations company. She was approached by the proverbial “ rich Arab” ' Mahmood again ' and offered a lucrative contract.
She was caught on camera making numerous unguarded comments about Tony Blair, his wife Cherie and the then Tory leader William Hague. The wife of the Queen’s youngest son went on to describe Camilla Parker Bowles as “number one of the top 10 unpopular people”.
Eriksson was approached last July and asked whether he would be interested in heading up a football academy in Dubai. He said yes, flew to Dubai and talked rather too frankly about his own ambitions, how he could help a consortium buy Aston Villa for '25 million (provided he was given a three-year contract worth '5 million net a year), his ability to get Beckham to come over to the Birmingham club and his own poor opinion of some current players.
Athole Still, Eriksson’s agent, confirmed the coach spoke about possibly managing Aston Villa, but described the article as “disgraceful entrapment”.