It was as if Tony Blair, having been savaged by Paxman on Iraq, suddenly got up and said “Jeremy, you are quite right. I am not up to the job. I quit.” Back in October 2000, Kevin Keegan, after a particularly abject home defeat to Germany, told us what we’d all suspected for some time. He simply wasn’t up to the job and he quit.
It was time for a different approach. Keegan was just too emotional, too enthusiastic, too naïve. We needed the anti-Keegan. Arsene Wenger wasn’t available, so we got Sven-Goran Eriksson instead.
At first, it worked wonders. England qualified for the World Cup. On September 1st, 2001 England trounced the old enemy, Germany, 5-1, in Munich of all places. Motty couldn't believe it, and neither could the rest of us. Sven truely was the Messiah.
Was Sven really going to be the one to end the thirty (going on forty) years of hurt? The evidence began to suggest otherwise. First there were the substitutions straight out of the Graham Taylor coaching manual When we needed a goal, who should Sven send on?Owen bloody Hargreaves, that's who. Thank goodness Carlton Palmer had retired.
Whenever we needed an improved second-half performance, inevitably we got worse instead. Robbie Fowler's autobiography explained why. "At half-time [against Brazil in the World Cup] you could see the faces of our players - they were shell-shocked. But it was still only 1-1 and it was time for the manager to get to work, change the tactics and instil some belief. He said absolutely nothing, just stood there with a startled look on his face. We just rolled over and died. There was no team spirit, no fight, no togetherness. And the manager didn't say a word.”
Of course, none of this would have mattered if we had kept on winning. But we began to lose every time we faced a decent team (Brazil and Portugal). Then we began to lose whoever we faced (Australia and Northern Ireland).
Sven's World Cup squad selection finally sealed it. The whole country echoed as one "You what! You what! You what! You what! You what! You what! With Rooney and Owen half-crocked, how come we've only got 2 other strikers - and why are those two Crouch and Walcott?" Walcott's selection seemed especially bizarre, even to my six year old son. “It was nice of Sven to pick Theo”, he said, “but couldn’t they have tried him out first before they picked him for the World Cup?”. Out of the mouth of babes ..... Ossie Ardiles, who knows a thing or two about winning the World Cup, was even more sceptical. “The fact that Arsene Wenger took everybody to the Champions League final apart from Walcott says a lot. He even took the tea-lady." Of course, we shouldn't be too harsh on Theo. We havent even seen him play for 90 minutes. The trouble is, neither has Sven.
So if Sven isn't the Messiah, who is he? It was when listening to one of his interviews (“In the first half we did OK, in the second half not so good.”) that it hit me. Sven is football’s answer to Chancey Gardener, the Peter Sellers character in the 1979 classic film Being There. Chancey's simple platitudes are mistaken for wisdom, because it's what his recipients want to hear. Sound familiar?
Chancey's simple platitudes are mistaken for wisdom, because it's what his recipients want to hear. Sound familiar?
Chance the Gardener
“All is well...and all will be well...in the match.”
“I like to watch (as long as England aren't playing)”
Who do you think these words describe?
“ His empty-headed pronouncements and generalizations, delivered dead-pan, are taken to be profoundly intelligent, metaphorically deep, and wisely insightful.”“The people he meets almost all see qualities in him that are not there, but instead reflect qualities and needs of their own”
“Though well-dressed and appearing capable of deep thoughts, he is mentally limited”.
“He becomes wealthy and is treated as a famous celebrity in the media”
That's right, they are all about Chance the Gardener.
But this is a column devoted to enhancing personal development, so we don't want to spend all our time knocking Sven (even if that is fun). So, what can we learn from Sven? That you can make 25 million pounds and pull lots of glamorous women even with such limited talent and looks? That Chance (geddit?) may be on your side? Y-e-s, but here in Personal Development Through Philosophy and Psychology we like to go a little bit deeper than that (and if it earns us an entry in Pseud's Corner, so much the better). The closing words of Being There are "“Life is a state of mind” In other words, if you believe that something is true, it may just become true. Turn it round the other way, and it begins to resemble a Sven platitude. If you don't believe that you will achieve something, then you won't attempt it, and you certainly won't achieve it. . Many years ago, I remember expressing very strong doubts that I could ever write a book, something I really wanted to do. Then someone asked me a most insightful question - “Do you really think that writers are such special people?” . The scales descended from my eyes. Writers are just ordinary people - they aren't a special breed. If you really want to achieve something – be it a new career, a relationship or an accomplishment – then don’t assume that everyone who has achieved what you desire are all supermen or superwomen. Sven certainly isn't.
So are England doomed to forty years of hurt? Probably. But then again, maybe not. Being There concludes with the memorable image of Chance walking on water. If Chance can do it, why not Sven?