Anorak News | The Best Laid Plans Of FIFA & Sven

The Best Laid Plans Of FIFA & Sven

by | 20th, June 2006

Sven Goran Eriksson, we are told, is a national hero in Sweden. Indeed, such is the Swedish infatuation and awe for the English game, and so honoured are the Swedes that we have chosen Sven to be our Leader, that many choose to support England against their own country when the two sides meet.

Apart from giving a possible insight into Sweden’s infamous suicide rate, this old chestnut sounds distinctly dubious. It is one of those irresistible self-flattering stories that we love to hear, like the one about every foreign footballer growing up “dreaming of playing at Wembley”.

Well, judging by today’s Sun, one Swede is obviously in the mood for slaying such sacred cows. “OBSCENE,” screams the back page: “Swedish boss lashes ‘greedy Sven.’” The name-caller is Sweden coach Lars Lagerback, who with a name like that should definitely have got the England job. “If I had the same pay, I would be ashamed of myself,” he claims.

The paper points out that Lagerback’s annual £100k salary is the equivalent of Sven’s weekly remuneration by the Football Association. “No one – and I mean no one – is worth that kind of money,” he adds.

We should add that this is not a personal attack on Eriksson, whom the paper describes as “a close pal” of the modestly rewarded Lars. Cheers, Lars.

England fans might take a different view. Many would no doubt be happy to add a dozen noughts to Sven’s salary if he steers the team to a World Cup triumph – or at least gets them playing as if they want to win. The team’s exits from the last two tournaments, when they played as though they were coasting to victory in meaningless group matches, has raised serious doubts as to whether Eriksson is in fact an agent working on behalf of an international conspiracy to eliminate England from international competitions.

The blatant nature of England’s previous failures appears to have unnerved Fifa, which is worried that Eriksson is making the conspiracy too obvious. “FIFA WARN ENGLAND: PLAY TO WIN,” announces the Telegraph. The coded message from the game’s highest body obviously doesn’t mention The Plan. Instead, it refers to the possibility that if Germany finish second in Group A, then England might deliberately not win, in order to avoid playing them in the next round.

If one leaves aside the conspiracy, and pretends that Sven is straining every nerve and sinew to win the tournament, then there are good reasons for wanting to win the group – chief among them being the strong likelihood of avoiding Argentina until the final. But these carefully planned routes to the final are fantasies that rarely come true. The draw rarely pans out the way one expects: unfancied teams can spring shocks and giants can be slain.

As Martin O’Neill argues in the Times, the trick is not to worry about future games, but to concentrate on the here and now. O’Neill is not Mr Anorak’s favourite football man (that honour goes to the fondly remembered Alec Stock – a true gentleman), but he is right about this.

Strangely, his article is placed next to Daniel Finkelstein’s complicated guide to every possible permutation of England’s route to the final. Finkelstein reckons that the best possible outcome for England would be to finish second in Group B, with Germany finishing second in Group A. According to his projection, this would mean a quarter-final against Argentina, whom most people would consider to be the toughest possible opponents on present form. But for some reason Finkelstein reckons this overall route (which would then be expected to serve up Italy or France in the semis and Brazil in the final) would be England’s best chance. He quotes various statistical probabilities, which may or may not be a joke, and appears to be sincere.

As we said before, there is no point in worrying unduly about opponents, and the chances are that you will have to meet the best at some point. Indeed, many of us prefer to play the best teams, because the whole point is to prove yourself the best, not to squeak your way through lucky draw after lucky draw.

But if you must bring it down to probabilities, than the longer you avoid the best team, the more chances there are for someone else to catch them on a bad day and knock them out. And giant-killers are themselves usually culled soon afterwards.

In the meantime, we will be watching closely for signs of positive effort by England’s players, and more importantly, their manager. Anything less than ten goals will be regarded as highly suspicious.

Posted: 20th, June 2006 | In: Back pages Comment | TrackBack | Permalink