Megabucks Sven is just a greedy fool

By Martin Samuel, December 17, 2009
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Back in the eighties when Victoria Wood had her own sketch show, a regular feature was the spoof documentary, pre-dating programmes such as The Office by almost two decades. Many featured the actor Duncan Preston as presenter and reporter, Corrin Huntley.

In one, Today In Hospital, he investigated the workings of an NHS unit. A disgruntled nurse changed beds as he conducted his interview. Huntley asked what inspired her to take up nursing, and she cited the seventies hospital soap opera Angels. “And what appealed to you about that?”

“The hours, really.”

“The hours?”

“Yeah, 30 minutes, twice a week. It seemed too good to be true.” (Long pause, carries on bed changing.) “Which it was.”

One could imagine a similar exchange taking place between a reporter and Sven Goran Eriksson these days. Like half-hour nursing shifts, the Notts County project was also something that seemed too good to be true, and clearly was.

Eriksson, though, is always on the lookout for an Arab with money to burn and while many of the ones he has found so far turned out to be undercover News of the World reporters, he remains undeterred.

His recent motivations were always suspect for this reason and few tears should be shed for him now. Notts County is a shambles, the mysterious backers have fled and the manager, Hans Backe, an Eriksson appointment, has quit, disenchanted.

There is talk of legal action and broken promises, and a frantic search for new investment. After various cynical commentaries on Eriksson’s involvement earlier in the season, his representative, Athole Still, took to explaining at length that this was a genuine venture, awash with big money and big plans and Eriksson would not have been interested otherwise. He had turned down major job offers to take this one, Still said.

If that statement is true, this must be the worst career move since Ritchie Valens won the coin toss for the last seat on Buddy Holly’s plane.

There was always something dubious about the Notts County plan because major foreign investors do not plough money into fourth tier businesses. Whenever a club is propelled through the divisions by investment a local man is invariably the driving force: think Jack Walker at Blackburn Rovers or Dave Whelan at Wigan Athletic. Foreign money does not start at the bottom and work its way up. Anyway, Notts County were not the most appealing project in Nottingham, let alone across all of English football. It is Forest that have traditionally been the bigger draw, Forest that has the grand history in Europe, Forest that has the bigger ground, Forest that is nearer the top division.

It would appear Eriksson has not learned from his experience with the infamous fake sheikh. Tabloid stings work on the foolish or the greedy, and Eriksson was certainly that when he was taken in by a reporter in fancy dress who claimed to be interested in buying Aston Villa. Yet three years on, he sat around a table and heard how Notts County were going to be turned into a Premier League force, and was equally convinced.

And to think English football once saw this man as gnomic and wise. It turns out there is no fool like a greedy old fool.

    Last updated: 4:57pm, December 17 2009