Sven-Goran Eriksson talks exclusively to IMPACT’S Tom Allnutt about living in Nottingham, glamorous cars, and all things Notts County Football Club
It’s amazing what you can end up doing as an ex-England football manager. Just three years ago Sven-Goran Eriksson was walking out of Soho Square after England crashed out of the 2006 World Cup on penalties. Nowadays, he finds himself sitting in the stands of Meadow Lane, applauding victories over Bradford City and Macclesfield Town. In July, Notts County Football Club was taken over by a Middle Eastern Consortium, Munto Finance Ltd. Overnight, the League 2 club was thrust to the peaks of football’s rich list and Eriksson was appointed ‘Director of Football’. The Swede however insists that victories these days taste no less sweet. A former manager of Benfica, Lazio, Roma, Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Manchester City – not to mention England and Mexico – makes for a lengthy and impressive CV. But Notts County? I caught up with the former England manager to discuss the challenges that lie ahead.
Sven, you’ve managed in the English Premiership, the Italian Serie A and in two World Cups. What are you doing here at Notts County?
Well… Good question. This is something new for me. The first time they phoned my agent, he asked me, “Would you be interested in Notts County?” I said I didn’t really think so, but he told me that I should meet the representatives for the owners and that they would explain something new to me. So I did it and I got interested. Maybe at my age it’s time to try something else, to do something else. I’ve been on the pitch for more than 30 years and now I’m more behind the desk. So that’s why I’m here – to try to take this club to the Premier League in 5 years. It’s a good project and an extremely big challenge.
Your role is that of ‘Director of Football’, what exactly does that entail?
I give support to the manager. I try to help him to take in the players he wants, the right players to take us out of League 2 as quickly as possible and as quickly as possible means this year. I am also part of building up a new academy and a training ground which will be completely new.
How quickly are these changes going to happen?
Taking in players must happen very quickly. We have only 18 players and that’s not enough. You have to have at least 23 players in a league as tough as League 2 because there are 46 league matches to play as well as 3 cup competitions. One is gone, [Notts County lost 1-0 to Doncaster in the first round of the Carling Cup] so it’s the FA cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
How have you found League 2 football?
The standard of football in League 2 is much better than I thought, much better. It has been a big surprise. I thought it was going to be just about kicking it long, but we have a team that really try to play good football as well.
Can we expect any big names arriving at Meadow Lane?
The owners have said that they will spend money, but not crazy money. I hope so. But it is a little bit unrealistic to think that you can take players from the Premier League because there’s a roof as to how much you can pay in wages in League 2. You can only pay 60% of the club’s total turnover under league regulations, so that makes it very difficult to attract high profile players.
You’ve said that the long-term objective is to get to the Premier League. Is there a time frame that you have been set to do that?
No there is not. The owners are saying 5 or 6 years but if you talk to them privately I think they want to do it quicker. They hope to do it quicker, but whether that’s possible I don’t know. Clubs have done it in the past. It will take a lot of hard work and, of course, it will cost money – you can’t hide that fact. To become a Premier League club today you have to invest a lot of money. In order to go up the football league we will have to build a training ground, build a new academy and buy new players.
Such big ambitions place a lot of pressure upon the manager and the players. How do you think they’ve handled that pressure?
I think they’ve handled it very well so far and I can’t see it being a problem in the future. You know it’s extremely good to have a job where there is a lot of pressure because that means that it’s important. To have a job where the pressure is zero is awful because it means nobody cares. We have to stand up to the pressure, live with it, and enjoy it.
What’s your relationship like with Ian McParland, the manager?
Very good; we talk every day. We have just had a meeting about new players. We talk about football all the time.
If Ian McParland and the players don’t get the right results on the pitch, people will inevitably link you with the manager’s job. Is there any circumstance under which you would take that job?
No. We have never ever discussed that and I have never thought about that. My job over the next 5 years is to be in the background and I am very happy with that. So no, it hasn’t been discussed and it will not be discussed in the future.
Does that mean your career as a coach is coming to an end?
Well you never know. It has come to an end for now at Notts County that’s for sure. My ambition here is to work behind the scenes. If the owners are not happy with performances on the pitch, perhaps I will be the first man to go, you never know in football. But my plan is to be here for the next 5 years and then after that, we’ll see.
Had you heard of Notts County before you were offered the job here?
Yes, I knew it was the oldest football league club in the world. It was a great club in the past and it will be again in the future! It is strange because today I am the Sports Director of Notts County, the oldest league club in the world, and I am also a member of Sheffield Football Club, the oldest football club in the world. Not Sheffield Wednesday, not Sheffield United, Sheffield Football Club. It was not a league club, but it was the first football club. You should check that.
I will! There must be a risk though, with all the money and the hype surrounding Notts County that the club might begin to lose touch with its heritage and its history?
No, I don’t think so. I think it is good for football and for any club if fresh money comes in. The project is not always to just buy in big players and glamorous cars; the project is to build. That means we can take in many more young players from the age of 8 or 9 which at the moment the club struggles to do because we have so few facilities. We are also very keen to have better links with the University for sure. So it is good for the football club and good for the community as well.
Won’t you miss the limelight though, Sven, the glamour of top-level football?
So far I think I have had almost the same amount of attention as when I took the England job! But no, I will not miss the limelight that’s for sure. I have had it for much of my life but I never wanted it. But of course football is very big in England and in Italy and even in Mexico so in all those places it came with the job.
You mentioned the England team. How do you rate England’s chances at next year’s World Cup?
You always need a little bit of luck. They have the players to go all the way. We had it in 2006 as well but we lost on penalties. We had the players though for sure. We all thought we would reach the final in that World Cup and the players now are more or less the same as they were then. So I think they can do it. But in World Cups you need lots of luck; skill and luck.
So if you had to choose one country to win it, who would you choose?
You can never choose one country in a sport like football, but if I had to say one, I would choose Spain. They won the Europeans and they have a very good team. But it is the first time a World Cup is being played in Africa so perhaps we will see a good African team come through. I hope so. Otherwise you have Brazil, Italy, Argentina, England and Germany: the usual names.
You’re living in Nottingham at the moment. Where does Nottingham rank alongside Manchester and Rome where you lived before?
I like the city, I like it very much. I have already been to many restaurants and I think the standard is very good. It is very similar to Manchester I think. Manchester is a bit bigger maybe. To Rome? Well, Rome is… It’s Rome! You can’t compare the two. I like it in Nottingham and I will be happy here for sure.
The first team at Nottingham University has just been promoted to the Premier Division of the University League. Any chance we might see you on the sideline?
(He laughs) Of course! Why not?