Like many celebrities these days, Sven Goran Eriksson has come to be known by his first name alone. Eriksson has one other thing in common with many others at the bottom end of that particular part of the food chain, as well – he has become rather better known in recent times for proclivities that have little to do with his day job than for for what he is actually paid to do. The news this evening of his sacking from the managerial position at Leicester City, however, remains a surprise. Leicester’s form has been patchy so far this season and a lot of money has been put into building a side that is capable of getting promoted into the Premier League. At the time of writing, however, his team sits in a comfortable position in the middle of the Championship and is just five points behind second-placed Middlesbrough.
Eriksson was appointed into this position in October of 2010. Leicester had endured a short stay in League One during the 2008/09 season before returning as the champions of that division, and the following season managed a place in the play-offs in the Championship. The departure of manager Nigel Pearson during the summer of 2010 saw Paulo Sousa take over in the manager’s seat, but he lasted just three months in the job before getting sacked at the start of October last year, with Leicester at the bottom of the Premier League. Eriksson lifted the team to tenth place in the table by the end of the season, but results this season have again been patchy, although the statistics for this season so far can be read in two different ways – on the one hand, Eriksson only won five of this thirteen matches in charge this season but, on the other, he only lost four.
The question that many Leicester supporters will be asking themselves this season is what they should be making of comments from the BBC’s Pat Murphy this season, that “They [the owners of the club] feel he lacks practical experience at this level, despite his eminence at international level.” If this was a serious concern for the club, then why was he allowed to start this season in charge at The King Power Stadium? Any new manager coming into the club now is going to be broadly stuck with the squad that Sven built until the January transfer window and, whereas an incoming new manager might have had the opportunity to stamp his authority upon it before a ball could be kicked at the start of the season, he will now have to do this with just a couple of matches to spare, and quite possibly with a caretaker having tinkered with it in the meantime.
It is likely that the money given to Eriksson to spend on players will turn out to be a significant part of the reason for his dismissal, and the more money is spent on players at a club, the higher expectations rise. The Championship, however, has become an enormously difficult division to predict at any time. This season’s pre-season favourites have failed to fully stamp their authority on the division, and the table is currently led by Southampton, newly-promoted from League One at the end of last season, and Middlesbrough, who have had a couple of torpid seasons since their relegation from the Premier League and who weren’t widely anticipated to challenge at the very top of the table this season.
It has been reported that £20m has been put into the team at Leicester, but with a number of competitive clubs and a forty-six match season which allows room for both mistakes and for those that have stumbled to make up ground, it seems difficult to argue that this decision, with all the upheaval that it may bring to the club, may prove to be a premature one. The new manager will have an unenviable task in getting his team winning matches straight away, presumably aware that mid-table will not be satisfactory for the owners of the club. Without a period of stability, Leicester will more likely than not end up a club in a perpetual state of transition, always waiting for that new manager that will change everything. It’s not a tactic that has often been successful elsewhere.
The celebrity manager, meanwhile, will be unconcerned by such matters. Eriksson has become a curiously contradictory character in recent times, perhaps more interested by the lure of money than anything else, yet often retaining something approaching an innocence about his demeanour. The rumour mill has already started linking him with the managerial position at Blackburn Rovers (even though Steve Kean remains obstinately still in his position, in spite of protests against his continuing tenure at Ewood Park), and Eriksson’s departure from Leicester may give him pause for thought this evening. Meanwhile, Leicester may now go for someone with “practical experience at this level” – a list of usual suspects with which we are all familiar.
Perhaps Eriksson’s appointment into the job at Leicester City is little more than a sign of the times – a big name parachuted into a job for which he was perhaps not ideally suited with the demands of instant success weighing heavily on his shoulders. Few clubs ever seem to be content with a mid-table position these days and, in spite of the fact that only two clubs can get automatically promoted into the Premier League at the end of this season, the impatience of the Leicester board suggests that they demand an unquestionable level of success that the very make up of the Championship seems unlikely to be able to deliver. In thirteenth place in a tight division, it is impossible to say with any certainty how Leicester City’s season will pan out. We can say with a degree of certainty, however, that whoever it is that replaces Sven Goran Eriksson will have a race against the clock in order to bring success to the King Power Stadium.
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