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Critics accused Sven of a ‘lack of passion’ on the touchline, but from the feisty Italian lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio, to Ulrika Jonsson and an FA secretary the gently spoken Swede ranks as one of the world’s unlikeliest lotharios

Critics accused Sven of a ‘lack of passion’ on the touchline, but from the feisty Italian lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio, to Ulrika Jonsson and an FA secretary the gently spoken Swede ranks as one of the world’s unlikeliest lotharios
Critics accused Sven of a ‘lack of passion’ on the touchline, but from the feisty Italian lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio, to Ulrika Jonsson and an FA secretary the gently spoken Swede ranks as one of the world’s unlikeliest lotharios


Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day that Sven-Goran Eriksson took charge as the manager of England 23 years ago.

Instead of it being a date to look back at and reflect on his achievements, however, January 12, 2024 now stands as a tragic marker of how little time he has left to live.

Yesterday, the former England manager, now 75, revealed he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, in a ‘best-case’ scenario, has about a year to live. The news has come as a desperate shock to a nation that came to regard the idiosyncratic Swede as one of its own, despite the controversy and colour that marked his tenure as national coach.

The first foreigner given the job of managing the national football team, his appointment by the FA was not only unprecedented, but unpopular and widely criticised, too. On top of all that, England were languishing at the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group, below even Albania.

David Beckham with Sven-Goran Eriksson at a Euro 2004 match in Portugal

Eriksson had been a very successful club manager in his native Sweden as well as in Portugal and Italy, but had never run a national team before. He knew he faced a tough challenge with England, despite the compensation of his £2 million salary.

At his first news conference as England boss in January 2001, the man nicknamed ‘the Iceman’ for his calmness under pressure said he would be ‘hanged’ if he failed to get results, and that ‘if results come, no one cares about the nationality of the manager’.

The results did come, including a famous 5-1 thrashing of age-old rivals Germany, as Eriksson turned around England’s bid for qualification for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, where they lost in the quarter-finals to the tournament’s eventual winners Brazil.

While doubts persisted in critics’ minds about Eriksson’s ‘lack of passion’ on the touchline, his seemingly unflappable style ensured he soon became part of the national fabric, a household name and an instantly recognisable figure far beyond the world of football.

Former England manager Eriksson at his home in Sunne, Sweden, in 2017

Former England manager Eriksson at his home in Sunne, Sweden, in 2017

I can remember, for example, being despatched to the home of schoolboy Thomas Sylvester to report on him during the 2002 World Cup after the ten-year-old transformed himself into a ‘mini-Sven’ or ‘Sven-boy’ by donning the England manager’s trademark glasses, suit and tie, and shaving the front of his head to replicate the Swede’s receding hairline.

His classmates at the time were all copying the Mohican hairstyle then favoured by David Beckham, one of the so-called ‘golden generation’ of England footballers who played under Eriksson, but he thought ‘Sven would be different’.

As for Eriksson’s lack of passion… well, away from the football pitch it soon transpired that the gently spoken, bespectacled, balding Swede was one of the world’s unlikeliest lotharios. His infamous bed-hopping exploits with feisty Italian lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio, TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson, and Football Association secretary Faria Alam (among several others) put him on the front pages as well as the back.

Who could forget how Miss Jonsson’s nanny once claimed Eriksson left his stack-heeled shoes outside the TV star’s bedroom as a code that they were having sex? For her part, Miss Jonsson, a fellow Swede, insisted in her book that he only took off his shoes because it is a Swedish custom when visiting.

Or the time he fled an unnamed woman’s flat in Stockholm trouserless after her husband walked in on them on the sofa doing a little bit more than talking tactics – an embarrassing enough incident made worse by the fact that it was revealed ‘by mistake’ in the Norwegian edition of his own autobiography?

Eriksson had been married in his native Sweden before he came to England. He has two children with his ex-wife Ann-Christine Pettersson, whom he divorced in 1994.

Eriksson pictured holidaying on a boat off the Sicilian coast with his then girlfriend Nancy Dell'Olio in 2005

Eriksson pictured holidaying on a boat off the Sicilian coast with his then girlfriend Nancy Dell’Olio in 2005

The football manager with Nancy Dell'Olio at the Hilton Hotel Park Lane in London in 2002

The football manager with Nancy Dell’Olio at the Hilton Hotel Park Lane in London in 2002

But by the time he arrived here, he was in a relationship with the larger-than-life Miss Dell’Olio.

She burst into the national consciousness in 2001, an inexhaustibly energetic, besequinned foil to England’s dour Swede. Soon afterwards, she memorably attended a reception at No 10 hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair in an eye-popping, flame-coloured, rhinestone-studded catsuit.

‘When I walked in the reception room, everyone was already there,’ she gushed in her thick Italian accent. ‘Tony Blair was coming down from his private apartment and because we had met before, we walked in together. Can you imagine the reaction?’

The country could not get enough of her. But despite her attention-grabbing antics and striking looks, Sven was looking elsewhere and soon embarked on an affair with Miss Jonsson.

It led to a public spat between the two women. Miss Dell’Olio initially claimed the affair was ‘all a publicity attempt’ by Miss Jonsson, while Miss Jonsson hit back saying: ‘Sven is behaving like a lying cad. He promised me it was over with Nancy but then takes her out to dinner and doesn’t even call me.’

Sven celebrated his 70th birthday in 2018
Sven was popular with the ladies aged 19 thanks to his dashing looks

Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson aged 19, and aged 70 in 2018

Eriksson eventually confessed to the affair, writing in his 2013 memoir: ‘Nancy did not suspect anything. She was travelling to Italy a lot during that time.’

He added that he would meet Miss Jonsson at her home and said he ‘did not feel [he] had anything to apologise for’. The affair lasted for four months – and Miss Jonsson later claimed that her fling with Eriksson was ‘about as exciting as assembling an IKEA bookcase’.

After a brief split, Miss Dell’Olio took Eriksson back, but that did not stop his roving eye. Two years later another of his affairs was revealed, this time with Miss Alam, who also happened to be in a relationship with the then FA chief executive Mark Palios.

Eriksson said later that he first asked Alam out for lunch in February 2004 and they started seeing each other at least once a week. He claimed that he spoke to Alam every single day while England were at the European Championship that summer, even though Dell’Olio was there with all the other WAGS.

Faria Alam, the former Football Association secretary, had an affair with Eriksson

Faria Alam, the former Football Association secretary, had an affair with Eriksson 

The story of their affair was published in the now defunct News of the World and Alam, who lost her job at the FA as a result, then sold her version of it to the paper. As for Eriksson, he was philosophical about her decision to do so: ‘I didn’t have any problems with that…What made me sad was that it was definitely over between us. I liked Faria a lot. I think love had even blossomed, at least from my end.

‘People said I should have stopped to think what I was doing before getting involved with her.

‘I didn’t care: if I liked a woman and wanted to meet her, why shouldn’t I be able to? And I felt no remorse towards Nancy. She lived in my house, but we weren’t married and I didn’t love her.’

When Miss Dell’Olio found out about the affair, she slapped him. ‘The truth was he’d been with this person, but again having sex and nothing else,’ she told TV presenter Piers Morgan. ‘And he was definitely very desperate.’

He finally split for good from Miss Dell’Olio in 2007 and then confessed he had never been prepared for the public scrutiny of his relationships.

‘I thought I was prepared for England but I was not prepared for things outside football, my private life,’ he told the History Channel.

‘I am not very proud that fans could probably name three of my former girlfriends.

‘I don’t think it damaged my football results. But my image outside football is damaged, yes. My private life was not very private in England.

Before becoming the England coach, he met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in October 2000

Before becoming the England coach, he met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in October 2000

‘In 2002, when it came out about a woman, well a Swedish one, I wondered what I should tell the players. It had nothing to do with football. But I was their manager and we were going into a World Cup.

‘I told them ‘sorry’ but one of players stood up and said: ‘Boss, welcome to England.’ That was it. I felt good. It was over.’

Meanwhile, back on the pitch, Eriksson had led England to qualify for Euro 2004, where they were again defeated at the quarter-final stage.

He also took England to the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup, where they lost to Portugal after Wayne Rooney – who had earlier been given his England debut aged 17 by Eriksson – was sent off and Cristiano Ronaldo infamously winked after leading Portugal’s protests to the referee over Rooney’s foul.

For football fans, Sven’s great crime was that he had failed to capitalise on that golden generation of footballers. Many believe the talent he had at his disposal presented him with England’s best chance to win the World Cup for decades.

Eriksson addresses a press conference after announcing his resignation in January 2006

Eriksson addresses a press conference after announcing his resignation in January 2006

But this was not the sole reason for his departure as England boss. It was announced in January 2006 that Eriksson was to leave his role following that summer’s World Cup in Germany despite having two years left on his contract. This came after he was caught up in one of the notorious ‘Fake Sheikh’ stings carried out by discredited undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood for the News of the World.

After enjoying lobster and £900-worth of vintage champagne in a luxury Dubai hotel with the newspaper’s notorious investigator posing as a rich Arab businessman who was planning to buy Aston Villa, Eriksson said he would quit England if they won the World Cup and was prepared to become the £5m-a-year manager of Villa as part of a takeover bid.

A year after leaving his post with England, Eriksson was appointed manager of Manchester City and he oversaw 45 games before parting ways in June 2008. He went on to manage the Mexico national team, the Ivory Coast national team, Leicester City and the Philippines national team, as well as working as a coach in China for a period.

It was a long way from Sunne in western Sweden where he was born 1948. His father was a bus conductor and his mother worked in a textile store.

He aspired to be a professional footballer, but retired from the sport at 27 having only ever played in Sweden’s lower divisions, and admitted he was ‘distinctly average’.

He was named manager of Swedish club IFK Goteborg in 1979

He was named manager of Swedish club IFK Goteborg in 1979

As a manager he was more successful, and after starting in the lower divisions he attracted the attention of bigger clubs, going on to manage Sweden’s IFK Goteborg before finding success internationally, managing Benfica in Portugal, as well as several Italian teams including Roma and Lazio.

After he left our shores, he all but disappeared from public life, although in 2014 Eriksson, then 66, was pictured with his girlfriend Yaniseth Bravo, a former nightclub dancer roughly half his age, at a 12-bedroom mansion he owned in Sweden in Expressen Sondag magazine, Sweden’s answer to Hello!

Following the sad news about his health, the former England players he managed have been quick to voice their support for him.

Rooney said on social media: ‘Sad news this morning. Thoughts are with Sven-Goran Eriksson and his family. A brilliant coach and a special person. Loved and respected by everyone. We’re all with you Sven, keep fighting.’

John Terry said: ‘Terribly sad news, thinking of you gaffer’, while Steven Gerrard posted: ‘Stay strong gaffer.’ Danny Mills, part of England’s 2002 World Cup squad under Eriksson, referenced England’s famous 5-1 win against Germany during the qualification campaign in his message. ‘Incredibly sad news,’ Mills wrote, adding that Eriksson ‘will always be remembered for this game’.

For all his ups and downs, no one could say that Eriksson did not add a splash of colour to life while he was England’s manager, or that during his time in the job he was probably the most famous football manager in the world – just not necessarily for what happened on the pitch.

Written by bourbiza mohamed

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