Sweden and England Flags Waving in Stadium

Was Sven-Göran Eriksson A Success As England Manager?

In January 2024, former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson confirmed to Swedish radio that he had cancer after there had been speculation about his health. He said, “Everyone can see that I have a disease that’s not good, and everyone supposes that it’s cancer, and it is.”

We wish the 75-year-old well and he has vowed to both battle the disease as best he can, and also to enjoy life and see the positive side of things as much as possible. That must be so hard when doctors have told him he probably has a year at best to live and we wish the likeable ex-Man City boss well.

Sven is a hugely experienced manager and has also taken charge of Leicester City, as well as Degefors and IFK Gothenburg in his native Sweden, various top Italian teams, Benfica in Portugal (twice) and three Chinese clubs. In addition to that, he has a wealth of know-how on the international stage. He has managed Mexico, Ivory Coast and the Philippines but is best known, in the UK at least, for his time in charge of the Three Lions.

He made history in January 2001 when he became the first non-English manager of England’s national football team. He undoubtedly did a lot right in his time in charge but was he a success in the role, a position that is often dubbed impossible and also the hardest job in football? There were some highs for sure and one or two lows too, but overall, how should we remember the Swede’s time in charge of the men’s international side?

No Trophy But Plenty of Positives

Empty Podium with Red Carpet

The aim of any England manager has always been to win a major tournament – either the World Cup or the Euros. Sven did not manage that so some would say that he failed but using that sole metric, only one of England’s 19 managers to date has been a success. Admittedly, of those 19, four have been in charge for two games or fewer, for various reasons, but irrespective, it would seem unfair to say that Sir Alf Ramsey is the only manager to have done a good job, or “succeeded”.

Sven undoubtedly brought some great times and gave fans some unforgettable memories. The obvious highlight of his reign is the 5-1 mauling they meted out to Germany in Munich. England had lost the reverse fixture, in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, 1-0 in the final game at the old Wembley, bringing an end to Kevin Keegan’s time as England boss.

Germany Score England
Carsten Janker 6′ 1-0
1-1 Michael Owen 12′
1-2 Steven Gerrard 45+3′
1-3 Michael Owen 48′
1-4 Michael Owen 65′
1-5 Emile Heskey 73′

In Germany, Sven’s players were simply magnificent and, helped by a Michael Owen hat-trick, they tour their hosts apart. Germany had taken an early lead but after 12 minutes Owen made it 1-0, Steven Gerrard adding a second deep in first-half stoppage time. Owen added two more in the second half, Emile Heskey rounding off the scoring in the 74th minute.

England were ruthless, rampant and clinical, even if the general pattern of the game was fairly even. England fans inside Munich’s Olympiastadion and the many more watching on from home will not care that Germany had more shots, corners and possession though, and this was a night to remember.

Perhaps the other major thing that Sven should be remembered for is the calmness that he brought to the job. He was adept at remaining quietly confident come what may and also at taking the pressure off the players, both things we believe Gareth Southgate has taken on board.

Sven often seemed bemused by the English media – and public’s – interest in the private life if his players and himself. He was happy for the players to do what they wanted, within reason, and treated them like adults and again we think Southgate has learnt from this approach.

So Near and Yet so Far

Gold Football Against Gold Background
Sven-Göran Eriksson oversaw part of England’s so-called Golden Generation

Critics of Eriksson will argue that he had possibly the best squad of any England manager since 1966. The “Golden Generation” (it certainly seems to us that most nations seem to have at least three of these, and many believe the current Three Lions squad is as good as any we’ve had) had the talent and ability to win a major trophy and it is the Swede’s fault that they did not.

What’s more, not only did England not win anything under Sven, they never went past the quarter finals. He was manager at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002, the 2004 Euros in Portugal and then for the following World Cup, hosted by Germany. However, that overlooks the fact that they made it as far as the last eight in all three tournaments.

World Cup 2002 -South Korea & Japan

Knockout games at major tournaments are often decided by very fine margins and teams usually need at least a little luck along the way. The fine margins went against Sven and his team and luck was in short supply. In 2002 the tournament looked there for the taking but they lost 2-1 to eventual winners Brazil. England, who thrashed Denmark 3-0 in the round before, were the better side for much of the clash but the game turned on a freak goal by Ronaldinho. His cross (definitely a cross!) deceived David Seaman and went in and proved to be the decisive goal. Brazil went through and England were left with ifs, buts and maybes.

Euro 2004 – Portugal

Two years later in Portugal they produced even better football at times as Wayne Rooney announced himself on the world stage. Just 18 at the time he was named in the team of the tournament and bagged four goals. Sadly for him, Sven and England, he got injured early on the quarter final with the hosts. Playing brilliantly, with the fearlessness of youth, had he not been forced from the pitch after 27 minutes many feel England would have gone all the way. Given Portugal lost 1-0 to a poor Greece side in the final, they may well have done. Instead they drew 2-2 with Portugal and lost on penalties.

World Cup 2006 – Germany

As for 2006, England again fancied their chances, boasting brilliant players such as a maturing Rooney, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen, Sol Campbell and Gary Neville. However, Rooney came into the tournament injured and was clearly not at his best. Even so, Sven’s troops topped their group and were unbeaten, then got past Ecuador in the last 16.

It was a familiar foe up next in the shape of Portugal and the result was the same. Rooney left the pitch early, this time sent off, and England lost on penalties. So, whilst it is true that Sven’s England never made it past the quarters in three attempts, that is certainly not the whole story. A more positive spin might be that they never did worse than the last eight and were beaten twice in a shootout and once thanks to a lucky goal.

Sven a Grade B Minus for England

B Minus on Paper

Yes, Eriksson had some excellent players at his disposal. No, he never led England to a semi-final or beyond. But overall his sides were near-perfect in qualification and at major tournaments, with just a tiny bit more luck, or greater success in penalty shootouts, he would have done so much better. England could easily have, perhaps, won at least one of those three and made the semi-final or better in the others.

Leaving the realms of what might have been, the Swede ended with a record of played 67, won 40, drew 17, lost 10. That win ratio of almost 60% puts him right up there with the best – especially if we ignore Sam Allardyce’s 100% record from one game! Aside from Fabio Capello (66.7%), no other past England manager won more than Ramsey’s 61.1%, though Gareth Southgate is on 62.6% at the time of writing.

Eriksson had obvious flaws and players have suggested he lacked tactical expertise. However, his stats put him up there with the best bosses England have had. Moreover, he was an avuncular and popular figure and we prefer to think of him as a little unlucky, rather than someone who failed with a strong squad. Overall, therefore, we’d say Sven did a decent job, so it’s a B- from us!