Svenne, Thaksin, and the King Power

It was just over four months ago to the day when Sven-Göran Eriksson was announced to the press as Leicester City’s new manager – their tenth since the departure of the much admired Martin O’Neill in June 2000. For Leicester City supporters, those were indeed heady days.
 
Whilst some criticised the club’s decision as premature, others believed that change was needed in order to stem the tide of poor results – a change which was to be signalled by the arrival of everybody’s favourite Swede – “Sven, Sven Sven-Göran Eriksson. He’s a lovely geezer, but don’t forget he’s from Sweden”.

From Manchester City to Mexico City to Meadow Lane it is fair to say that Sven’s been around the block in the last few years, isn’t that right Ulrika and Nancy? However, away from the tabloid intrusion into his personal life, run-ins with mystery Sheiks and criticism from some quarters for his style of management and team selection as England manager, there’s no doubt that when it comes to club management he is one of the best in the game. Beginning in his native Sweden with IFK Göteborg, Eriksson’s management career has taken him to Portugal with Benfica, Italy with spells at, most notably, Sampdoria and Lazio, and most recently Africa as he temporarily took charge of the Ivory Coast National Team during the 2010 World Cup.

With an aura of composure, Eriksson has consistently shown a prowess for winning trophies whether it be domestic.

His single season stint at Manchester City was to be a season of two halves. Having become City’s first foreign manager, he instigated the first of what were to be many successive waves of big spending by City, in his case, under the ownership of one-season owner Thai businessman Thaksin Shinawatra.

He enjoyed success on the field, most notably becoming City’s first manager since the 1969/1970 season to win both league derby games against their fierce Manchester rivals, and he achieved the club’s joint highest points total in the top flight, of fifty five. Yet, constant interventions by Shinawatra, who bemoaned Eriksson for a string of bad results on the field in the Spring of 2008, led to him parting company with the club at the end of the season. Having endured a dismal spell in charge of the Mexican National Team, Eriksson once again appeared on our television screens in July 2009 but this time in rather unexpected surroundings – at Npower Football League
Two club, Notts County. Lured by the attraction of a ‘big project’ at Meadow Lane where large-scale investment in new facilities was promised by the Middle East consortium Munto Finance, Eriksson, in his role as Director of Football, oversaw the purchase of Kasper Schmiechel and infamously of Sol Campbell. Ultimately though, the project was a disaster. Campbell ended up playing just one game for the club who themselves slipped into financial turmoil as figures emerged of their large debts and unpaid bills.

Eriksson resigned eight months later and that seemingly sparked the end of the Swede’s association with English football. How wrong we all were.
A mere ninth months later, Eriksson was back in English football, this time as manager of Leicester City. Having taken over the reins from Paulo Sousa with the club struggling, the only way was up. Indeed, that is exactly the way things have gone.

Since taking over in October, Eriksson has not only guided the club safely away from the relegation zone but has transformed them into genuine promotion contenders. After their latest victory, Saturday’s 4-2 win over Millwall, the team comfortably lie in tenth place in the Npower Championship – four points off the play-off places and eight points off the automatic promotion places. With just under half of the season to go, Foxes fans are starting to believe that their team could once again appear in the big time of the Barclays Premier League.

The question is: how has Eriksson been able to change a side bereft of confidence and ideas into genuine promotion contenders within such a short space of time?
Whether it be at Benfica, Lazio or Manchester City, Eriksson has always been genuinely motivated by challenges.

Since beginning his managerial career in 1976, he has only had one year away from the game. For Eriksson, football is a drug and the opportunity to transform the fortunes of Leicester City was one which he simply could not refuse. The club certainly has the fan base, despite it being in constant competition with its other midlands rivals, Derby County and Nottingham Forrest.
 
Add to that a 32,500 capacity stadium which would be fit to stage a Barclays Premier League game and you can understand why he sees Leicester City moving onwards and upwards in the future. However, as earlier stated with his time at Lazio, what Eriksson crucially has at Leicester City, which many other Npower Championship clubs don’t possess, is financial backing, in the form of a Thai Consortium lead by Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn (King Power Duty free shoppeing in Thailand) supported by Iman Arif of Cronus Sports Management, who owns 20% of the club. Their willingness to make funds available to Eriksson has been evident in the early stages of his Leicester City managerial career.

From day one, the need to strengthen was apparent. Using his contacts in the football world, meticulous player research, and Swedish charm, he has been able to convince players from as far afield as Turkey to join the club. In defence, he has recruited the athletic former Hibernian defender Sol Bamba who made an immediate impact on his debut by scoring in the first leg of their Third Round FA Cup tie against Manchester City. 

With a brand of football based on fast-flowing, entertaining football, there’s no reason why both sides cannot maintain their challenge till the end of the season. Other teams to watch out for are Brendan Rodgers’s Swansea City who continue to exceed expectations despite having little money to spend, the ever-improving Nottingham Forrest under Billy Davies, Brian McDermott’s Reading and Burnley, who recently appointed ex-Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe to take over at Turf Moor.
Nonetheless, with Eriksson at the helm, financial support from the club’s owners, an experienced backroom staff and a new found confidence within the team, there is a genuine belief that something special is happening at the Walkers Stadium. Whilst the Leicester City bandwagon may have been initially been slow off the line, since then the engine has been oiled, the tyres re-fitted and now it is well and truly going up through the gears, gathering momentum and seemingly showing no sign of stopping any time soon.

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