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Revealed: Sven Goran Eriksson had signed contract to replace Ferguson
Sven Goran Eriksson has joined the increasingly large group of managers who have written an autobiography about their time in football.
In his work, Sven Goran Eriksson has revealed that he had a contract signed to replace Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002 – and was entirely set to be Manchester United’s new manager until Ferguson’s change of heart.
The following is an excerpt from his new book “Sven: My Story” by Sven Goran Eriksson and Stefan Lovgren, published by Headline, priced £20. To order your copy at £16.99 with free p&p call the Mail Book Shop on 0844 472 4157 or go to mailbookshop.co.uk.
“Sir Alex Ferguson was a genuinely nice man. We met many times and even had dinner together on a few occasions.
But woe to the person who threatened or bothered Manchester United in any way.
Then Ferguson would not spare his venom. I know, because he often aimed that venom at me.
He caused a fuss before practically every friendly we played with England. Friendlies were completely useless, he thought. Players only got hurt. Sometimes Ferguson would call at seven o’clock in the morning, ordering me not to select one of his players for a friendly. The player was injured or else he needed to rest, Ferguson claimed. I was not going to let Ferguson bully me. If I wanted a Manchester United player in my squad, I was going to select him.
On September 23, 2003, the defender Rio Ferdinand was training with United when representatives from England’s anti-doping organisation came to the training ground to conduct tests on four randomly selected players, among them Ferdinand. For some reason, Ferdinand skipped the test, leaving the training ground and going home. It was viewed as a very serious offence, on a par with testing positive.
The FA showed no mercy to Ferdinand. The new chief executive, Mark Palios, instructed me not to select Rio for the decisive Euro qualifier in Turkey on October 11. Ferguson, not surprisingly, did not appreciate the FA’s actions. He called me at the crack of dawn.
He wanted me to select Ferdinand in the squad, directly disobeying the order I had been given by my employer. ‘I can’t select Ferdinand,’ I said. ‘You have to call and yell at someone else.’
It is strange to think that by that point I could already have replaced him as manager of Manchester United. That is what very nearly happened. Ferguson had announced that the 2001/02 season would be his last. He had managed the team for 16 years and won everything there was to win, including the Premier League seven times. He was getting on a bit and probably wanted to finish on top.
One day I got a phone call from Pini Zahavi, a leading football agent. He wanted to know if I could come for breakfast at a club in London the following morning. He did not want to say on the phone what it was about. It was very secretive. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘no problem.’
When I arrived, Pini was there with Peter Kenyon, the chief executive of Manchester United. Straight off the bat, Kenyon asked me did I want the job as manager of Manchester United as of next season? I didn’t think about it.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I do.’
I knew it would be tricky. I had a contract with England until the 2006 World Cup and I would be severely criticised if I broke that contract. But this was an opportunity to manage Manchester United, probably the biggest club in the world. I would be able to stay with England through the World Cup. My appointment would not be made official until after the tournament.
I don’t know why Ferguson had changed his mind. In the papers they wrote that his family thought he would miss football too much. Maybe his U-turn had to do with United’s relatively poor season. Surely Ferguson did not want to leave his career on anything but a high.
I know that he was made aware that the club had picked me as his successor. Had he vetoed my appointment? It did not matter. He kept his job and I kept mine.
But to this day, Pini has the signed contract where it says I was Manchester United’s new manager.
I had a lot of respect for Ferguson. How could you not? He had built so many great teams throughout the years and I appreciated that his teams always tried to play attacking, positive football.
But during my time with England, I had no problems with any of the club managers in the Premier League, except him. Ferguson defended Manchester United’s interests at any cost. It was a good trait to have, but it made my job more difficult.
I had already been involved in a few scraps with him, but a bigger confrontation occurred with just a month to go before the 2006 World Cup in Germany. This time it involved our biggest star, Wayne Rooney.
It all started with a game between Chelsea and Manchester United on April 29, 2006. Chelsea were comfortably 3-0 up with ten minutes to go. The match was over when Rooney, for some reason, threw himself into an unwinnable tackle. Wayne immediately grabbed his foot and grimaced. He had to come off.
The England team doctor, Leif Swärd, was also at the game and I asked him to go down to check on Rooney. When Ferguson saw Leif outside the Manchester United dressing room, he pointed at him and said: ‘Don’t let him in.’
It turned out Rooney had broken a metatarsal bone, just as David Beckham had done before the 2002 World Cup. Later, Ferguson called me. ‘You can’t pick Rooney for the World Cup,’ he said.
‘Who says that?’ I asked.
‘My doctor,’ Ferguson replied. ‘Rooney is injured.’
‘OK,’ I said. ‘Then I will come with my doctor to talk to you.’
I think it was a Sunday morning when Leif and I met Ferguson and United’s doctor at the Manchester United training ground.
We drank some tea and chatted before talk turned to the subject we were there to discuss – Rooney’s injury. He cannot play in the World Cup, Ferguson said flatly.
The United doctor brought out some X-rays that he said showed that Rooney’s broken bone would not heal in time.
When the doctor finished, there was a moment’s pause before Leif looked him in the eye.
‘Why do you sit here and lie to me?’ Leif asked.
I thought Ferguson and his doctor would fall off their chairs. I almost fell off my own chair. I had never heard Leif even raise his voice.
‘What do you mean?’ the guy asked.
‘I operate on breaks like that all the time,’ Leif continued. He knew their story was not true.
Leif was one of Europe’s foremost specialists on this kind of foot injury. I just wish I could have filmed Ferguson’s face, and his doctor’s, when Leif explained that Wayne’s break would heal in time for the World Cup. Maybe he would have to miss the first game, but he would be ready for the second, no problem.
When Leif had finished, I turned to Ferguson. ‘Sorry, Alex,’ I said. ‘I will pick Rooney.’
Before I selected my final squad, he called me again. This time he was screaming into the phone – that was his way of communicating – something about making my life very difficult if I went against him and picked Rooney. Now I’d had enough of his shouting.
‘Alex,’ I said, ‘I wish you a very nice holiday, but I am going to select Wayne Rooney for the World Cup. Goodbye.’ Then I hung up.
It was the last time I spoke with Sir Alex Ferguson during my time as England manager.”