Sven-Göran Eriksson

'I Was Very Happy At Leicester' – Sven On His Year With The Foxes

Very few people are so famous that they’re known simply by their first name. There are many Svens in football, but there are none as renowned or indeed as popular as the former Leicester City manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson.

The bespectacled Swedish manager has won titles in Portugal and Italy. He also held the poison chalice that is the England manager’s job for five years. From Roberto Baggio to Dunga, Pavel Nedvěd to David Beckham, Sven's coached some of the most admired players in history. There was a time, in the mid-noughties, when he was arguably the most famous man in football and, quite possibly, the whole of England. 

It was only natural that Eriksson’s decision to become Leicester manager in 2010 made headlines, especially considering the fact that the Foxes were in English football’s second tier. Yes, Sven had worked at fourth-tier Notts County, albeit briefly beforehand, but not as a manager. A UEFA Cup winning, Primeira Divisão title-holding, Serie A champion turning up on Filbert Way was a real news event 13 years ago.  

It didn't work out for Sven at Leicester City. Hopes of promotion fizzled away. The former Benfica, Roma, Lazio, England, Manchester City manager, though, has no hard feelings. 

“I was very, very happy at Leicester,” he tells us, from his lakeside home in Sweden. “I had a good relationship with the fans. The press were good to me. I had a good relationship with the players. For the new season, we started with ambitions to try to reach the Premier League. We bought players and I think two or three of the players which I recommended to the Club, they didn’t perform as well as I thought they should. 

“They cost a lot of money, of course. Not the money of today, but anyhow, a lot of money. When you’re a manager and you recommend players for big money and they don’t perform, then, as a manager, you are the man to blame. That happened unfortunately and I’m sorry about that. I was there for half a season and then it was the summer break. Then we bought those new players. 

“It was at that moment when I thought we would be one of the teams who could have taken the step to the Premier League. I was quite sure and that was the target of everyone at the Club, but that went wrong. We played some good football and got some great wins, but we should have done better when the new season started.  

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Sven-Göran Eriksson

Sven is presented to the Blue Army ahead of his first game in charge of the Foxes.

“I think it was the right decision to sack me. Many times, you don’t think it’s fair. I remember when I was at Manchester City, I thought that was unfair for example, but it happened. With Leicester City, it was fair.”

It's an honest assessment of his time at King Power Stadium when the Club, under new ownership, were beginning to hone their sights on the Premier League after almost a decade away. The Foxes had dipped into the third tier and clawed their way back again, but inspired by Chairman Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, times were changing. Nobody knew it, but the greatest era in Leicester City’s history was just beginning. 

Generally speaking, Foxes fans are sympathetic towards Sven in their reflections of his tenure in the East Midlands. It’s worth remembering that several of his signings played significant roles both in the Club’s promotion from the Championship and the unthinkable successes which were the come – Kasper Schmeichel being one of them.

Eriksson, now 74, had known Schmeichel for several years, managing the Danish shot-stopper at Manchester City and taking him to Notts County. The former England manager, though, always had to persuade people to buy into his high hopes for the man who would one day help Leicester stun the world and become English champions.

“When I came to Manchester City some years before, they had Andreas Isaksson, Joe Hart and then Kasper,” Sven recalls. “Isaksson was the goalkeeper of the Sweden national team. He was a regular for them, so we had three extremely good goalkeepers. 

“That was too much, of course. I considered, at that time, Kasper to be the best one. But the club had bought Joe Hart and they thought he was the best. It was a little bit of a fight. Years later, I brought Kasper to Notts County. He was there for a while, and they didn’t want him. They said he was too short. I said: ‘He’s the best in England!’ 

“I had to fight for him at Man City and Notts County. They didn’t believe he would be as big as he became. Then I took him to Leicester. I told them that we wouldn’t be able to find a better goalkeeper. I considered him, since the first day I had him at Man City, to be one of the best goalkeepers in England. He proved to be incredible. 

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Sven-Göran Eriksson

Sven was recruited to lead Leicester into the Premier League, but it wasn't meant to be.

“He’s a huge professional, he’s hard-working. His reaction on the line is the best. I loved Kasper Schmeichel, the way he worked, and the way he played.”

Sven has held 17 different positions across his 46-year career as a manager. He’s seen – and heard it all before. He’s used to hearing chairmen sell their clubs to him. Whether it was in Rome, Lisbon or Shanghai, he’s been there many times before. It will not have come of any surprise to hear Khun Vichai do the same in the autumn of 2010 when Leicester City needed a new manager following the departure of Paulo Sousa. 

Unlike some of those others, Khun Vichai’s vision for the Foxes – considered by many to be wildly overconfident – came true in magical fashion. Sven might not have been the man to realise those dreams, but he was perhaps less surprised than most when he watched from afar as Wes Morgan hoisted the Premier League title aloft six years later.

The Swede continued: “When I heard Leicester needed a new coach, I went to meet Khun Vichai and Khun Top and, after a couple of days, we decided to do it. I was very happy and I liked Khun Vichai and Khun Top very much, so we started to work together straight away. 

“It was a very good club. Khun Vichai always told me that he wanted to reach the Premier League, of course, and that he wanted to be one of the big clubs in the Premier League. He had big visions and big ambitions. They were realised in an amazing way, as we all know. I liked the Club, the fans. It was a great club. Years after, winning the Premier League, that was absolutely incredible. No one would have thought that would happen before the season, but Khun Vichai and Khun Top knew this was possible.”

It’s clear that Khun Vichai, so sadly no longer with us, has left his mark on Sven. The amiable Swede smiles warmly at the mention of his name. As he often reminds us during this conversation, Khun Vichai was the man who ultimately sacked him at the Club. But Sven has nothing but admiration for the former Leicester City Chairman. 

Reminiscing about Khun Vichai’s generosity of spirit, Sven explains: “Sometimes, he would say: ‘Come down to London’. He had an apartment there or something. We’d see each other in this restaurant for lunch. I went down on the train and then he would take me, after lunch, to a boutique in the city. 

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Sven-Göran Eriksson

The Swedish manager still looks back fondly on his time at the Club.

“It was for men’s clothes, very modern and very expensive. He got the owners to shut the boutique just for us. He would say things like ‘you must have this suit!’ or ‘you must have this tie!’ I would insist that I didn’t need it and, each time, three or four times, he would buy all these clothes for me. I said once: ‘Why do you do these things for me?! I have a contract, it’s not in the contract that you have to do this!’ 

“He was like that. He was very generous. I loved the time at Leicester and I’m sorry it was so short, but I was the one to blame for that.”

Another man who Sven remembers from his 12 months in Leicester is the unmistakable Alan ‘The Birch’ Birchenall. A man with his own vocabulary, you often hear Birch before you see him. Back in those days when the Club’s men’s team called Belvoir Drive their home, the former Foxes star turned ambassador was never far away.  

“He was a character!” Sven chuckles. “An enormous character in the Club. He came down to training and matches and things like that very often. I liked to have a coffee with him, talking to him every now and then. He had a huge experience of everything. He’s a good man and good company. He raised money for the Club and for charity. He’s an absolutely great ambassador for the Club. 

“In every club, you have someone who works for them, or was a great player for them. I never met anyone quite like Alan, who raised money for such a lot of charities. He is someone who is very, very special. Sometimes, it was difficult to understand him, but he’s a great man and I really enjoyed sitting with him and talking to him. He sums up Leicester City. It’s a great club.”

Quick-fire Sven

What was your best club job? – “Lazio was fantastic. It was the best club I ever had. We had 11 or even more world-class players. I said to the owner: ‘Buy Roberto Mancini, Juan Sebastián Verón and Siniša Mihajlović and we’ll win the league’. He bought, in the first year, Mancini, in the second year, Mihajlović and, in the third year, Veron… and then we won the league! It wasn’t just them. We had Marcelo Salas, Pavel Nedvěd, Alessandro Nesta and Diego Simeone… it was an incredible team.”

Name one of your proudest moments – “The team I started with in Sweden, Gothenburg, in 1982 we won a title in Europe, the UEFA Cup. When we won that, that was the ticket for me to leave Sweden and go out in the world. Still today, Gothenburg is the only Swedish team to win a title in Europe. They’re also the only Nordic team to have done it. That was absolutely great for everyone in Gothenburg.”

What was your role in Mancini joining LCFC in 2001? – “He always dreamed of playing in England. He thought the best football and everything was in England. It was Peter Taylor who was manager of Leicester City. He was the coach of the England Under-21s as well. Mancini phoned me and said he wanted to play in England before he finished as a player. I phoned Peter and asked him if he wanted to take Mancini on loan for a little bit. He was one of those geniuses. He was incredible, what he did on the pitch. He saw everything quicker than everyone else. He was like a coach on the pitch when he played.”

Tell us about managing Emile Heskey – “He scored the last goal for me in that 5-1 win at Germany. He is a fantastic human being. He’s very kind to everyone. He was a very good football player as well. You don’t play for Liverpool and England if you are not. I never saw any of his games for Leicester, but I heard he was maybe at his best at that time. He had a great career as a football player. I would say to him sometimes: ‘Be more ugly, on the pitch!’ But that was maybe not in his nature. He’s a great man.”

What does football mean to you? – “Football quickly became a drug for me. I love football. It’s the only thing in the world… I would sacrifice everything for football. It was football, football, football. I loved it and I still love it.”

What is it like to be England manager? – “I had the biggest job… manager of England. You can’t come any higher. I’m sorry for everyone – and for me as well, of course – that we couldn’t reach a final or win the World Cup. We got to three quarter-finals, which wasn’t good enough, but I was very proud to have that job, extremely proud. The defence had players like Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, John Terry and Ashley Cole. Fantastic players. In midfield, we had David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves. And then you have, in attack, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey… great players, all of them, and great leaders.”

What have you learned in your long career? – “I’m very lucky, I’ve worked in many different countries. You always learn something. One thing I learned is that you cannot go to England, or China, or Mexico, or Ivory Coast and try to make them Swedish. You have to take the culture where you are and adapt to that. Don’t try to change people. You can try to change the way they play, of course, but not the culture.”

Leicester City Crest





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