- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

Sven-Goran Eriksson, the coach of England’s national team, has the nasty habit of getting himself plastered all over Britain’s notorious tabloids for all the wrong reasons.

Coaching England’s soccer team is considered the second most important job in the U.K. after the prime minister, requiring nerves of steel and a certain proprietary. Eriksson appears deficient in the later category.

As he prepares England for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the Swedish native has been caught in a sting by a controversial undercover reporter, nicknamed the “fake sheik” for his Arab garb, who works for the sleazy News of the World.

Eriksson, 57, was lured to a luxury resort in Dubai where he was caught on tape making personal comments about key players and his future with the national team. After the revelations appeared in the press, Eriksson found himself in the awkward position of having to call and apologize to his players.

This is not the first time the Swede has been caught in hot water. Just before the 2002 World Cup, Eriksson’s cheating on a longtime girlfriend was a hot topic on the news. Then the gory details of an affair with a secretary at the Football Association (FA) — the people who pay his wages — made the headlines. At one time, Eriksson was also photographed in secret talks with Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, suggesting he was double-dealing and looking for a job at Chelsea.

Eriksson became the first non-Englishman to coach England in 2001 and despite the scandals has been quite successful. He is noted for leading England to a 5-1 win against Germany on the road in the 2002 World Cup. England then beat archrival Argentina, before exiting the 2002 finals after a loss to Brazil. Last year England won its qualifying group on the road to the 2006 World Cup.

But the worst is not over for Eriksson, as the News of the World plans to report more on its sting in tomorrow’s issue.

However, with the World Cup just months away, the FA has no alternative but to keep the Swede on board and pay him his $5.3 million salary after taxes.

Loaded with world recognized stars such as Frank Lampard, John Terry, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, England has produced its best squad in a generation. Sadly, Eriksson’s gullibility creates yet another unneeded distraction.

African Cup — The African Cup of Nations (also known as the Nations Cup), which kicked off yesterday in Egypt, is attracting more attention than usual, now that numerous African stars are earning big money in the European leagues. And with five African countries competing in the World Cup in June — four for the first time — this year’s event takes on added importance.

American coach Bruce Arena will no doubt have his assistants scouting Ghana at the 25th Nations Cup. The U.S. team plays Ghana on June 22 in Nuremberg in the opening round of World Cup play.

Unfortunately for the American scouts, Ghana’s top player, Michael Essien, who cost English champion Chelsea $47 million from French club Lyon in the summer, will miss the tournament after tearing ankle ligaments. Ghana, ranked 50th in the world, is seeking its fifth Nations Cup title and first since 1982. It is captained by Stephen Appiah, considered one of Africa’s best midfielders.

The Nations Cup has come under heavy criticism from many big club coaches who will lose some of their top players to the tournament for up to five weeks. Unlike other major tournaments, which are played in the summer months when the European clubs are on their break, the biennial Nations Cup runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10, just as the European leagues are moving into top gear. Big clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal and Inter Milan will all key lose players to the month-long tournament. Barcelona will be missing Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o, the leading goal scorer in Spain. Chelsea will be without key Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, while Tottenham Hotspur’s striker Mido will spearhead Egypt.

Africans are reluctant to reschedule the tournament to the summer months just to satisfy the rich clubs in Europe, but reality may be knocking on the door. Soccer players want to wear the national team jersey but they also know their paycheck comes from their club.

There are more than 30 Africans playing in England, and according to BBC Sport, in 2004 the French League saw more than 50 players leave to play in the Nations Cup. Senegal alone has 15 players on its roster playing for clubs in France.

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