Manchester City supporters and football fans the world over, will have been deeply saddened after Sven-Goran Eriksson revealed he has probably less than a year to live. The popular former City manager is battling cancer and shared his medical prognosis during an interview with a Swedish radio station.
Sven’s one season at the then City of Manchester Stadium, was a real rollercoaster under the ownership of Thaksin Shinawatra. After turgid times under Stuart Pearce, Sven took City fans on an entertaining ride with two derby wins over United - famously on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Disaster at Old Trafford – and had City top the Premier League during 2007, as well as occupying a top six slot in the early part of 2008.
Sven told Swedish RadioP1: “Everyone can see that I have a disease that’s not good, and everyone supposes that it’s cancer, and it is. But I have to fight it as long as possible.
“I know that in the best case it’s about a year, in the worst case even less. It’s impossible to say exactly, so it’s better not to think about it.
“You have to trick your brain. I could go around thinking about it all the time, sit at home, be miserable and think I’m unlucky and so on.
“It’s easy to end up in that position, but I’m going to try and exercise as much as possible, which is less than it was a year ago, but I have a normal life.”
Sven’s tragic circumstances are a world away from nearly 17 years ago when, almost one year to the day of leaving his role as England manager, he joined City in July 2007 – famously recruiting virtually a whole new team - many based on watching video footage.
Under Sven, City delivered flair, excitement and unpredictability.
It was a privilege to be at West Ham for his first Premier League match in August - a blisteringly hot day - when the likes of Vedran Corluka, Javier Garrido, Elano, Martin Petrov, Rolando Bianchi, Geovanni, Valeri Bojinov and Kasper Schmeichel made their City debuts, in a wonderful 2-0 win.
The travelling support had such fun - not only celebrating a cracking win at Upton Park - but also trying to identify so many new players in one go!
Sven’s debut at the COMS was a midweek 1-0 victory over Derby County. Michael Johnson’s winning goal was – quite incredibly – City’s first at home since New Year’s Day.
Needless to say it was celebrated wildly.
Four days later, Sven’s men notched up a sensational and totally unexpected win over Fergie’s reigning champions, with a long-range Geovanni strike putting Manchester United to the sword.
After being bored witless for most of the previous season, it was one hell of a week to be a City fan – one that those who witnessed it ‘live’ will never forget.
Sven was Manager of the Month and guided City on a good run until the end of 2007. City sat in third place throughout the October and November, only falling out of the top six in January 2008.
There were ups and downs throughout a turbulent season, the highlight arguably being the historic 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, making Sven the first City manager to win both league derbies since 1969-70.
The ninth-place finish on 55 points equalled City’s highest Premier League point haul, up until that time. It was enough to gain UEFA Cup qualification for 2008/09, albeit via the UEFA Fair Play League.
Sven was poorly treated by Thaksin and, when it became obvious the manager was going to be sacked, the players effectively downed tools in an 8-1 defeat away at Middlesbrough – the Swede’s last competitive game as City boss.
It wasn’t only the players who loved him. The fans wanted him to stay and a petition with thousands of signatures was presented to the club, but to no avail.
Prior to City and England, Sven had achieved great success in Italy with Sampdoria, but most noticeably Lazio. He’d also managed Fiorentina and Roma in Serie A, as well as two stints in Portugal with Benfica. He’d begun his managerial career in Sweden with Degerfors IF and IKF Gothenburg.
After City, the highly regarded and well-travelled Sven held national managerial positions with Mexico, Ivory Coast and Philippines, led three different Chinese clubs in four years and Leicester City in The Championship, along with a brief flirtation with Notts County as Director of Football in League Two.
Reflecting on his colourful and extensive managerial career, Sven questioned whether - with hindsight – he should’ve declined the England job and remained with Lazio where, in his words, he was, ‘…treated like a king…’
Always highly regarded as a true gentleman – as well as hugely respected as a manager – Sven, who’ll be 76 next month, says he intends to live his remaining days in as positive fashion as possible in his homeland.
Whether or not he has the inclination, strength or opportunity to travel outside of Sweden, only he will know, but a trip to the Etihad and final farewell from 50,000+ City fans would be a privilege for the supporters and a fitting send off.
In the meantime the hearts and thoughts of City fans are with Sven in these most difficult of times, as he fights until the end. Thank you for the memories Sven and here’s hoping against hope that we can say one final goodbye in person.
By David Walker