The Swede, Mills and the Damage Done

I had planned my first post here to be something suitably arch. Something about the unbearable lightness of being Richie Wellens, perhaps, or the time when my brother and I, aged 6 and 8, met Julian Joachim. Monday’s dismissal of Sven Goran Eriksson by Leicester City’s Thai owners means the site kick offs on a more sombre note.

Just three weeks ago, I wrote a guest post for Foxblogger critiquing Eriksson’s first year in charge of the club. Like most supporters, I was cautiously optimistic about the direction in which the club was heading and, despite an inconsistent start to the season, backed the manager. At the time of writing, following an emphatic 4-0 win over Derby County, Leicester were unbeaten in seven games and looking formidable. David Nugent had returned to the side with vigour, Matt Mills and Sol Bamba had forged a secure looking partnership in central defence and the much-debated diamond system seemed to be offering a flexible and dynamic solution to the midfield dilemma.

Then, Matt Mills got himself sent off.

Prior to Mills’ needless two-footed lunge on Morgaro Gomis at St Andrews, the Bamba-Mills juggernaut had not conceded from open play in over 450 minutes, a record dating back to Barnsley at Oakwell on 10th September. Leicester limped to a 2-0 defeat against Birmingham, with Mills banned for the following three games. A comfortable victory but lifeless performance against Watford was followed by the horror show that was Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat to Millwall, and that was the end of the Sven Goran Eriksson roadshow (East Midlands leg).

Of course, the blame cannot be placed at the sizeable feet of one, expensively-bought man. But Mills’ malaise this season tells us a lot about the departure of the man who brought him to the club and made him captain. A club record signing, Mills has, at times, looked no better than his predecessor Jack Hobbs; a ‘hoofer’ in the eyes of many fans, the man Nigel Pearson signed from Liverpool looked like Franz Beckenbauer in comparison with Mills’ early season performances against Barnsley and Reading. Mills did improve and, as his confidence grew, so did the team’s; the rolling cast of midfield sitters feeling able to get forward quicker and more often, cushioned by the security behind them. The Birmingham debacle demonstrated his propensity for hot-head moments and, though the size of his transfer fee was no fault of his own, Mills’ demeanour has been of someone who is overburdened by being overvalued.

For Mills at the back: read Jermaine Beckford up top. Beckford was hailed as a last-ditch coup; Everton’s top scorer last season snatched from under their desperate noses by the snotty rich kids from the division below. The Londoner has flattered to deceive, though, with Sven’s now-regular withdrawal of his services early in the second half indicating the Swede’s decreasing faith in the player. Indeed, the purchase of Beckford looks increasingly like a signing that happened because it could, rather than the result of any grand transfer policy. The failure to sign Craig Mackail-Smith, now enjoying life on the south coast, and long-term target Nicky Maynard, now looks negligent rather than merely unfortunate.

Eriksson’s big-money signings have been his achilles heel and what he has ultimately been judged on by the Raksriaksorn family owners. Conversely, his budget signings and transformation of previously unheralded squad players was impressive. Kasper Schmeichel and Lee Peltier have been unqualified successes; young players bought cheap, both of whom will go to play on in the Premier League, with Leicester or otherwise. David Nugent looks a class act on the verge of resurrecting his career. Darius Vassell and, to a lesser extent, Yuki Abe, have established themselves as manager’s favourites and key components of the squad.

So, as I offered just after that jubilant, unseasonably warm early-October demolition of Derby, we were only just getting to know Sven Goran Eriksson as Championship club manager. And now, we never will. Not since Mark McGhee, to my mind, has a manager so split the City fans. Like McGhee, Eriksson occasionally got his teams playing sensational football, sometimes came across as aloof, suffered the righteous fury of the Radio Leicester phone-in after almost every defeat and the equally vociferous backing of his cheerleaders. The Swede, however, suffered a final fate more familiar to Peter Taylor – undone by an over-inflated transfer fee and the misguided largesse of the club’s owners.

Ultimately, Sven retained the support of the majority of the fans and the feeling amongst most is of sincere disappointment that his project will not be followed through to completion. A horrible feeling of ‘here we go again’ prevails. It’s hard not to believe Sven’s glories and troubles will simply be transferred to another chancer on the Leicester City gameshow; the current frustrations simply replaced by alternative ways to throw away a lead, shoot oneself in the foot and fail to beat apparently inferior opposition.

Farewell then, Sven. We hardly knew you at all.

TJA

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3 Responses to The Swede, Mills and the Damage Done

  1. foxblogger says:

    Great stuff. Looking forward to reading more, TJ.

  2. Great post. Sven always seemed an odd fit at City, but I was still surprised to see him sacked so early in the season. Good insights here for an outsider looking in.

  3. Pingback: 2011 Review: Five moments which defined the year | thefoxpass

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