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Page last updated at 21:16 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 22:16 UK

Sven's Mexico mission

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Sven-Goran Eriksson
Eriksson was more popular as Man City's manager than he was when in charge of England

Another job, another country, another challenge - the much travelled Sven-Goran Eriksson has left Manchester City and taken charge of Mexico, a mission every bit as fascinating as the one he embarked on when he took charge of England.

With England he was the first foreign coach to guide the national team. Mexico have had plenty - even Europeans, such as the Serbian Bora Milutinovic.

But Mexico's foreign coaches have usually been well grounded in Latin American football and even then, they have often had a hard time coping with local nationalism.

As they line up for the national anthem, Mexico's players put their right arm across their chests with the palm outstretched.

It is a salute, the way that those not in the military show that they are soldiers of the nation. For the foreign coach, it is a symbol of the pride and delicate sentiments he will have to deal with.

Perhaps, though, this is an especially good moment for an outsider to step in. The nationalist card has just been played, with disappointing results.

Argentine Ricardo Lavolpe took Mexico to the last World Cup. Throughout his reign he had to put up with a campaign against him by Hugo Sanchez, the former Real Madrid striker who is one of the leading idols of Mexican football.

Night and day Sanchez argued that a Mexican, and preferably himself, should be placed in charge of the national team.


Then he got his way. Last year Sanchez was coach when Mexico lost the final of the Gold Cup to those hated rivals from north of the border, the United States. He then took the team to third place in the Copa America.

But the big disappointment came this year when he was unable to qualify Mexico for the Olympic Games. They failed even to make it out of the group stage, and the Mexican FA, which had been saying that "Plan A is Hugo, Plan B is Hugo and Plan C is Hugo" were forced to make a change.

So in comes Eriksson, with his international prestige and lack of local knowledge. The Swede's CV proves beyond doubt that he is a highly competent club coach. He can assemble players of a number of different nationalities and gently wield them into a team.

But a national team coach is unable to buy in those he wants. He has to work with those available to him by birth (or nationality legislation). It is vital, then, that he understands the mentality and footballing identity of his host country.

Munich stadium scoreboard
England underachieved after their amazing win in Munich

Perhaps this was Eriksson's failure with England. Maybe that 5-1 scoreline turned out to be much better for the Germans than it was for England.

It forced Germany to ditch a defensive system - the sweeper operating well behind the defensive line - that had become obsolete. They responded by learning how to play in a back four, and have since come second and third in the last two World Cups.

But for England the 5-1 appeared to trap the team into a 'let's sneak one off a counter-attack or a set piece' way of thinking which had little connection with the historic attacking mentality of English football. It was clearly significant that Paul Scholes, England's most talented passing midfielder, wanted no part in it.

Strip away all the hype and there was little to get excited about in Eriksson's England - who played some of their most convincing football in his reign when they were down to 10 men in the 2006 quarter final against Portugal.

The backs-to-the-wall situation touched a nerve with the English players that Eriksson's caution and passivity had been unable to reach.

Will he have any more success getting through to the Mexicans? A 5-1 win over the USA would certainly help cast out some of the doubts.

You can put your questions to Tim Vickery every week on the World Football Phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night programme from 0230 to 0400 BST every Saturday. You can also download last week's World Football Phone-in Podcast.

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

see also
Eriksson appointed Mexico coach
03 Jun 08 |  Internationals
Eriksson leaves Manchester City
02 Jun 08 |  Man City
The end of Eriksson's era
29 Apr 08 |  Man City
Sven's signings - hits or misses?
29 Apr 08 |  Man City
Eriksson's English spell in photos
02 Jun 08 |  Football
Eriksson named Man City manager
06 Jul 07 |  Man City

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