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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
Eriksson's feminine wiles
David Beckham and Sven-Goran Eriksson are welcomed with flowers as they arrive in South Korea
Beckham and Eriksson say it with flowers

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It may not please many hard-core football fans, but the reason why the current England team looks like the best the country has produced for many years is because it is more feminine than its predecessors.

That is the opinion of Professor Julian Birkinshaw, who has co-authored a book analysing Sven-Goran Eriksson's effect on the England team.

Before too many coffees go flying over keyboards, feminine does not mean that the England team has suddenly turned into a bunch of big girl's blouses with more ability to shop than tackle, and other sexist clichés that have no place at the BBC.

Rather it means that Eriksson tries to foster an environment based on communication and encouragement, rather than one based on ranting and raving.

Open Quote
Sven wants to try and understand what people think about things
Close Quote
Prof. Julian Birkinshaw

Traditionally football in this country has been played in a classically male environment.

Respect is accorded due to status, and verbal abuse, and even physical violence, is used to motivate.

The flying tea cup smashing against a dressing room wall is a typically English way of encouraging a player to perform better.

And Sir Alex Ferguson is famed in the game for his "hairdryer" tirades, where he gets so close to players as he shouts at them that they can feel his hot breath.

Sir Alex's achievements testify to the effectiveness of his methods.

But there is more than one way to achieve success, and Professor Birkinshaw believes that Eriksson's way is radically different from the traditional English methods.

The professor, who lived in Sweden for three years, believes that Eriksson is a product of the more feminine culture found in the Scandinavian country.

David Beckham poses with his new haircut
Beckham is in touch with his feminine side
Speaking at the London School of Business, which is no more than a hefty Sol Campbell clearance across Regents Park from Eriksson's home, Professor Birkinshaw said: "Sweden is far less hierarchical than Britain.

"The country is far less obsessed with class structure and people higher up lining up against people lower down.

"It is a more feminine way of doing things, and what Sven does is quintessentially Swedish.

"He's very open to listening to his team.

"Ultimately he'll make the decision, but he wants to try and understand what people think about things.

"He wants to let them go out and do it themselves, rather than forcing his opinion on everything they do."

Mutual respect

In management consultancy-speak this is what constitutes a "feminine" approach and it does signify a different way of operating, one that is not restricted to the England national side.

You just have to hear Tony Adams on the difference between Arsenal managers Arsene Wenger and George Graham to recognise that the game has changed.

Whereas Wenger and Adams have a relationship based on mutual respect as individuals, as well as professionals, Graham tried to instil a degree of fear in his charges.

Both brought success to North London and Eriksson will be hoping that his non-English brand of management will deliver long-overdue glory to the national side.

Feminine qualities

The feminine qualities he uses to manage may be unusual in the macho culture of England football, but they may not be as foreign as England fans think.

After all David Beckham has been happily pictured wearing a sarong, wears his wife's underwear and spends more time fussing over his hair than most women.

They may not be exactly the feminine qualities Professor Birkinshaw is referring to.

But if the rest of the team could produce even a fraction of the magic his right foot delivers on demand then England will have a real shot at lifting the World Cup.

And if that happens there will be plenty of solidly masculine England football fans hugging, kissing and maybe even shedding a tear.

Julian Birkinshaw is the co-author, with Stuart Crainer, of Leadership the Sven-Goran Eriksson Way.

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GROUP F
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SWEDEN 3 +1 5
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ARGENTINA 3 0 4
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