2024 kicked off with sad news on the sporting front, as former England and Leicester City manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson, announced that he has “at best” a year to live following a shock cancer diagnosis. Following a surprise collapse at his home, doctors initially determined that Sven had suffered a stroke. However, following a detailed examination, the full extent of his illness was revealed as terminal pancreatic cancer.
Unsurprisingly, given his vast contribution to football around the world, Sven has received an outpouring of love and support from colleagues, former players, and fans from far and wide. That has included those of Leicester City, where Sven spent a short but largely successful spell as manager in 2010/11. For his part, the 75-year-old has met the challenge in his trademark calm manner, determined not to feel sorry for himself and make the most of his time left.
Here, we look back at the career of the first foreign manager of the English National side, with a more detailed focus on his time in the Foxes hot seat, outlining his positive impact just before the golden era.
Success Across the Continent
Born in Sunne, Sweden, in 1948, Sven enjoyed a low-profile career on the pitch, racking up 150 appearances for Torsby, SK Sifhälla, and Karlskoga. Retiring at 27, Eriksson perhaps summed up his playing days best when stating, “I was looked upon as a distinctly average defender, but someone who rarely made mistakes”.
Distinctly average on the pitch, Sven found his true calling in the dugout. Beginning at Degerfors, he led the side to promotion in his second season in charge and, by 1982, was lifting the UEFA Cup with IFK Göteborg. That represented a spectacular achievement for a Swedish side and placed Sven amongst the most coveted young managers on the continent.
What followed was an ascent to the summit of the coaching game, encompassing three Portuguese League titles with Benfica, Copa Italia wins with Roma, Sampdoria, and Lazio, whom he also guided to Serie A and UEFA Cup glory during a golden spell in Rome.
On the international scene, Sven managed England, Mexico, Ivory Coast, and the Philippines – fondly remembered by Three Lions fans for his spell in charge of the “Golden Generation”. Try as he might, Sven couldn’t bring an end to the ever-increasing years of hurt, with the side making it no further than the quarter finals in his three major tournaments in charge. Nevertheless, that level of consistency had eluded England for some time, and his reign included the unforgettable 5-1 triumph over arch-rivals Germany in Munich. All of that, and he still found time for a brief but subtly influential stay in Leicestershire.
2010/11 Sven Arrives to Steady the Ship
Paulo Sousa was proclaimed as “the right man to take our club forward” by Milan Mandarić upon his appointment on 7 July 2010. Nine league games and one win later, the owner had revised that assessment, promptly fired Sousa, and placed a call to Sweden.
Proving agreeable to Milan’s proposal, Sven signed on the dotted line on 3 October, 2010. Would he be the right man to take the club forward? Whilst his time at the King Power failed to produce tangible success, i.e., trophies or promotions, we should remember that the Foxes were in a bit of a mess at the time of his appointment.
Rather than aiming for promotion, simple survival was the most immediate goal for the club in October 2010, with Leicester’s desperate early season form seeing the side mired in the Championship relegation zone. However, there was at least time to turn things around, and they could hardly have a more experienced or capable coach to assist with the task.
The Eriksson era began solidly with a 1-1 draw with Hull City – managed by one of his predecessors and immediate successor, Nigel Pearson – followed by a morale-boosting 2-1 victory at Elland Road. Solid and steady in the lead-up to Christmas, Eriksson rode out a media storm surrounding rumours that he may replace Sam Allardyce at Blackburn Rovers, and by the New Year, the Foxes were flying.
Looking more potent in attack and organised in defence than had been the case for some time, Leicester won seven of their first eight games of 2011, with the loan signings of Kyle Naughton and Yakubu having an immediate positive impact on the side. By the time Martin Waghorn fired in an injury-time winner against Bristol City, Leicester were up to seventh and only one point off the playoff positions – quite the turnaround!
Then, of course, the wheels came off. A run of only two wins in their next 10 games saw Leicester ultimately finish in 10th. Nevertheless, given the unenviable predicament the club found themselves in when he arrived, that first season has to go down as a success.
2011/12: Promotion Push Doesn’t Go to Plan
Having shown marked improvement overall, Eriksson received the board’s full backing ahead of the 2011/12 campaign. He was given money to spend, splashing the cash on Matt Mills, Jermaine Beckford, and others to assemble a promotion-ready squad.
Whether the group would ultimately have gelled under Eriksson is impossible to answer, as we didn’t get the chance to find out. Following a slow start, which saw Leicester sitting 13th after 13 games (although still only three points off the playoff positions), the ever-impatient Mandarić appears to have reached the end of his tether once more, with Eriksson departing by mutual consent on 25 October 2011. After just over a year at the King Power, and it was all over.
All told, Eriksson signed 25 players during his short time in charge. Inevitably, there were a few misses amongst that rapid recruitment – Roman Bednar, Chris Kirkland, Diomansy Kamara, and John Paintsil made only 30 appearances between them – but there were also several spectacular hits, headlined by the following three inspired acquisitions:
- Kasper Schmeichel – Signed for just £1m from Leeds United in June 2011. For a mere £1m, Eriksson brought in the man who would serve as Leicester’s number one for the next 11 seasons, encompassing promotion, miraculous relegation escapes, Premier League Glory, FA Cup Triumphs and European adventures. Signings don’t come much better and the keeper was a fine leader on and off the pitch as well.
- David Nugent – Sven signed the striker on a free transfer from Portsmouth in July 2011. Mr Consistency for Leicester up front, Nugent fired in 15 or more goals in three successive seasons at the King Power, departing with a record of 59 goals in 180 appearances.
- Paul Konchesky – Signed for £1.5m from Liverpool in July 2011. The no-nonsense left-back made 155 appearances for Leicester and was influential in the great escape of 2014/15.
Sven’s Legacy: From a Sinking Ship to Solid Foundations
Eriksson’s spell at the Leicester City helm certainly won’t be remembered as the most illustrious period of his career, or the most successful one for the club. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue that the shrewd Swede didn’t leave the Foxes in a better position than when he arrived. We can only speculate on what ultimate fate would have befallen the East Midlands outfit had they continued their downward trend and suffered relegation in that 2010/11 season. However, it seems fair to assume that the path which led to that magical 2015/16 campaign may have remained forever in the imagination.