Sven-Goran Eriksson has a coaching CV to savour. Indeed, his 33 years in the dugout have included 17 major club titles, including league trophies in his native Sweden, Portugal and Italy, as well as spells in charge of England, Mexico and Côte d'Ivoire and three successive FIFA World Cup™ appearances. Furthermore, the 62-year-old has had under his tutelage, among countless other notables, Falcao, Giuseppe Giannini, Carlo Ancelotti, Rui Costa, Juan Sebastian Veron, Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedved, Hernan Crespo, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba.
Eriksson is, nevertheless, far from satisfied and was recently appointed manager of Leicester City. In a revealing interview with FIFA.com, the former right-back discussed his ambition to guide the Foxes back into the Premier League, time in charge of the Three Lions and the Elephants, love of the FIFA World Cup and desire to be at Brazil 2014, and the importance of sports psychology.
FIFA.com: It has been a couple of months since you joined Leicester City. How are you enjoying life as a club manager once again?
Sven-Goran Eriksson: I like it very much. It’s a nice club, an old club with a good stadium, good training facilities, good fans, a lot of fans. I like the ambition of the club as they want to be in the Premier League as quickly as possible.
Why did you take the job?
Because of the club, and very much because of the challenge and the ambitions of the club.
The target for yourself and for the club is to get back into the Premier League, but from what you have seen of the Championship so far, how big a gap is there between the two?
I think it is very difficult to get promotion for any club, but I guess it is even more difficult once you get it to stay in the Premier League because any team that goes up needs to strengthen their team. So it’s a big challenge to be promoted but maybe even bigger to stay up.
The best time of my professional life is coaching at the World Cup. It’s absolutely beautiful, every minute of it. You breathe football. You know that you are on the biggest football stage you can be on.
People now associate you with international football after spells in charge of England, Mexico and Côte d'Ivoire - do you think that your club achievements have been somewhat forgotten?
(Laughs) I don’t know. Of course when you are the England manager you have got a lot of press, good press and bad press. It’s big because it’s a huge football job, maybe the biggest you can have in the world, one of the biggest anyhow. So you become even more famous than you were before.
Did you enjoy your experience with England?
Absolutely, every day.
In terms of your professional career, where would you say you have been at your happiest as a man and as a manager?
In different places. In Gothenburg I was very happy and was there for almost four years with very good results. I was happy at Benfica for sure, a big club. I was happy at Lazio, getting big results at a big club. Then, of course, there’s England. Now I’m happy at Leicester. I’ve been rather happy wherever I’ve been, but of course when you have success with a club team you are even more satisfied.
You just mentioned your success at Lazio, where Robert Mancini was for a time your number two, and now he is at your old club Manchester City. If he is given the time, do you think he will be a success there?
Sooner or later Manchester City will win the league. It could be this season. It’s very tight up there, so it’s quite possible. I always said, joking a little bit, ‘Mancini is the second best for that job, the best one would be me’.
You have coached at three consecutive FIFA World Cups, which is a considerable achievement. Did you enjoy doing so or was the pressure too intense?
The best time of my professional life is coaching at the World Cup, and I have been there twice with England and once with Côte d'Ivoire. It’s absolutely beautiful, every minute of it. You breathe football. You know that you are on the biggest stage together with your team, the biggest football stage you can be on. It’s very bad every time you get knocked out, twice with England in the quarter-finals, and the group stage with Côte d'Ivoire unfortunately. But it’s a big, big party, beautiful.
How difficult was it for you to take charge of Côte d'Ivoire just two-and-a-half months before the first game?
It was not difficult in that way as I’ve never had such a happy football team as Côte d'Ivoire. It was smiles all over the place, every day, singing, dancing. But good discipline, very good football players. The only difficulty was that I should have had them a month before. We didn’t have very much time to do things and we had Drogba badly injured and things like that. Anyhow, I think they did very well at the World Cup - we were in a very difficult group.
What lessons do you think that the players can learn from their experiences in South Africa, and where do you think Ivorian football will go from here?
I think like most countries from Africa they should have stability, not changing coach all the time. To be fair to Côte d'Ivoire, they offered me the job for four more years but I had to say no to that. But I think they are missing that because many of the teams have one coach for the qualifying – because for the bigger countries in Africa it is rather easy to qualify for the African Cup and even rather easy for the World Cup – but then just before the World Cup they change to a more experienced coach and I don’t think that is the way to do it. They should have more stability. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be stability.
Why do you think that Ghana, out of all the African teams, were so successful at the FIFA World Cup?
I don’t know, they had a very good team. But I said before the World Cup that I thought that at least one, or hopefully more, African teams would do very well because it was in Africa. Unfortunately it was not Côte d'Ivoire, but Ghana did very well.
In terms of the atmosphere, was there something different about the FIFA World Cup being in Africa?
I think it was good for the country and good for football in Africa. It was very well organised. There were a lot of people, noisy people as well, with the trumpets! It was good, very good. The two World Cups before were organised by very perfect countries – Germany and Japan – and they didn’t miss one thing. Everything was maybe too perfect sometimes. But South Africa did very well.
As a football team you train your muscles, you train the tactics, you train your whole body to be stronger, quicker, and I think you also need to be aware that you can train your brain.
The next FIFA World Cup is in Brazil, where football is huge. What would it mean to you to coach at a fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup?
I’m here in Leicester now and I’m very happy, but it’s four years and you never know what can happen in football over that time. Who knows? I would like to sit on a bench in Brazil but it’s not something I’m dreaming about or actively trying to make happen. I’m happy where I am today. It would be great to be in Brazil even as a fan, it will be a big party. Brazil and football are very much friends.
If you could change just one thing from your three previous FIFA World Cups in 2002, 2006 or 2010, what would it be?
I should have taken on a sports psychologist for World Cup 2006, only for penalty shoot-outs. I regret that I didn’t do that. I should have taken Drogba off in the friendly game before the World Cup against Japan, then he wouldn’t have been injured.
How have you seen sports psychology develop over the past four years as a tool for coaches?
I think it’s important. If you take 20 years ago, psychology was only for sick people, or at least that’s what people said, but as a football team you train your muscles, you train the tactics, you train your whole body to be stronger, quicker, and I think you also need to be aware that you can train your brain.
Over the years you have worked with so many quality goalscorers. Where does Drogba rate among them?
Drogba is fantastic. He’s a big surprise for me, not as a football player but as a human being when you know him. Sometimes you see him playing for Chelsea and he loses his temper and you think he is snobbish, but he is not at all. He is a fantastic man and I admire him, not only as a football player but as a man. He is doing fantastic charity work in his country, he puts in a lot of money. He is a very nice man and he is very clever.
David Beckham was your captain when you managed England. What are your opinions of him as a person and a professional footballer?
He’s a fantastic person, he’s a little bit like Drogba. They are very similar in that Beckham is a good person, clever, very, very professional, always working hard, generous, always giving money to charity and his own organisations. You don’t become famous only by playing football, I don’t think. Drogba has something more than most footballers, like David Beckham - they have charisma.