Eriksson's 'enormous' challenge

Tommy Lawton was in his immaculate pomp. Quick, explosive, two-footed and insuppressible in the air, he was an automatic in the England attack and a terrorist to First Division defences. It was November 1947 and he had scored 26 goals in 34 league outings for Chelsea the previous season, and more than a goal per game in his ongoing international career, including the fastest goal in his country's history, after just 17 seconds against Portugal six months earlier.

When, suddenly, Lawton elected to drop two tiers and join Notts County, shockwaves hurtled through the English game. Sure, the Magpies carried the prestige of being the oldest professional club in the world. Granted, they had an FA Cup conquest to their name. Indeed, Italian giants Juventus had adopted black-and-white striped jerseys in their homage.

But County's esteem had been achieved in the sport's infancy. They had since suffered a sharp decline and had not competed among the elite in over 20 years. In luring Lawton, football's grandfathers had executed the mother of all coups.

Fast-forward to yesterday, 62 years on, and Notts County caused another palatial sensation. This time it was one that rumbled beyond England's borders and across world football. This time the subject was not a celebrity forward but one of its most distinguished coaches. His name is Sven-Goran Eriksson, the League Two outfit's new director of football.

So, why has somebody who masterminded six top-flight triumphs in three different countries and, against considerable odds, guided Benfica to the European Cup final decided to assume duties at a club that has no realistic chance of winning major silverware anytime soon? Why has a coach who broke the world transfer record to take Hernan Crespo to Lazio, for whom he also signed Marcelo Salas, Juan Sebastian Veron and Christian Vieri for megabucks, decided to join a club whose biggest outlay was the £685,000 purchase of Tony Agana in 1991? Why has a man whose last home game in charge of Mexico in March drew a crowd of over 90,000 to the Estadio Azteca opted to make Meadow Lane, which had an average attendance of little over 4,000 last term, his home?

The obvious suspicion is money. After all, Eriksson was, during his five and a half years in the England hot-seat, international football's highest-paid coach. However, it is an accusation he vehemently denies.

This challenge is enormously big. It's the biggest football challenge in my life trying to take Notts County to the Premier League. That's the target.
Sven-Goran Eriksson

"I'm not here for money, I am here for the challenge," Eriksson declared. "That's the truth. This challenge is enormously big. It's the biggest football challenge in my life trying to take Notts County to the Premier League. That's the target. That's why I'm here."

Eriksson, who penned a five-year contract, has already spoken to County manager Ian McParland. "We discussed players," the Swede explained. "I don't know the players here. I asked what we need to go further on. I think to start with we have to find good players. Without good players you can't reach League One and The Championship."

Notts County's mission to escape English football's fourth flight will begin at home to Bradford City on 8 August, before visits to Macclesfield Town one week later and Chesterfield four days after that - exactly two years after the then-Manchester City manager plotted a 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the Premier League.

And Eriksson's unwavering gaze is on a return to English football's upper tier. "I have always said I wanted to return to the Premier League, as it is the best league in the world," he said. "I may have taken a hard way to go about achieving that goal, but we'll do it."

This will not happen overnight, but Eriksson has instantaneously catapulted Notts County back into the spotlight. For now, at least, they will be known for more than just inspiring Juve's illustrious colours and their unparalleled antique.