Wednesday, August 04, 2004
By Mark Bradley
SVEN-Goran Eriksson argued his innocence yesterday as he gave evidence to the legal team investigating the controversy which has rocked the English Football Association.
The FA ordered an inquiry into the circumstances in which they were forced to issue a press release admitting the England coach had an affair with secretary Faria Alam - just days after denying it.
They are also looking into the build-up to chief executive Mark Palios' resignation after PR chief Colin Gibson tried to keep his boss' name out of the scandal by revealing details of Eriksson's affair with the same woman.
That seems to have improved Eriksson's position, although his fate will not be decided until tomorrow's board meeting, when the FA's 12 main powerbrokers sit in judgment of the whole unseemly saga.
While the meeting could also bring the actions of FA chairman Geoff Thompson and executive director David Davies under closer scrutiny, Eriksson still remains the main source of public attention.
He was interviewed yesterday afternoon by the independent lawyer hired by the FA to carry out the investigation into the events of the past couple of weeks.
Their talks took place in secret, well away from the massed ranks of cameras and reporters arrayed outside the FA's Soho Square headquarters.
Eriksson is thought to have maintained his innocence of any charges of deliberately misleading the FA over his relationship with Alam. When questioned by Davies, one of his closest allies at the FA, on July 19 about allegations of an affair, the Swede is said to have responded simply that "this is nonsense".
Davies seemingly took that to be an outright denial, matching Alam's own insistence that nothing had taken place between them and sparking the original FA statement.
Eriksson has nevertheless insisted he never issued a "categorical" denial, effectively arguing he had simply been expressing his distaste at intrusions into his private life. His advisers expected him to set out that case at the meeting, leaving the FA to decide whether to sack him or back him after receiving the legal team's report tomorrow.
With the European Human Rights Act prohibiting his bosses from asking about his private life and the FA open to an unfair dismissal claim after the circumstances of Palios' departure, sacking him could be an expensive business.
With four years left on his £4million-a-year contract, the Swede could therefore still survive this saga, even if there remains some disquiet at his lack of achievements for such a princely sum.
The FA were nevertheless remaining tight-lipped yesterday, a policy that would have served them better at the outset.
Eriksson, meanwhile, was only commenting in public on the surprise international retirement of Paul Scholes.
Otherwise, he was being cautioned by his advisers to lie low for the next 48 hours despite having planned a trip to Manchester United's friendly against PSV Eindhoven.
Davies, meanwhile, remained in temporary charge behind the scenes as caretaker FA chief executive, despite speculation that Trevor Brooking was being lined up for the role on a short-term basis.
The former England international was hired by Palios as the FA's director of football development in January and is seen as a safe pair of hands.
Palios is not expected to be the last employee to leave the FA as a result of this tawdry affair. The question remains as to whether Eriksson has to follow him out.