This article originally appeared in Future Sport magazine. Click here to read the 2021 edition.

It鈥檚 now nearly 15 years since Sven G枚ran Eriksson stepped down as England manager following three successive quarter-final tournament exits. His approach to football and visible leadership skills split the nation, but he remains one of the most fascinating figures in English football鈥檚 recent history. Future Sport spoke to the Swede to relive his five years in charge of the national side, managing the 鈥楪olden Generation鈥 and having coffee with Tony Blair鈥

If he wasn鈥檛 already feeling the pressure and expectation of a nation, then he certainly was following a conversation with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Not long after arriving in England in 2001 as the first non-national to take charge of the Three Lions, Sven-G枚ran Eriksson was invited for coffee with Blair and Swedish counterpart G枚ran Persson in the not-so-glamourous surroundings of Luton Airport.

鈥淲e were sat in a private room,鈥 Sven tells Future Sport. 鈥淎nd the first thing Tony Blair said to me was: 鈥榃elcome to England, Sven. Shall we take a bet?鈥欌

The Swede goes on: 鈥淚 said 鈥榃hat do you mean?鈥, and he replied 鈥榃ho鈥檚 going to keep their job the longest, you or me? Because we have two impossible jobs and we鈥檒l be sacked one day!鈥 It made me understand that the England job is a big one.鈥

YouTube video

Not passionate enough; too quiet; not English. All slurs thrown his way during his time in charge by fans and media. Where was the machismo? The heart-on-sleeve aggression that English football culture to this day continues to be falsely led by? Perhaps following in the footsteps of the microcosm of this, Kevin Keegan, didn鈥檛 help Sven鈥檚 cause but then, as he says, he was hardly walking into a winning environment. England were struggling in their qualifying group for the 2002 World Cup.

鈥淚 recognised on the first day that there were people protesting that the national team should only be coached by an English manager,鈥 he says. 鈥淏ut at the same time, England weren鈥檛 in the best position to qualifying for the 2002 tournament, so there wasn鈥檛 really a lot to lose 鈥 but there was a lot to win.鈥

It鈥檚 easy to forget, but when Sven moved to London from Lazio he was one of the hottest properties in world football. Over four years in Rome he won the Coppa Italia twice, the UEFA Cup and did what everyone thought was nearly impossible 鈥 win the Scudetto with a team that wasn鈥檛 Juventus, Milan or Inter.

However, it didn鈥檛 take long for the Swede to convince his new public that he was up to the task. England won five World Cup qualifiers in a row, including that famous night in Munich 鈥 perhaps the national side鈥檚 second greatest ever performance.

Sven told Future Sport: 鈥淵es, you can go to Germany and win, but you don鈥檛 win 5-1! That should be practically impossible.鈥

The hardest part after that game was keeping everyone鈥檚 feet on the ground. 鈥淲e just had to remind the players that every game we play in the future will not be like this,鈥 he adds. 鈥淓verything went right for us and everything went wrong for the Germans.鈥

What about the famously partisan English press? Sven said: 鈥淲hen we beat Germany we hadn鈥檛 even qualified [for the tournament], but you read the papers the day after and we had already won the World Cup!鈥

Sven was in charge when England's 'Golden Generation' were in their prime.

England of course were sent packing in 2002 in the quarter-finals by Brazil, then at the same stage two years later on penalties by Portugal in the Euros. But it was the 2006 World Cup in Germany which Sven felt was there for the taking.

The so called 鈥楪olden Generation鈥 were in full swing 鈥 David Beckham, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole. This surely was England鈥檚 time?

鈥淚 thought that we could win it or at least reach the final,鈥 Sven reveals. 鈥淚 was quite sure of that. I think that was the thoughts of all the players and the staff as well, because we couldn鈥檛 really see any better team than us.鈥

He adds, regretfully: 鈥淚taly won it but they weren鈥檛 really a good, good team; Germany were ok; Spain weren鈥檛 the best at that time; so I thought that we could win it and I still think we should have done better, we should have reached the final at least. It was a golden opportunity.鈥

Revealingly, the likes of Ferdinand, Gerrard and Lampard have since said that their intense club rivalries at the time may have been one of the key reasons for the national side鈥檚 failings during this period. The trio said that they respected each other but didn鈥檛 have the togetherness that other national sides had at the time, or perhaps England have now.

Does Sven agree with that? 鈥淣o鈥, he says. 鈥淚 think it was a happy group and I鈥檓 very sad to hear that, because if there was something like that [going on] I would have been told by the players or staff.鈥

Straight faced, the Swede added: 鈥淚f you don鈥檛 do what you鈥檙e expected to do you always find something wrong.鈥

Turning to England now and Gareth Southgate, Sven is equally as enthused about their chances at the upcoming European Championships, especially with a number of games taking place at Wembley Stadium. As ever though, he asks the English public to not go overboard with their expectations, despite their hugely encouraging 2018 World Cup campaign.

The former Manchester City boss said: 鈥淚n England sometimes I get the feeling that they forget the competition to win a major tournament is incredibly high 鈥 it鈥檚 not only England where they play good football!鈥 He adds: 鈥淭here are a lot of other teams. It鈥檚 difficult, but why not [win it]?鈥

Sven marks out England鈥檚 pace and ability on the counterattack as a key route to success. That, and the fitness of captain and goal scorer Harry Kane. Sven, more than most, is all too aware of the impact an injury to a country鈥檚 talisman can do going into a tournament.

Beckham and Rooney鈥檚 metatarsals were front page news when, in 2002 and 2006 respectively, each suffered the same injury prior to a World Cup. Both played in each tournament but were clearly not 100% fit.

鈥淓ngland have to pray that Harry Kane is fit and in good shape,鈥 he says. 鈥淵ou need a natural goal scorer to win a big tournament and he is a natural goal scorer for sure.鈥

The England job is one that Sven clearly looks back on fondly, but also with regret. Rooney鈥檚 red card; loose turf in Lisbon; and did Ronaldinho really mean to score from that free-kick?

鈥淔ootball is lots of penalty shoot-outs. We did as we did, unfortunately,鈥 he says. And England know that more than most.