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

It’s now nearly 15 years since Sven Göran 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’s recent history. Future Sport spoke to the Swede to relive his five years in charge of the national side, managing the ‘Golden Generation’ and having coffee with Tony Blair…

If he wasn’t 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-Göran Eriksson was invited for coffee with Blair and Swedish counterpart Göran Persson in the not-so-glamourous surroundings of Luton Airport.

“We were sat in a private room,” Sven tells Future Sport. “And the first thing Tony Blair said to me was: ‘Welcome to England, Sven. Shall we take a bet?’”

The Swede goes on: “I said ‘What do you mean?’, and he replied ‘Who’s going to keep their job the longest, you or me? Because we have two impossible jobs and we’ll be sacked one day!’ It made me understand that the England job is a big one.”

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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’t help Sven’s 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.

“I recognised on the first day that there were people protesting that the national team should only be coached by an English manager,” he says. “But at the same time, England weren’t in the best position to qualifying for the 2002 tournament, so there wasn’t really a lot to lose – but there was a lot to win.”

It’s 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 – win the Scudetto with a team that wasn’t Juventus, Milan or Inter.

However, it didn’t 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 – perhaps the national side’s second greatest ever performance.

Sven told Future Sport: “Yes, you can go to Germany and win, but you don’t win 5-1! That should be practically impossible.”

The hardest part after that game was keeping everyone’s feet on the ground. “We just had to remind the players that every game we play in the future will not be like this,” he adds. “Everything went right for us and everything went wrong for the Germans.”

What about the famously partisan English press? Sven said: “When we beat Germany we hadn’t even qualified [for the tournament], but you read the papers the day after and we had already won the World Cup!”

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 ‘Golden Generation’ were in full swing – David Beckham, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole. This surely was England’s time?

“I thought that we could win it or at least reach the final,” Sven reveals. “I was quite sure of that. I think that was the thoughts of all the players and the staff as well, because we couldn’t really see any better team than us.”

He adds, regretfully: “Italy won it but they weren’t really a good, good team; Germany were ok; Spain weren’t 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.”

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’s failings during this period. The trio said that they respected each other but didn’t have the togetherness that other national sides had at the time, or perhaps England have now.

Does Sven agree with that? “No”, he says. “I think it was a happy group and I’m very sad to hear that, because if there was something like that [going on] I would have been told by the players or staff.”

Straight faced, the Swede added: “If you don’t do what you’re expected to do you always find something wrong.”

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: “In England sometimes I get the feeling that they forget the competition to win a major tournament is incredibly high – it’s not only England where they play good football!” He adds: “There are a lot of other teams. It’s difficult, but why not [win it]?”

Sven marks out England’s 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’s talisman can do going into a tournament.

Beckham and Rooney’s 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.

“England have to pray that Harry Kane is fit and in good shape,” he says. “You need a natural goal scorer to win a big tournament and he is a natural goal scorer for sure.”

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

“Football is lots of penalty shoot-outs. We did as we did, unfortunately,” he says. And England know that more than most.