By Nick Place at the Crikey sports desk
England is currently salivating about, appalled by or laughing at a classic
tabloid newspaper sting, after the News
Of The World, that ethics-free journal, comprehensively duped English
soccer manager Sven Goran Eriksson with a large-scale con.
Apparently six months in the making – as News Corp stablemate The Timesexplains – the
con saw the tabloid invite the Swedish 57-year-old to Dubai, ostensibly
to discuss a planned soccer academy. Back in July, it had heard that Eriksson,
who has been coach of England for five controversial years, and his connections were actively
open to opportunities, and had started turning wheels, approaching Richard des Voeux, a
lawyer/business partner of Eriksson’s agent, Athole Still. They established a
one-page website for the alleged eastern company, AJ Sports, with a “coming
If you can believe the NoTW, it hadn’t even expected Eriksson to show up in Dubai on such a
left field project, only five months out from the World Cup. He had postponed
twice, for footballing reasons, and NoTW
postponed once, to make it look like their sheikh was busy, which was a nice
But finally the English coach flew into Dubai, with Still
and des Voeux, all set to meet this mysterious ultra-rich sheikh, Mohsin Alikan. Whisked off the
plane straight into a white Rolls Royce, bypassing customs, and installed at Dubai’s glittering
800 pound-a-night seven-star hotel, the Burj al-Arab (picture right),
life must have seemed good for Sven and co. They duly sat down to dinner at the
hotel’s seafood restaurant, which isn’t a cheap place to eat, and this
is where the NoTW stooge, and his
cohorts, would not have been able to believe their luck.
Because it turned out that, within an hour, Eriksson
was reportedly happy to discuss helping his brand new friends buy the Aston
Villa club, where they could install him as manager at a five million pound
(after tax) salary, at which point he would illegally poach English captain
David Beckham from Real Madrid.
Over the rest of the visit, which included a sail on
the sheikh’s “luxury cruiser,” Eriksson compromised himself further, by
revealing all sorts of personal information about star English players, such as
the fact Michael Owen is apparently only at Newcastle for the money, that Sven
believes Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand is lazy, that Wayne Rooney’s poor
family upbringing counted against him, and other such howlers.
All of which totally broke universally recognised
locker room etiquette, suggested Eriksson was strangely desperate to impress
these new friends, and makes you wonder what else he tells the constant stream
of strangers he must deal with, week in, week out, in his job.
Eriksson and his cronies flew home, after secretly
arranging to meet the sheikh again in London for
further discussions. Eriksson’s homework was to find out an asking price for
Beckham, among other things.
Then Sunday’s News
of The World hits the streets. Oh dear.