Thursday, May 8, 2008
Eriksson to Benfica? Or is it Smoke-and-Mirrors?
The Sven Goran Eriksson smoke-and-mirrors show took an interesting twist yesterday when Portuguese television cameras spotted the Manchester City boss existing a Manchester hotel with Benfica president LuÍs Filipe Viera, soon-to-be club official Rui Costa and Pablo Gonçalves, the club's attorney, supposedly the early stages of a deal that would return Eriksson to the Benfica bench.
Benfica is about to wrap up a miserable season this weekend that has them in fourth place after spending considerable time in second which would have wrapped up a Champions League spot. The team was also eliminated in the Portuguese Cup semifinals by archrivals Sporting after blowing a 3-1 second-half lead and losing 5-3.
Former player Chalana took over for Jose Antonio Camacho, who bolted earlier this season from the manager's chair. Chalana has done little to keep the job and Portugal's top club is apparently pursuing the former England manager.
Eriksson is all but done at Manchester City. It's despot owner Thaksin Shinawatra has already offered the job to Portugal manager Luis Filipe Scolari, but wants Scolari to commit prior to Euro. Scolari says he won't make up his mind until after the tournament. Portugal, a 2006 World Cup semifinalist, is among the Euro favorites.
The real question here is: Why Benfica?
OK, Eriksson coached there in the 1980s and 90s and won championships and took the team to the UEFA Cup finals. But at 4 million euros a year, he's hardly a bargain, and way out of Benfica's price range. But is something creative going on in the background? Eriksson is essentially playing with house money right now. He was bought out of his England contract (three years) and will have to be bought out of his City deal (two years). Could Benfica work that to its advantage? Could it offer Eriksson a piece of the club in exchange for lesser salary, for example? Interesting, and possible.
Or is the more likely answer that Eriksson is using Benfica as a bargaining chip for a bigger deal? Don't foget, Jose Mourinho casts a big shadow among available coaches. But with Barcelona, AC Milan and possibly the Liverpool job opening up, there are plenty of scenarios for a coach with Eriksson's resume.
At first blush, this was a courtesy meeting with Benfica. With the regular season winding down, Eriksson is being proactive about his next move, whether he'll end up in Lisbon is another question altogether.