From England allies to east Midlands rivals for Eriksson and McClaren

It seems strange to think that in the space of five years Steve McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksson have gone from carrying the hopes of a nation to managing Championship clubs within the same region.

From England allies to east Midlands rivals for Eriksson and McClaren Their fall from grace has added a layer of intrigue to the division that will be magnified on Saturday when McClaren's Nottingham Forest host Eriksson's stuttering Leicester City side in an east Midlands derby that brings together the two former England managers.

The last time the pair stood on the same touchline was at the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals in Gelsenkirchen, when McClaren was working as Eriksson's assistant when England lost to Portugal on penalties. He took over from the Swede immediately after the tournament but was sacked in November the following year, after failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championship in humiliating circumstances.

While McClaren went on to enjoy success in the Netherlands with Twente before enduring a tougher time with Wolfsburg in Germany, Eriksson has been here, there and everywhere. He spent a season in charge of Manchester City, returned to the international scene with Mexico, came back to England to become director of football at Notts County, left these shores again to take charge of Ivory Coast at the last World Cup and was appointed at Leicester last October.

It is, however, tempting to wonder what opportunities there would be in England for Eriksson or McClaren if they fail in the Championship. "If you don't want to risk your reputation, you should stay at home," Eriksson says. "The Championship is not the Premier League but it's very close. This league is fantastic – it's the fourth or fifth most-followed league in the world. I'd rather be where I am than be with a middle Serie A team or a middle team in Portugal."

Eriksson would, though, like to be much higher up the Championship table. Leicester were favourites for promotion after spending about £10m on 11 new signings in the summer yet the early signs are that the increased expectation levels may be too much for the players. After winning 1-0 at Coventry City on the opening day of the season, they have suffered back-to-back home defeats, which have cranked up the pressure on Eriksson ahead of the trip to Forest. "It's not been good enough," Eriksson says.

He is, however, looking forward to his reunion with McClaren. He speaks warmly of the Forest manager's input during their time with England and maintains he was the right man to replace him. "I think he was a natural [successor], especially if you remember that they didn't want a Swede or a foreign manager," Eriksson says, smiling. "I think [Steve] was ready for it. He worked with me for four and a half years. He had worked with Sir Alex [Ferguson] and did a good job at Middlesbrough too."

Yet the reality is that McClaren looked out of his depth when England missed out on Euro 2008. "I felt for him – as I did for Fabio Capello at the last World Cup," Eriksson says. "I know what it is to go through that. But it's not that easy. In this country, the expectation is to win a big tournament, but it's not easy at all. I've spoken to [Steve] regularly but I didn't speak to him [in the immediate aftermath of the Croatia game] because you don't really know what to say, do you? It hurts."

McClaren admits that he has come to regard the England job as almost impossible. "It does make me laugh because of what has happened since. There's no better coach in the world than Fabio Capello. His record is unbelievable, yet still he finds it very, very difficult," he says. "I worked with Sven for five years and we reached the quarter-finals in three tournaments and went out of two on penalties, and you get as much ridicule when you're only inches away from a semi-final."

Although McClaren joked on the eve of the season that he has asked Eriksson for some money to spend on players, the purse strings have been loosened at the City Ground in the past week or so. Two strikers, Matt Derbyshire and Ishmael Miller, have signed, adding firepower to a squad that have managed only a solitary goal – scored by Chris Gunter, a full-back, in the 1-0 victory at Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night – in their opening three league matches.

Leicester have had problems at both ends of the pitch and there is also a sense that opponents are viewing them as a scalp because of the combination of their wealth and Eriksson's presence. "Leicester are a big club and Forest are a big club," Eriksson says. "I can understand with the spending … if you want to put in my name, I don't know, [maybe] they all want to beat us. But we have to live with that for the next 43 games. That's the reality."

Powered by article was written by Stuart James, for The Guardian on Thursday 18th August 2011 22.30 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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