The Witness - - SPORT -

MANILA — When Sven-Go­ran Eriks­son ar­rived to take up his new role as head coach of the Philip­pines at the week­end, there were no TV cam­eras to greet him, nor were there any fans clam­our­ing for pho­tos and au­to­graphs.

The Swede’s lat­est na­tional team job is al­ready a stark con­trast to any of his oth­ers, trans­port­ing him to a coun­try pas­sion­ate about bas­ket­ball but with lit­tle knowl­edge of soc­cer, de­spite the sport’s fer­vent fol­low­ing through­out East Asia.

But af­ter spend­ing five years as Eng­land man­ager, hounded by the me­dia and see­ing his pri­vate life splashed across front pages, the soft-spo­ken 70-year-old is en­joy­ing the anonymity.

“No­body recog­nised me, it’s very, very good,” Eriks­son told Reuters be­fore tak­ing his third train­ing ses­sion with the Philip­pines na­tional team.

Eriks­son takes charge of the “Azkals” (Street Dogs) just a week ahead of a hec­tic sched­ule of backto-back tour­na­ments, start­ing with the month-long Suzuki Cup, the South­east Asian cham­pi­onship, and the more pres­ti­gious Asian Cup in Jan­uary.

He hopes to cap­i­talise on a mood of quiet ex­cite­ment in Filipino soc­cer, stirred by a maiden Asian Cup ap­pear­ance and na­tional goal­keeper Neil Etheridge be­com­ing the first South­east Asian to ap­pear in the English Pre­mier League with Cardiff City.

Eriks­son re­cently turned down jobs with Cameroon, which he said in­volved too many peo­ple, and Iraq, which had “big am­bi­tions” and ex­pected an Asian Cup win.

Af­ter for­mer Eng­land de­fender Terry Butcher quit as coach in Au­gust with­out over­see­ing a sin­gle match, Eriks­son made the move to the Philip­pines, where he said the game’s rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity was part of the ap­peal.

His new team in­cludes play­ers born in Europe, with some of them for­mer ju­niors at clubs such as Chelsea, some­thing he sees as a big pos­i­tive.

Eriks­son’s con­tract cov­ers the Suzuki Cup, where the Philip­pines are grouped with In­done­sia, Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land and East Ti­mor, and the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emi­rates, where they face South Korea, China and Kyr­gyzs­tan. — Reuters.

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