When news broke out that Sven Goran Eriksson would be calling the shots for the Philippine Azkals, not a few eyebrows were raised. Eriksson, the former coach of the national teams of England, Mexico, and Ivory Coast? Coaching the Philippines? Really?
The 70-year-old is well aware of the surprise generated by his decision, which is why that was the first thing he addressed in his first official press conference since his stunning appointment two weeks ago.
"I'm very happy to be here and I suppose one of your questions will be why I am here," he told the assembled media Monday afternoon. "It's not easy to answer that question. When I got the (offer) from the big boss, I thought 'Why not? Why not do something a little bit different from what I've done before?' Coming here and working for two big tournaments, the Suzuki Cup and Asian Cup, that was something which, 'Yes," I said to myself. 'That's what I want to do.' So that's the big reason why I am here. I am very, very happy to be here."
Whatever his motivation, Eriksson's arrival should bode well for an Azkals team desperate to score a breakthrough win in the AFF Suzuki Cup, the tournament which launched them to fame eight years ago and whose 2018 edition gets going next week.
"The training sessions we have done have been very good," Eriksson said. "The players are dedicated, work very hard, so I think the future is bright."
Yet even though he has coached all over the world on both the club and national team level, Eriksson admits Southeast Asian football - and Philippine football in particular - is something new to him. To get him acquainted in the soonest time possible, he will rely heavily on technical adviser Scott Cooper, who briefly took over the team for two months following the surprise resignation of Terry Butcher in early August.
"I don't know why (Butcher) left after a short time," Eriksson said of his predecessor's aborted stint. "But that's his problem, it's not my problem. I'm going to stay much longer than he did, that's for sure.
"I have Scott with me, and he is very important for the team and for me. He knows much more about football in the Philippines than I do, and that's important. I have some experience from football in Asia, from Australia, from Korea, from Japan, from China. But I don't have any experience with football from this part of Asia. But football is more or less the same all over the world, so if you can do it in Europe you can do it in Asia as well.
"I know Scott is very important. I need him desperately because he knows all the players, he knows the opponents, he knows everything about Philippine football. I'm quite sure we will work very well together."
Cooper, who has known Eriksson since their days together with Leicester City in the English Premier League six years ago, is happy to slide back to his old role and leave the coaching chores to the veteran tactician.
"I just want to welcome coach Eriksson to the Azkals," he said. "I've not been here long myself. But since I've been here the welcome I've had has been fantastic. I'll be doing the job I originally came to do which I'm happy about. I feel honored to be working under such a great coach with an excellent federation and hopefully we can go on to build something very good."
Eriksson understands what's at stake when the Azkals embark on their latest Suzuki Cup journey on November 12 when they host Singapore at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod. The team has never gone past the semifinals of the biennial tournament, and was embarrassingly booted out in the group stage two years ago despite playing at home. The pressure to finally make the final, or even win it all, has certainly increased with the new coach onboard.
"If you have a job in football and you have no pressure on yourself, then you have the wrong job," Eriksson said. "Because that means that the job is not important. I think every coach should have the pressure.
"The pressure is on the whole team, the directors, the federation, the coaching staff and myself to try to do better in the Suzuki Cup. That means at least reaching the final."