As football references go, it's hard to imagine a better name to have emblazoned
As football references go, it's hard to imagine a better name to have emblazoned across the bottom of your CV than Sven-Goran Eriksson.
A glowing endorsement from the England supremo - who's forgotten about more trophies than most managers could dream of winning in a career - is not just one heck of a compliment. It's a sure-fire shoe-in for virtually any hot-seat in the world. And yet that's precisely the sort of recommendation Wales coach Mark Hughes could - if he ever had reason to - count upon. You see, Sven is a fully paid-up, got-the-T-shirt member of the ever-growing Sparky fan club. It's more than enough to make Hughes blush, but Eriksson's admiration for Sparky extends to rating him among the best young managers in the world. In fact, the super-cool Swede has revealed how he often picks Hughes's brains when the two meet up on soccer's worldwide circuit.
"I have great admiration for Mark Hughes - he is certainly among the most talented managers around, and I mean in any country," declared Sven.
"We have crossed paths on a number of occasions. It is always a pleasure. I will find myself sitting with him at a game at which we are both watching players, and I have enjoyed talking with Mark. It's fair to say we have shared views, and of course, I know from this how knowledgeable he is, and how focused he is.
"I do not know him well, but I certainly know enough about him to be sure Wales is a lucky country."
Praise indeed. But, before we get too carried away with the superlatives, Hughes is a real managerial novice when compared to many managers, let alone Sven. A quick count reveals Eriksson has been the brains behind the acquisition of 14 major trophies in three different countries during a managerial career which kicked off in 1976. Hughes, on the other hand, has nothing to show for four years in charge of Wales, save the small matter of restoring the nation's football faith. But Sven shies away from playing the fatherly figure with Hughes when the two bump into one another - he doesn't presume to tell him his business.
"I have to say I could not offer advice to Mark and it would be foolish of me to think I could advise him because he is a very clever man.
"There are many options open to him in the future, but I am sure he is thinking no further than making sure Wales qualify for Portugal. If he wishes to enter club management then there will be no shortage of clubs willing to offer him that, of course. But maybe he will not wish to take on the day-to-day involvement.
"But Mark does not know what he is missing, and it may well not appeal to him anyway. He knows as a player what the club manager's life can be like.
"International management has its own drawbacks, but having the support of a whole nation is a great feeling."
So when these two national soccer leaders chew the fat at grounds across Europe, what subjects do their conversations cover? It's a fair bet they don't compare fantasy football teams - both have the real thing. But if Sven could pick a fantasy England football side, he'd be looking to recruit at least a couple of Hughes's men.
"There are players who are part of the Welsh team that I would love to be able to write down when I list my own squads," added Sven."The one, above all, is Ryan Giggs. When I think that he might have played for England, it is a big disappointment for me.
"I was asked not long ago to name a world XI, and Ryan was a player I thought of for that. He is a world-class player, and I think countries all over the world would wish to call him their own.
"Another player - but I do not think he will playing for Wales for the time being - is Craig Bellamy. Bellamy has great pace and is competitive. He is another one who would be an asset."
Eriksson also reckons Wales have enough positives to feel good about a game which has more than a bit riding on it. "Why can't Wales beat Italy?" said Eriksson,"they beat them in the Millennium Stadium. I think they would have beaten them in Milan, Rome, anywhere, on that occasion. Anything is possible in football, and Wales have players who can shape their destiny."
Maybe anything is possible, but the likely outcome in Milan is a draw: "Maybe I am sitting on the fence!" he admitted."But a draw would be good for Wales, wouldn't it?"
Sven won't be sitting on the fence when it comes to expressing an allegiance ahead of Wales's jaunt to one of the world's style capitals."I wish Wales the very best of luck," he said."Unfortunately, I will not be able to watch the game. My team are playing Macedonia, of course, but I will be interested in the result.
"What happened in Serbia was a real shame, but it is important to remember that Saturday is another day. It could be a great day for Wales."
From Robert Owen, Wales on Sunday