Can Venables keep his eye on the ball?

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THE FEELING many people have about Terry Venables was summed up by Alan Sugar when he emerged after giving evidence to the Football Association last week. 'If Terry is appointed manager, he could take England to success in (the World Cup in) 1998, provided he concentrates 100 per cent on football strategy and selection. He's a good manager, but if his mind wanders into other areas he may not be so good.'

In recent years, though, the mind of Mr Venables has wandered into many other areas, where he has a habit of falling flat on his face.

Last week, a winding-up petition was issued by Tottenham Hotspur against Venables's main company, Edennote, which he used to buy into Spurs two and a half years ago.

Another of his companies, Scribes West, avoided a winding-up petition on Tuesday thanks to a last-minute deal with a creditor owed pounds 150,000. It had also avoided being struck off by the Department of Trade and Industry last year for not filing proper accounts.

A third company, Recallcity, was wound up in December. A fourth group where Venables had been a director, Transatlantic Inns, collapsed last year, and Venables personally paid pounds 500,000 to get rid of the group's creditors.

In addition, there is the issue of a pounds 1m loan from the collapsed financial group Landhurst Leasing, which Venables took out in controversial circumstances.

There is also his allegiance to Eddie Ashby, who was appointed general manager at Tottenham Hotspur despite being declared bankrupt in 1992, owing pounds 443,212 and having 39 business failures to his name. And there is the legal action against Venables by Good Relations, the public relations firm that advised him when he took control of Spurs.

There is also the matter of a pounds 200,000 payment to Anglo European, a Swiss group employing the London restaurateur Gino Santin, who Venables said helped in the negotiations over Paul Gascoigne's pounds 5.5m transfer to the Italian club Lazio.

Then there are the allegations, made in the High Court last year, concerning Venables's involvement in paying an alleged 'bung' of pounds 50,000 to Brian Clough, the former Nottingham Forest manager, to smooth the transfer deal to secure the services of striker Teddy Sheringham.

And finally there is the strange case of the alleged theft of documents from Venables's office in west London.

The police were called. After interviewing investigators from the BBC's Panorama, which has put out one hard-hitting programme attacking Venables and is planning another, they said they were not proceeding with the investigation.

It all adds up to an unpleasant scenario that could lead to Venables's disqualification as a director of limited companies. As the FA is a limited company, it would have to look long and hard at whether a disqualification notice would have any impact on Venables's ability to perform the duties of England manager.

'If the FA appoint Venables, they could end up with the most massive egg on their face,' a senior insolvency lawyer told the Independent on Sunday.

'The DTI are keen to clamp down on any bad behaviour by directors, particularly if they are public figures and can be held out as an example.'

It is far from certain that Venables would be disqualified as a director. It would need the liquidators of one of the companies where he had been a director to send an adverse 'D' report to the DTI, and for the DTI to proceed on the basis of that report.

Even then, Venables could fight the disqualification, as Tony Berry, a director of Spurs, is doing at present. Berry's disqualification followed criticism in a DTI report on his former company, Blue Arrow.

There are three areas that could be of concern to Venables. There is the poor keeping of accounts at Scribes West, which Mr Venables' lawyers say was not his fault.

There is the granting of a mortgage over Edennote assets in favour of Venables and his solicitors, Kantor Jules Grangewood. This charge is to be challenged as an unfair preference by Spurs's lawyers in the winding up of Edennote.

And then there is the loan from Landhurst to Edennote, which was made on the security of assets belonging to Transatlantic Inns.

Not only were the assets worth just pounds 87,000, but one of the pubs cited as owning the assets did not exist and the translation took place after Venables had left the board of Transatlantic. There is a Serious Fraud Office inquiry into Landhurst, although Venables is not a target of the investigation.

Venables has paid off the creditors of Transatlantic and come to a settlement with the receivers to Landhurst, which collapsed in August 1992, in which he has agreed to pay them pounds 800,000 over four years to cover the loan.

This may have silenced the objections from those quarters, but there are other unanswered questions, such as how Venables, who is not known to be wealthy, raised more than pounds 1m to pay off creditors of three companies while the FA was deciding whether he was fit to be England manager.

The FA twice put off the announcement that Venables is to be England manager during the past week, as it became increasingly embarrassed about the publicity surrounding him. Its patience may not last much longer.

(Photograph omitted)