Football: Wilkinson poised to leave FA and join Wednesday

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The Independent Online
Eleven months ago, amid much fanfare, Howard Wilkinson was appointed technical director of the Football Association. Now, following David Pleat's dismissal by Sheffield Wednesday earlier this week, Wilkinson appears ready to return to to club management.

Alan Nixon reports.

Howard Wilkinson is poised to resign as the Football Association's technical director and return to club management with Sheffield Wednesday. Wilkinson will be formally offered the post at Hillsborough next week and his former club hope to install him on Tuesday.

Wilkinson, who will be 54 on Thursday, was appointed to his current post in January after a protracted search by the FA, and his departure after just 11 months would leave the association again needing to fill a post they regard as vital to the game's long-term future.

An FA spokesman said last night that he had no knowledge that Wilkinson was considering leaving his position. "The situation is that he [Wilkinson] is in the first year of a four-year contract at the FA and therefore is an employee of the FA." When asked whether he would expect Wilkinson to inform the FA if he was considering leaving his current position, the spokesman said: "That's a purely hypothetical situation."

After a highly successful managerial career Wilkinson was sacked by Leeds United 14 months ago, and his decision to accept the FA's offer appeared to indicate that he was looking for a less pressurised way of life. "Once the crack of gunfire had gone from my ears and the smell of war from my nose I found myself watching games from a different perspective," he said on the day of his appointment. "I was no longer thinking, `How can we beat them?', or `Could he do a good job for Leeds?'

"The more games I watched the more attractive this job became. As a manager of a football club the prime function is to win football matches. It can reduce the scope in which you operate. I was no longer developing my strengths."

Wilkinson's appointment as technical director raised eyebrows at the time, as he was widely associated with the long-ball game, somewhat unfairly perhaps, given that the Leeds side he guided to the championship in 1992 had one of the most admired midfields in recent times.

In May of this year Wilkinson presented his "Charter for Quality", a blueprint for radical change, particularly in the way the sport is organised at schoolboy and youth levels. This radical document was widely admired in the professional game, and its implementation regarded as vital to the production of future generations of more technically gifted youngsters.

Despite the importance of his role at the FA, however, Wilkinson appears to be hankering once again for the day-to-day existence of a club manager, and he has recently consulted coaching candidates about the possibility of joining him at Wednesday. Any decision to return to club management may also be influenced by a salary at around twice his present level.

Wilkinson still lives in Sheffield and can expect a warm welcome from the fans of a club he first managed in 1983, after a year at Notts County.

At the end the 1982-3 season he took Wednesday to sixth in the Second Division and at the end of the following season they were promoted as runners-up. His success continued in their first season in the First Division when Wednesday finished eighth in 1985, a position they bettered a year later when they finished fifth. He left Wednesday in 1988 to join Leeds, then a Second Division club, and guided them to promotion in 1990. Two years later they were champions.

Wilkinson can expect to be given a large chequebook to attract talent, both for the playing staff and on the coaching side, as he attempts to breathe life into the side bottom of the Premiership with just two victories all season.