1996: The shape of things to come

Football: Time to calculate cost to the game of television exposure
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The Independent Online
The football year of 1995 will be remembered for violence, scandal and legal argument. Whether the English game provides better images in 1996 will depend almost entirely on the fate of one man - Terry Venables.

The national coach is set for a busy year. There are several court cases to be settled and England's European Championship campaign to be planned. In a perfect world, Venables would end the year with his personal reputation restored and his professional one enhanced. The European Championship pot would be sitting in the Lancaster Gate trophy cabinet and Venables would be plotting England's assault on the next World Cup. The nightmare scenario has Venables' integrity disgraced and his team humilated.

Despite two minor wounds, by Tony Berry and Jeff Fugler, Venables has so far withstood the legal forces ranged against him. His footballers have fared even better, showing steady improvement. Victory in Euro 96 remains unlikely, but England should do better than in the last two championships.

English success would help the tournament but the most important element of the summer is public order. A repeat of the Dublin scenes, inside or outside the ground, would do immense harm to England's reviving reputation. If the hooligan faction is contained, Euro 96 could be a stunning success. English stadiums are as good as any in the world and the booming domestic game is likely to be reflected in huge attendances and widespread public enthusiasm.

That will be helped by the tournament being broadcast on terrestrial television. An ongoing topic in 1996 will be the Premiership's next television deal. That it is going to be massive is not in dispute, what needs to be settled is how the money will be divided, and what it buys. Many will feel football has already accommodated television demands as far as it should. The possibilities created by pay-per-view and digital technology are, as yet, uncertain, but they need to be considered carefully. The game needs to remember that, without the paying spectator, it would be nowhere near as attractive.

The stars must also take care of the chorus line. This is a symbiotic industry, the big clubs may not like it, or even believe it, but they need the small ones, even if the dependency is unequal. The unpredictable fall-out of the Bosman case will affect this relationship, as will the big clubs' continued pursuit of greater power.

On the domestic front, a growing number of clubs are playing attractive football but a shrinking number are contesting the major prizes. Even so, if Newcastle win the Premiership it will be the second successive year that it has been won by a club without a league success in the previous 60. It is only a year ago that Manchester United looked like completing a treble of titles and establishing a monopoly on the game's biggest prize.

Manchester United, with their impressive clutch of young players, remain the best bet for long-term dominance. However, their penchant for attracting the brightest and best of their rivals' youth teams does cause disquiet. It is likely to lead to a change in the regulation of young players. In the wake of Bosman, such a move is urgently needed if our clubs are to be encouraged to follow the example set by Ajax.

The Bosman verdict will, at least, aid British clubs in Europe. They certainly need the help. In Scotland, the prospect of a Rangers side with only token native representation grows. Such a development would undoubtedly harm the Scottish national side - but it will not have an impact before 15 June and the meeting with England at Wembley. That is likely to be the most memorable day of the football calendar. One hopes it will be remembered for the right reasons.

PREDICTIONS: England to reach the quarter-finals of European Championship, which Italy will win; Newcastle United win the Premiership, with the FA Cup going to Manchester United; Bryan Robson becomes England manager before the end of the year.