Arsenal scotch Venables rumour

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First the Windsors, now the Arsenal. It seems that the nation's royalty are losing their nerve. A stony "no comment" used to be the upper crust's response to tabloid tales, but yesterday Highbury followed the Palace in issuing a swift reply to press speculation.

While Buck House's statement had criticised the messenger - a mobile telephone eavesdropper - Arsenal's rubbished the message. The suggestion that Terry Venables was being lined up to become their next manager drew this comment from their managing director, Ken Friar: "We do not like commenting on reports like this, but it is total garbage. It really is."

As with the Windsors, football club denials cannot always be believed. However, this one appears to be genuine. While a case can be made for linking Venables and Arsenal, it is a flawed one.

The Arsenal board do admire Venables, and he turned down the job before it was offered to George Graham. The man himself will be available as soon as he steps down from coaching England in July.

But given that Venables resigned from the national post to contest a series of legal cases, it is hard to imagine how he could combine them with the more time-consuming task of club management. Neither are Arsenal, still recovering from the Graham scandal, likely to take on a manager who will be spending autumn in the courtroom.

But while the story may be a case of putting two and two together and making five, there are reasons to make such calculations. Venables may not be going to be Highbury but that does not mean Bruce Rioch, the current incumbent, will be staying.

Under the post-Graham regime all transfer spending is conducted by the board. Since the initial pounds 12m spree on Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt in the summer they have been idle - despite being presented with a series of shopping lists by Rioch.

Understandably, this inability to implement his plans for rebuilding has frustrated Rioch. That disappointment has spilled over into arguments with senior players. After nine months at Highbury he is still to sign his contract.

However the suggestion that Arsenal will not be signing any more foreign players, following criticism by their chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, of Faustino Asprilla's reported wages, should be seen in context. Arsenal have already abandoned their wage structure and Bergkamp and Platt will certainly be earning well above the Premiership average.

"He knows he has taken on a mammoth task," a friend of Rioch said yesterday. "The slower the board move, the harder that task is - and he is the one at the sharp end."

Venables developments, page 17