FOOTBALL: Barwick's first week: combat on the field, conflict off it

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The Independent Online
There is rarely such a thing as a quiet week for the Football Association's chief executive, which is why Brian Barwick, the third incumbent in 18 months, must have breathed out heavily on his way home from Soho Square on Friday night. Five days' work had thrown up a typical range of issues: players' behaviour, tapping up, fixture congestion, anti-racism campaigns and quotas of foreign players. Welcome to the madhouse.

Barwick's first public pronouncements last Monday suggested a man on the ball. His priorities were defined as firstly, better communication between all levels of the sport, "one voice for one game"; and secondly, support for referees and a better example from top players, especially in matters of diving and dissent.

Both points proved positively prescient. At the first match he attended in his new capacity, voices - if not hands - were raised in the tunnel even before the start, Arsenal and England's left-back took an outrageous dive in the penalty area, Manchester United's England centre-forward swore at the referee umpteen times in 30 seconds and a United defender was sent off for a head-butt.

All these incidents were caught in glorious, close-up sound and vision by the television cameras of Mr Barwick's previous existence, which were then at Blackburn the following night for a second succcessive live game, capturing the champions-elect in a brawl that led to a disciplinary charge.

One more day and Arsenal's David Dein was on national radio railing against proposals by Uefa to limit the number of foreign imports, thereby encouraging greater opportunities for young players in their own country. It was a proposal that football associations, with the welfare of their national team at heart, might have been expected to welcome. But Dein was speaking in his capacity as vice-chairman of Arsenal, not of the FA, the latter a position that the forthcoming review of the organisation by Lord Burns ought to forbid any representative of a leading club to hold.

One game, one voice? The conflicts of interest between the top clubs and just about everyone else were defined as the most important issue of the day by a promising first edition of Radio 5 Live's new Football Think Tank on Thursday. Significantly, only one of the four panellists thought the FA had the will to stand up to the Premiership big boys.

Even the week's final controversy, about reshaping the FA Cup to help England's (anticipated) World Cup preparations next year, was shaped by the same battle-lines. It is not difficult to allow Sven Goran Eriksson and Fifa the four weeks they reasonably demand between the end of the domestic season and the start of the tournament. But instead of merely starting the campaign earlier, clubs with lucrative pre-season tours lined up in Asia and the United States would rather ditch FA Cup replays or contemplate the hitherto unthinkable notion of playing the final in midweek.

Barwick's second public address yesterday spoke only of "some short-term changes in the domestic football calendar", emphasising: "We must make sure everyone connected with the game gives Sven and his team the best possible chance to maximise their potential in Germany." Now his deeds must match those fine words.

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