Football: England likely to target Keegan

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THE FANS' polls and his peers may say "Terry Venables", but as the FA prepare to consult widely throughout the game Kevin Keegan remains foremost in their minds to replace Glenn Hoddle.

Alex Ferguson would be the more significant coup, but the prospect of prising him from goal-happy Manchester United to coach the "auld enemy" appear remote. If neither of that pair can be enticed, the FA may turn to the steadying influence of the man at present in charge, the technical director Howard Wilkinson, who last night confirmed that Alan Shearer would retain the captain's arm-band for Wednesday's friendly international against the world champions France at Wembley.

Wilkinson is as yet undecided on whether to apply, and will make his decision known after Wednesday. Consultation will include eliciting the views of senior players as well as managers in an endeavour to establish the man who would rule by the professional game's assent. There have already been unofficial soundings, but the appointment process proper, involving senior FA officials, who will make a recommendation to the international committee, will begin immediately after the Wembley game.

The acting chief executive, David Davies, who will lead the head-hunters into what could prove to be an impenetrable jungle, would only comment last night: "It is too early to start talking about particular names, but we want the best person as quickly as possible. It is a very special job requiring a very special sort of person. We will consult widely." However, he added wryly of the possible contenders: "The queue does not stretch down Lancaster Gate."

It is clear that the FA are unlikely to balk at paying what it needs to procure their man, even if that salary triples Hoddle's recently re- negotiated pounds 350,000. Ferguson might not be every Englishman's dish of Scotch broth, but there is none so popular an enemy as the conqueror who switches allegiance to your side. Whether he could impose his undoubted motivational and tactical skills on an international squad, and, indeed, whether he would be prepared to suffer the condemnation of those north of the border, is open to debate.

Keegan, at 47, has hinted that he would not be averse to an approach, saying: "I'm getting to the stage where, if I don't get to be the [England] manager in the next five or six years, I will be too old in most people's eyes." The former international with 63 caps, now in charge of Fulham, boasts impressive credentials.

There promises to be more posturing than at an aerobics class, though we can probably rule out a foreign coach. The tap on the shoulder from the FA sword doesn't come to he who makes himself too readily available. But when Bryan Robson continues to stress that he is too inexperienced, the declaration is probably genuine. After his dealings with the likes of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli, he has quietly assembled a more stable side capable of a European place, but these are still early days.

His excellent relationship with a young, visionary Middlesbrough chairman, Steve Gibson, should not be underestimated, but it is not inconceivable that the former England captain could have some involvement in the set- up.

Robson has actually supported Venables' cause, along with John Gregory, but my understanding is that the FA are unlikely to look backwards. The dismissal of Roy Hodgson by Blackburn, once touted as Hoddle's natural successor, will not sway his advocates from his distinguished record with Switzerland and Internazionale. But he probably would not have sufficient FA support.

Possession being 90 per cent of the law, Wilkinson would be seriously considered once he confirms he wants the job. He is also a member of a powerful Sheffield-based triumvirate along with FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, and the FA councillor and Sheffield Wednesday chairman Dave Richards. It would be quite possible that the FA would ask him to stay on and work alongside a less experienced man. Whether that would, or should, be David Platt is highly debatable.