Football: FA appoints Armfield as 'special adviser': Keegan's position as front runner for England manager's job strengthened by arrival of a former national captain turned pundit

Click to follow
THE Football Association set about the search for a new England manager yesterday with the overdue admission that its antiquated structure is not up to the job, and the inevitable sub-committee to replace Graham Taylor is to be guided by Jimmy Armfield, a blast from the past hired as 'special adviser'.

The recruitment of Armfield, a former England captain and manager of Leeds United, came on a day which signalled the arrival of the shake-up the domestic game has needed since genial Jim was in his pomp. It also increased the likelihood of an early approach to Kevin Keegan, whose credentials Armfield has endorsed.

They may have arrived at FA headquarters looking like a Saga Holiday conga, but when they left, after a 90-minute meeting, the oldies of the senior International Committee were suddenly Action Man rather than Darby and Joan.

The manager had already gone, in the wake of his World Cup failure, to be followed by Peter Swales, the committee chairman blamed for hiring him. A new era was ushered in with promises of a quantum leap, bringing not a sterile caretaker administration but a new management format along Continental lines.

The intention is not just to hire an international team manager but also to create a new post which will see a Director of Football co-ordinate the FA's coaching and development programme, from professional down to schoolboy level.

First things first. The day began with Swales, who quit as chairman at Manchester City on Monday, bowing to public opinion for the second time in 24 hours and announcing that he was standing down as chairman of the International Committee.

He intends to serve out his fourth year in office, but will not offer himself for re-election in June. There was more. Having been pilloried as the outgoing manager's mentor, he declined to serve on the five-man sub- committee commissioned to come up with Taylor's replacement.

The five comprise Sir Bert Millichip and Graham Kelly, chairman and chief executive of the FA respectively, Ian Stott, the chairman of Oldham Athletic, Noel White, who is on the board at Liverpool, and Armfield, whose involvement was Kelly's idea.

Nothing if not frank, Kelly admitted that while the FA were still professing their confidence in Taylor, he had 'seen the writing on the wall', and had begun talks with his head-hunter before the match against San Marino, when England's World Cup fate was sealed.

Armfield's knowledge is beyond question. A resolute and dependable right-back, he played 568 League games for Blackpool when they were in the old First Division and captained England in many of his 43 international appearances. On turning to management, he won promotion with Bolton Wanderers and took Leeds to the European Cup final. More recently, his work as a football reporter with the Daily Express and BBC radio has kept him as up to date as any manager with the trends and individuals in the modern game.

Faultless credentials, yet the choice of the 58-year-old Lancastrian, who plays the church organ by way of relaxation, will be seen as a snub to Bobby Charlton who, as an honorary member of the FA, offered to help, in any capacity, prior to yesterday's meeting.

Charlton, like the late Bobby Moore before him, is scandalously underemployed by a country who can ill afford to ignore such a font of experience and wisdom.

Armfield had been taken on, Kelly said, on an 'open-ended' basis. His brief was not just to advise on the appointment of a new manager, but also to act as a 'conduit' for the views of professionals at all levels and on all subjects.

His initial task complete, he would go on to supervise the installation of a technical director. 'One of my particular concerns,' Kelly explained, 'is the gulf between the FA coaching and education scheme and the professionals. I want Jimmy Armfield to help us to bridge that gap.'

Plans to improve the coaching and development network may well prove to be of greater significance in the long term, but the search for new management will dominate the public debate until Taylor's successor is found.

The requirement, Kelly said, was for 'a successful manager, or prospective manager, with a strong, imaginative personality'. A young man? 'Not necessarily. Age is relative, anyway.'

No names had been mentioned at yesterday's meeting and no potential candidates ruled out, which must be music to Terry Venables's ears after the Chinese whispers of the last few weeks.

Armfield's predisposition offers Venables less encouragement, and is already a matter of public record. A couple of Saturdays ago, wearing his Radio 5 hat, he said Keegan was head and shoulders above the rest, and that he was sure the man who put the Saint in James' Park would take the job if it was offered to him - regardless of his statements to the contrary.

The sage of the airwaves was silenced by flu last night, and unable to commentate, as scheduled, on the Coca-Cola Cup tie at Tranmere, but a sickbed croak confirmed his preference. 'I will set up a little think tank,' he said. 'I will talk to everybody: players, coaches, ex- players - possibly even the fans. At the moment, though, Kevin Keegan is very much on my mind. He is the flavour of the month.'

The Messiah, always a favourite for Jimmy the Organ, strikes a nice chord.