Football: FA close to Keegan solution

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KEVIN KEEGAN returned to London this morning from a family break in the north-east with one match on his mind - Fulham's Easter Monday visit to Reading in the Nationwide League Second Division.

At Lancaster Gate, however, the Football Association was looking further ahead, to September and England's final Euro 2000 qualifying matches against Luxembourg and Poland.

England's 3-0 victory over Poland on Saturday, while delighting the FA, has increased its dependence on Fulham's chief operating officer to the extent that it is considering the possibility of allowing him to manage the side part-time through to the autumn.

The FA recognises that, should Keegan lead the team to success in the June qualifying matches against Sweden and Bulgaria, it would be a public relations disaster, and probably a footballing error, to then dispense with him if he refused to go full-time.

Noel White, the chairman of the International Committee, the group charged with finding Glenn Hoddle's successor, told The Independent: "If we are within a cat's whiskers of qualifying by then it might be possible for Kevin to continue with England on the same basis - unless he's changed his mind and wants to have a go full-time."

That remains the FA's preferred option and it was given succour by the announcement by Mohammed Al Fayed, Fulham's owner, that he would be prepared to release Keegan from his contract, which expires in the summer of 2000, as "a gift to the nation". This would relieve Keegan of what he clearly regards as a debt of honour.

Keegan, who was appointed England coach last month, has so far insisted he will relinquish the post after completing his four-match stint in June but he did say after Saturday's victory that a "there might be a solution".

This encouraged the FA acting chairman, Geoff Thompson, who said: "Perhaps after he has been successful in his next matches he - and the country - will feel he is the right man for the job and that he is the right man to lead us into the European Championship in the Low Countries next year."

The FA is still considering alternatives - "we need a fall-back position," said one official - but is in almost daily contact with Keegan. In his favour is his ability to delegate, to Frank Sibley at Fulham, and to Arthur Cox, Derek Fazackerly and Howard Wilkinson with England.

Against him is the danger that England could come second, rather than first in the group, and have to endure a home-and-away play-off in November.

Given England's poor start, the FA would probably settle for that and allow Keegan to continue for another couple of months. But what then?

If England qualify the current view within the FA is that it would be impossible for Keegan to combine coaching Fulham, who could be involved in promotion play-offs up until late May, and also prepare England for a major championship. However, it also feels that, should England qualify, it would be self-evident that the arrangement is working.

The result is a wait-and-see policy although clarification - and maybe Keegan agreeing to take the job full-time - could come once Fulham have secured promotion from the Second Division.

One England coach will be leaving in June. Peter Taylor, the Under-21 coach, yesterday revealed that he will be replaced. Taylor, who was appointed by Hoddle, probably expected it, though his reign has been largely successful.

Taylor, who has 15 months to run on his contract, claimed he was told he did not fit into Wilkinson's long-term plans. Wilkinson then issued a statement claiming Taylor had been offered a new role in the Football Association's technical department with "new responsibilities".

The statement added that these responsibilities were to include "coach education and involvement with international teams which could have included the England Under-21 team".

Taylor was clearly not prepared to put up with what he saw as a diluting of his position after having the power to select the side under Hoddle. He is likely to be replaced by David Platt in the short-term, working alongside Wilkinson initially before assuming full control. To judge from his comments yesterday, this aspect will not please Taylor.

He said: "I've got the utmost respect for Howard Wilkinson. He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and if he takes over the Under-21s I can understand that. But I can only be honest and if someone with lesser experience than myself takes over then I would be even more disappointed that I wasn't the choice."

Platt has already worked under Wilkinson in the England Under-18 set- up and his involvement is part of a long-term strategy to groom international coaches which, the FA hopes, will prevent the England team having to share a club manager ever again.

Leicester inquiry, page 23