England's preparations for the European Championship, and the World Cup qualifying campaign which is due to start in September, were thrown into turmoil last night when Terry Venables announced he would not be continuing as coach beyond this summer's finals.
Venables told Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the Association, that he did not wish to renew his contract. Kelly intimated last night that Venables' long-running legal feud with Alan Sugar, the Tottenham chairman, was behind his decision to step down.
"It's common knowledge that we've made every effort to help him and Alan Sugar resolve one of the elements that have been causing concern," Kelly said. "We very much hoped throughout he'd be in a position to carry on."
When Venables broke his silence, he said he had acted because he expected to be in court for several weeks in October, fighting a libel action by Sugar, when England have another World Cup game. "Things I've got ahead could be problematic and difficult," he said.
"It might have been an embarrassment to the FA, and in the circumstances it's best to make an early decision. I'd like to leave the job on a successful note. What's good is that the speculation is now out of the way."
Earlier, at a press conference from which Venables was absent, the FA's director of public affairs, David Davies, played down reports that Venables had sought but not received the unanimous support of the FA's International Committee.
In a statement, Davies said: "The FA is deeply disappointed by his decision but understands the thinking behind it. Terry Venables faces a number of time-consuming legal battles in the latter part of 1996 which he believes could interfere with England's efforts to qualify for the final stages of the next World Cup, and he's absolutely determined to clear his name."
Davies continued: "It was the day before the Birmingham draw for the Euro 96 finals, on 16 December, that Terry Venables first indicated his intentions. He was urged to think again over the Christmas period, and also while he was abroad [on holiday in the West Indies] last week. He told Graham Kelly at lunchtime today that his decision was unchanged.
"A new coach will be recruited, but our first priority is success in the European Championship this summer. Terry Venables will lead England's efforts and we believe the time has come for the whole country to unite behind him."
Kelly and Sir Bert Millichip, the 81-year-old FA chairman, were keen for Venables to remain in the post to which he was appointed two years ago. In the aftermath of yesterday's news, Kelly said: "It's sad that a highly valued, well respected and very inventive coach, who has done well, should feel it necessary to reach the decision he has.
"The vast majority of football people will share the FA's deep regret, but there's no reason to suggest that England's chances in Euro 96 will be diminished."
Kelly brushed aside the suggestion that some members of the International Committee, a 15-strong body composed largely of club chairmen, were concerned not to have the renewal of Venables' two-and-a-half-year contract presented as a fait accompli.
Ian Stott, the Oldham chairman, had hinted on Monday that the committee's reservations about the 53-year-old Venables, such as they were, centred not so much on his track record - England have won six of the 14 friendlies for which he has been coach - but on the volume of outstanding litigation in which he is embroiled.
Venables' case against Tottenham for wrongful dismissal is in its third year. Sugar's libel suit against him is unresolved, as are two actions instigated by Venables. The International Committee were aware of his tangled business affairs and the allegations against him when he succeeded Graham Taylor, so it would be surprising if that had been a major factor.
They are left facing a bizarre situation in which Venables is due to accompany Kelly to Warsaw next week to discuss dates with England's opponents for the World Cup qualifiers - namely Poland, Italy, Georgia and Moldova - games for which he will no longer be in charge.
Quite apart from how the committee - let alone the country - would react if England won the European Championship in Venables' last match, his successor ought to be in place now, watching England's three autumn opponents and perhaps working alongside him.
Gary Lineker, the former England captain, who played for Spurs under Venables, said: "It's disappointing, but I don't know if we've come to the end of this story yet. It may be a tactical thing to get another contract."
Lineker saw no reason why England's players should be affected this summer. "It didn't make any difference in 1990 when we knew Bobby Robson was going after the World Cup."
Craig Brown, manager of Scotland, said: "It's Terry's decision and we've got to respect that. I'm not au fait with his business life, but everything points to the fact that he's an outstanding coach."
Bobby Gould, the Englishman managing Wales, foresaw "a very difficult period for English football". He added: "One has to make sure that one's lifestyle is such that perhaps people can't get at you."
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