Football: Gabriel plugs the gap at Goodison

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WHEN Howard Kendall returned to Goodison Park on 7 November 1990 he justified his surprising and swift change of clubs thus: 'Manchester City was a love affair. Everton is a marriage.'

Divorce, a full heartbreak, came yesterday when he cleared his desk at Bellefield, the training ground, without fully explaining his decision to resign on Saturday night.

Yesterday brought various theories about his decision. The team's form has been ordinary rather than disastrous and the board reiterated that they were as surprised as anyone at his announcement. They appointed Jimmy Gabriel as caretaker manager while the hunt goes on for a long-term replacement. Gabriel, currently manager of the reserve team at Goodison, will take charge of day-to-day team management affairs, backed by an unchanged training and coaching staff.

There are no plans for an immediate board meeting over the sudden vacancy and it is understood that Gabriel will almost certainly be in charge for Wednesday night's away match at Kendall's former club, Manchester City, and probably next Saturday as well.

What is clear is that Kendall had made up his mind before the match, a decision he admitted yesterday was a 'very emotional one'. He was said to be in tears as he left the ground on Saturday evening but all he would add yesterday was: 'I don't regret coming back. I've had another three years with the best club in the world and what is important now is Everton's future.'

In his first spell at Everton, 1981-87, he won the League twice, the FA Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. After success with Athletic Bilbao and then at Manchester City when he lifted them from bottom to fifth in one year, he returned to Everton with his successor, Colin Harvey, staying on as his assistant.

What Kendall did not realise was how the situation had changed. In three years Harvey had spent almost pounds 10m on nine players, only two of whom, Tony Cottee and Peter Beagrie, are still with the club. While Kendall had been able to shop alongside Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish he now had to look for bargains.

He soldiered on for two seasons but this term it was suspected that he was losing patience in being asked to fulfil expectations that were beyond his reach. He was said to long to return to Spain where he was able to spend more time with the players.

The death this autumn of Sir John Moores, the club's principal shareholder, brought speculation of investment in Everton by Tranmere's wealthy chairman, Peter Johnson, by the theatrical impressario, Bill Kenwright, and, on Saturday, by the Virgin Airline tycoon, Richard Branson.

It is now clear that last week was crucial. Kendall believed he had negotiated the transer of Dion Dublin from Manchester United, an attacker tall enough to remedy a long-standing weakness. But Dublin remains at Old Trafford, which prompts the question: could Everton not raise the pounds 1m plus?

Three names, possibly four, are mentioned as successors: Steve Coppell enjoyed Branson's confidence when Virgin sponsored Crystal Palace; Peter Reid, who was Kendall's captain, followed him into management at Maine Road and is now a Southampton player and Joe Royle, the Oldham manager, was the strong favourite to succeed Harvey when Kendall arrived out of the blue.

Graham Taylor must also come into the reckoning, although his reputation as a long-ball tactician will not endear himself to a crowd that still insists on classical football.

None of the above are likely to follow Kendall unless they can get guarantees that funds will be made available and the board may not be able to make that pledge until they know the final destination of the Moores shares.

Reports, results, pages 30, 31