Football: Goldberg spreads a profusion of confusion

THE picture at Crystal Palace should become slightly more transparent tomorrow after the chairman-elect, Mark Goldberg, has met his choice as the club's manager, Terry Venables. For the moment the changes at the club which took its name from the magnificent Victorian structure built largely from glass seem about as clear as mud.

"Yes, well people may feel they don't know what's going on - we're utterly confused," said Terry Byfield, Palace's community affairs officer. He was joking but it was a near thing. "It's obviously a difficult situation and that may be the only thing that's obvious about it."

The present position is that Ron Noades, chairman for 17 years, reached agreement in the early hours one morning last week to sell Palace to the computer millionaire Mark Goldberg, a long-time supporter. The agreed price is pounds 30m, pounds 3m of which Goldberg has already paid to secure the transfer of the Juventus striker Michele Padovano earlier in the season.

Under the terms of the agreement, the remaining pounds 27m has to be handed over by the end of October. The details of how and when Goldberg gives Noades the money have not been disclosed by the club but not until the last pound has been handed over will Goldberg assume the chairmanship. Until then the official line is that both men are running the show. "They will work together," Byfield said. "The important thing is that the date of the hand-over is agreed."

There is also the Juventus connection to be taken into account. According to Goldberg, the Italian club will have a 10 per cent stake in Palace; according to Juventus this is not so. There exists merely an accord on technical collaboration. Goldberg insists a deal will be signed soon.

This state of affairs is almost as bewildering as the last time Palace changed hands when Noades had to shed his interest in Wimbledon, where he was previously involved, before taking over. This has not prevented Goldberg from outlining his plans for the future. Central to them is his intended appointment of Venables.

Venables, manager of Palace when Goldberg was a teenager, fashioned an attractive, youthful side who became labelled the "Team of the Eighties". Perhaps it is that, as much as Venables' subsequent achievements, which persuaded Goldberg of his merits but he said: "Terry Venables is, in my mind, the only man who can turn round the current lack of confidence. I have studied Terry's history carefully and I am convinced that I can work with him. If he does say no then I will think again but at this moment I don't want to consider any other option."

He intends to lure the former England coach, who began his coaching career at Palace, with the promise of share options to be realised when, as he intends, the club goes public in five years' time. He has arranged to meet Venables tomorrow when the man whose career blossomed after leaving Selhurst Park returns from Australia.

His unequivocal declaration that Venables is his man has, however, further confused the takeover. The present incumbent Steve Coppell, who led them to promotion (for the second time), was not about to go quietly. "I'm still the boss and will remain the boss until the new owner, whoever he is, tells me otherwise." Goldberg wants to make Venables coach with Coppell as the director of football.

He might have considered conducting a straw poll at thetraining ground in Mitcham (the confusion is further exacerbated as they are in the middle of moving training grounds). The staff, tight-lipped as might be expected, merely re-iterated that Coppell was the boss still. The fans by and large did not see Venables as a miracle worker. "If there's money to spend then I'm sure Coppell could spend it just as well," said one.

But there is no doubting that Venables' team, consisting mainly of apprentices brought up under the club's scheme (Kenny Sansom, Terry Fenwick, Peter Nicholas, Paul Hinshelwood, David Swindlehurst and Vince Hilaire) captured the mood of the times. Unfortunately, it did not last and the Team of the Eighties was broken up virtually by the time the decade began.

It may be now that he is being re-hired to shape the Team for the Millennium but neither at Mitcham nor Selhurst Park on Friday were they waiting with breath bated.

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