Football: Keegan may be England coach today

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN could be confirmed as England's new coach today after another day of hard talking produced progress on the issue of his working relationship with Howard Wilkinson and his refusal to walk out on Fulham.

The Football Association's international sub-committee convened for two hours yesterday to discuss the snags which arose during Keegan's discussions on Monday with the FA's acting chief executive, David Davies, and the chairman of the international committee, Noel White.

After a meeting, attended by White, Davies, Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks, Sheffield Wednesday chairman Dave Richards and Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, an FA spokesman reported "progress is being made". He added that there had been further contact with Keegan by phone at his home in the North-east.

The talks are understood to have centred on two main areas. One was Keegan's insistence that if he takes the job, he wants absolute control of the England set-up, from who works alongside him as assistant and backroom staff with the senior squad to the composition of Under-21 and B squads.

Keegan's perception of what the post entails runs contrary to the concept of continuity espoused by Wilkinson. The FA's technical director took over as England's caretaker coach after the fall of Glenn Hoddle and supervised the side for last week's home defeat by France and efforts were made yesterday to find a compromise that does not undermine the power base of the former Leeds United manager.

The other sticking point, which is believed to concern Keegan more, has been his determination not to break his contract with Fulham as chief operating officer. It still has 18 months, and he believes he could juggle the two roles. The FA's acting chairman, Geoff Thompson, has been adamant that the 48-year-old former England captain would have to leave the Second Division promotion favourites by the summer.

Whether Fulham's owner, Mohamed al-Fayed, has now given Keegan his blessing in the national interest is unclear. However, it is thought that the discussions have brought the parties closer to a mutually agreeable solution.

If compromise has indeed been reached and Keegan is paraded at Lancaster Gate within the next 24 hours, his first match in charge will be England's make-or-break qualifier for Euro 2000 against Poland at Wembley on 27 March. The European campaign resumes in June against Sweden and Bulgaria, while there is also a friendly in Hungary on 28 April, when Fulham could well be at a critical point in their season.

Arsene Wenger, who figured in early betting as the man most likely to be England's first foreign coach, came up with a light-hearted solution to the club-v-country conflict yesterday. "Maybe the answer would be for Fayed to buy all the top England players for Fulham," the Arsenal manager said.

Wenger also shed light on why the leading Premiership managers have not been rushing to fill the hot seat vacated by Hoddle. "Being an international manager used to be the most prestigious job of all, but times have changed. Club competitions have become more prestigious than international games, apart from one month every four years for the World Cup finals."