Football: Keegan role strengthens Wilkinson's hand

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The Independent Online
LAST WEEK was very strange. Kevin Keegan announced there was no way he would be taking the England job, yet finished the week as job-sharing coach.

Arsenal beat Sheffield United with a perfectly legal goal, but are now preparing for tomorrow's replay - should Fifa, football's world governing body, give its permission - after David Dein and Arsene Wenger offered to forego the victory.

And unlikeliest as all, the little Arnott Insurance Northern League side Tow Law Town, previously known only for propelling sausage maker Chris Waddle into the national spotlight, had their supporters exposed by BBC Radio 5 Live's On the Line as football's most active gang of thugs.

Keegan's appointment points up a number of fascinating issues. As one who has always given 100 per cent, whether it be playing, managing, advertising deodorant or competing in Superstars, he naturally resents being tagged a part-timer. However, he will be unable to watch the England players in live action very much if he is fully committed to Fulham's promotion charge.

The Football Association said it fully respected Keegan's decision to complete his contract with Fulham up to 2000 and would commence the search for a permanent successor to Glenn Hoddle the following day. However, "the following day" ended with David Davies declining to answer whether he still hoped Keegan would change his mind by June.

After some confusing signals in the earlier part of the week, Howard Wilkinson confirmed his increased influence when he said he would be meeting Ray Clemence and Peter Taylor before saying anything about their position. Clemence and Taylor, goalkeeping coach and Under-21 coach respectively, were appointed by Hoddle, so the fact that it was Wilkinson, rather than the acting chairman Geoff Thompson, the international committee chairman, Noel White, or the executive director, David Davies, playing the lead role spoke volumes. Technical director Wilkinson was now in control of all technical and playing matters apart from the full England team. The technical director had effectively become the director of football.

He will organise all the back-up for Keegan, including administration, travel, scouting and medical services.

He will be instrumental in advising the FA on the successor to Keegan.

And he will be keen to ensure, as he himself commits longer term to the FA, that next time England have a vacancy for a coach - after Keegan's successor succeeds or fails - that there is a cadre of candidates working already within the FA system. David Platt, who has been helping to coach the Under-18s this season, will be only one of several former players to be included as Wilkinson attempts to put in place a long-term structure that will emulate France and, at the same time, avoid the dramas that recur whenever change is made at the top.

The technical director and the England coach will sit side by side at the helm of English football. The England coach will attract the attention and the glamour. It is he who will advertise corn flakes, but it will be the technical director who will reap the long-term rewards as England build on the success of the new football academies.

Ironically, Wilkinson, having been imprisoned behind his desk and closeted in committee rooms while piloting his Charter for Quality through the Lancaster Gate not-so-rapids, now finds himself handed a tracksuit again by Keegan, who wants him fully involved in England's build-up.

Why it is necessary to motivate England players is another question which has not been satisfactorily answered.

Arsenal's wonderful FA Cup gesture was as unique as it was unexpected. It was bizarre for a tie to be voluntarily forfeited on the grounds that an unwritten rule of 12 years' standing had been inadvertently broken, when every single match contains so many deliberate offences against laws that have been enshrined in the game's fabric for over a hundred years.

The following is a list, slightly longer than that of the English candidates to succeed Keegan in June, of transgressions that managers could eradicate from football overnight:

Appealing for a throw-in which clearly belongs to the opposing team.

Shirt pulling.

The wearing of dangerous jewellery.

Shouting obscenities at the assistant referee.

Time-wasting.

Why cannot the League Managers' Association and the Professional Footballers' Association seize the moment by getting together to draw up a new code of conduct to cover matters such as these and thereby make the job of the match officials so much easier?

Tow Law Town went to Wembley last season in the FA Carlsberg Vase. It is hardly a town, more a hamlet resting high in the Durham hills. On the way the Lawyers played some heart-stopping football. They drew 4-4 at Taunton in the semi-final then won the second leg with a goal from Jarrod Suddick. His proud father, Alan, had delighted Blackpool fans 30 years earlier and it is one of life's enduring mysteries how Jarrod never followed him into the Football League. He has superb technique and runs at defences like Paul Walsh once did, twisting and turning with the ball seemingly tied to his laces.

On the Wembley trail Tow Law were sadly accompanied a couple of times by a few local yobs, never previously or since seen at the club, who caused a nuisance in pubs near the host club.

This was an inconvenience to the diminutive Town chairman, public relations officer and honorary legal advisor, John Flynn, who was compelled to muster scarce resources to beef up co-operation with police and the FA.

But it hardly merited inclusion, a year later, in a BBC Radio investigation which coined the phrase "organised gangs of violent thugs" and thus glorified a few mindless clowns.

Strangely, the BBC "news release" had Les Ferdinand calling Wisbech Town the worst ground in the country for racist abuse, whereas the "investigator's" own national newspaper preview article attributed these sentiments to the former Fulham striker Leroy Rosenior, who visited Wisbech as manager of Gloucester City. Did both Ferdinand and Rosenior appear in On the Line?

Visitors to the Lawyers' Ironworks Road ground are more likely to experience senior citizens exercising their dogs than serious mayhem.

All in all, a bewildering few days. Still, Tony Blair has not commented. Yet.

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