Football: Keegan the day-release manager

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN will be asked this week to provide the inspirational stimulus, alongside the caretaker coach Howard Wilkinson, as England approach their European Championship qualifying fixture with Poland, with the Football Association hoping his involvement could be placed on a more permanent footing in the summer.

However, he is unlikely to be the only manager the FA approach as they seek to determine what may be a short-term fix to a long-term dilemma. Bryan Robson, Roy Hodgson and Bobby Robson are among those the FA may turn to if Keegan decides his responsibilities in leading Fulham to the First Division cannot be impinged upon.

Find someone they must, and imminently, because there is a belief within the FA that it will require a man with strong motivational and man-management powers to reverse recent results and galvanise England sufficiently to ensure Euro 2000 qualification.

Wilkinson, the FA's technical director, is not regarded as that man alone, although he will continue in his caretaker role for the next four games. The question of a permanent coach will be considered again in the summer. "The possibility is to get someone released for a few days from their club to deal with it," said the acting chairman, Geoff Thompson, who hinted Keegan was that man.

The solution has been forced on the FA, who have discovered how untimely was their decision to remove Glenn Hoddle. Wilkinson, who will continue in his caretaker role for the next four games, stressed: "The fact is that losing a coach a week before an international, well into the European Championships qualifying programme, and well into the season, is not a good time. If you were planning a change, you wouldn't do it like that."

Wilkinson has been formulating plans to reorganise the whole England set-up. His ideas, some borrowed from the French model, include more continuity on the coaching side, with certain club managers becoming involved in the international set-up. That would make the transition period between coaches much smoother. He added: "Getting the right man should not be rushed by dint of times and deadlines. It's about getting it right. If you were talking about appointing a chairman of ICI, having just given the last one his P45, I don't think the board would go into a meeting, sit down for an hour, come out and say 'The next chairman is...' They'd have a candidate beforehand. In future England should have a candidate, or two or three, about whom they are reasonably certain.

"Being groomed for the job doesn't necessarily mean working full-time within the FA. It's not essential. It could be someone involved with the Under-18s, for say three years, then he gets a job with a good club, spends five years in that, by then he's still on your list and has a foot in that international circle."

The FA's problem is that those not at present in management, but available, are not high on their short-list, although Roy Hodgson will remain a credible alternative if the initial long-term targets, Alex Ferguson and Keegan, fail to be enticed. Conversely, it would be difficult to imagine any club manager relinquishing his position mid-season.

However, he emphasised yesterday that he would not countenance a form of job-sharing, with an England head coach also having a foot in his club. "You cannot do both jobs. Not even for a limited time," he insisted. "You would have to make compromises." However, it is not inconceivable that Keegan could combine his chief operations officer at Fulham with a position within the England set-up, until his contract expires in 18 months' time.

David Davies, heavily involved in the head-hunting exercise as the FA's acting chief executive following the departure of Graham Kelly, is unlikely to remain in the post full-time. Although the former BBC man would not comment, he is thought to believe it is a position requiring commercial and business expertise. Despite reports of his so-called political ambitions, he wants to remain at the FA and is likely to be offered a powerful role which would utilise his communication skills.