Football: Talkative Tel suits new-look ITV: The World Cup also-rans have signed England's coach. Rhys Williams reports

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The Independent Online
ITV'S ailing football coverage received a boost yesterday with the announcement that Terry Venables's amazing collection of sharply cut jackets would be joining the network in a four-year deal, worth around pounds 100,000 to the wearer. It is ITV's second big signing from the BBC in six weeks.

Venables will slot in behind Bob Wilson, the frontman poached from the BBC in August, and joins an experienced supporting line drawn from Ray Wilkins, Don Howe, Denis Law, Ron Atkinson, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Francis.

Trevor East, ITV's deputy controller of sport, said the network was 'thrilled and delighted' that the England manager would be adding 'his considerable strength and talent to the line-up'.

Kitted out in one of the light coloured, pure wool jackets that have become his trademark (but which sat so awkwardly next to the satorially challenged outfits favoured by his fellow pundit Jimmy Hill), Venables admitted, 'I had a few problems with the BBC, as you know'.

In particular he had a problem with a Panorama programme, which accused him of improperly obtaining pounds 1m to buy shares in Spurs and irregularities in the transfer of Paul Gascoigne to Lazio.

After the heady days of the Seventies and early Eighties, when Sunday afternoon football on ITV was an integral part of the sports fan's weekend, ITV's place in the nation's football watching fabric has faded. It lost live coverage of the country's leading fixtures, and the prestige that went with it. While BSkyB and the BBC have gorged on the renamed Premiership, ITV has been left to pick through scraps of the Endsleigh League.

The decline continued with the last World Cup, at which it was generally accepted that ITV was completely overrun by a BBC team, in which Venables played a blinder. While BBC1 picked up 13m viewers for the Brazil-Italy final, ITV attracted 5m.

Once the new season was under way, the ITV management wasted little time in beefing up its line-up. Bob Wilson was snatched up in another four-year deal, worth pounds 150,000 a year. And, as Venables limbers up for his debut in the Champions Cup game between Manchester United and Barcelona on Wednesday week, it is clear ITV's quest for talent may not be over. Alan Hansen (ties by Emporio Armani) is unlikely to be prised from the Beeb, but Gary Lineker (once memorably described by ITV pundit Mick Channon as 'the boy Line-acre') will soon be back from Japan. And conspicuously available.

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