Football: Venables launches new era at Palace

IF THINGS had turned out differently Terry Venables would have been heading off to France with England yesterday and not taking a slightly less illustrious flight with the Eagles into the First Division. The man of many clubs and many more headlines was back at Crystal Palace, his managerial career turning full circle.

Venables missed out on the World Cup on two fronts - stepping down from his England post after Euro 96 and narrowly failing with Australia in their last qualification game - but any thoughts that he is a man nursing serious disappointment were instantly forgotten as he looked forward positively on his unveiling as Palace's head coach.

At Selhurst Park Venables sat alongside the club's new owner Mark Goldberg. After long and protracted negotiations the dream team was finally in place, the five-year plan designed to elevate Palace to a club capable of challenging the best in Europe, underway at last.

Venables admitted there had been interest in him "but not serious negotiations" from two Premiership sides, though for some time his heart has been set on a return to the South London club where he had launched his managerial career in 1976.

"Managing at international level for the past four years has been wonderful but I missed the day-to-day involvement of working with players on the training ground and the more I talked to Mark about this job the more I fancied doing it," he said. "Palace were my first club and who knows they may be my last."

Should Venables inspire a promotion campaign in his first season the Palace supporters won't settle for that alone - after all they have celebrated a Premiership return in two of the last four years. What will really assure him of their undying devotion is if the man who masterminded two promotion successes in the 70's can put together a side capable of remaining among the country's footballing elite.

"People at this club have witnessed going up and coming straight down for some time now and it does appear to be more difficult to stay in the top flight than to get there in the first place," added the 56-year-old. "Our aim has to be to get up and stay up. "I'm not worried about coming back. I have great memories of my last time, the one that sticks out is the night we gained promotion to the old First Division. There have been times when I have thought `what if?' regarding the international jobs and the World Cup but I don't allow myself to dwell too long on it."

Inevitably there will be some changes to the Palace playing staff and the uncertainty surrounding Attilio Lombardo and Matt Jansen, the young striker signed from Carlisle in the second half of last season and now a reported pounds 5m target for Southampton, needs to be resolved. Lombardo, the Italian midfielder who was elevated - to his surprise as much as everyone else's - to the position of head coach when Steve Coppell stepped down in March, is wanted by Chelsea but Goldberg is hopeful of keeping him.

"He still has another two years on his contract and I have been talking to him about extending it for another two years," said Goldberg who paid pounds 22m to buy-out former owner Ron Noades. "Attilio wants to see a professional set-up in place at Palace and hopefully with Terry Venables on board we now have that."

Goldberg, who made his money in computer recruitment, will restructure his own finances to provide Venables with the funds to retain and recruit the players he wants.

The new chairman, who has agreed a further option with Noades to purchase the Selhurst Park freehold, also confirmed Coppell's new role as director of football, Ray Lewington as Venables' assistant and Phil Alexander has been named the club's managing director.

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