Football: Venables moves a step closer to the England job: FA interviews former Spurs chief executive

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TERRY VENABLES celebrates his 51st birthday today a significant step closer to achieving his lifelong ambition to manage England.

Venables was confirmed yesterday as the favourite for the job when he became the first candidate to be formally interviewed by the Football Association.

The former Tottenham manager was summoned from his west London restaurant to meet the sub-committee charged by the FA with the responsibility for finding a successor to Graham Taylor, who resigned in the wake of England's failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Once Kevin Keegan, Newcastle United's inspiration, had declared himself a non-runner, Venables was always the first choice of Jimmy Armfield, the 'special adviser' engaged by the FA in a head-hunting role.

Gerry Francis, of Queen's Park Rangers, and his namesake, Trevor at Sheffield Wednesday, are the only other candidates under active consideration. Gerry Francis met Armfield for preliminary discussions yesterday. Potential contenders such as Keegan, Ron Atkinson and Howard Wilkinson have refused nomination, and the concept of a young coach, such as Ray Wilkins, apprenticed to an eminence grise like Bobby Robson appears to have lost its appeal at Lancaster Gate.

The modus operandi is that candidates are first recommended, and then screened by Armfield, before they come before the rest of the five- man subcommittee, which comprises Sir Bert Millichip and Graham Kelly, chairman and chief executive of the FA, plus Ian Stott, the chairman of Oldham Athletic, and Noel White, a director of Liverpool.

At the sub-committee's first meeting, last month, Venables met with opposition from Millichip, but when the committee reconvened there was broad agreement, and yesterday's interview is said to have gone well. Venables asked the sub- committee for an early decision. He is not short of alternatives, having been approached by Wales, Nigeria and an unnamed Spanish club.

The FA accepts that Venables has proved his worth, at home and abroad, and the stumbling block which had threatened to disqualify the man regarded by his peers as the obvious choice is likely to be removed if, as expected, a Premiership commission of inquiry clears him of allegations that he authorised irregular payments during his spell as chief executive at White Hart Lane. It has, however, been made clear that some of his business associates, and interests, would not be acceptable to the FA.

Kelly said last night: 'We are further down the road, but no decision will be made before another meeting, to be held next week.'

The new manager could hardly face a tougher baptism. England's next match brings Denmark, the European champions, to Wembley on 9 March. After that, they are away to Germany, the World Cup holders, on 20 April.

If Venables is confirmed as England's choice then Wales will re- open negotiations with Terry Yorath, whose contract expired at the end of 1993 but who, bizarrely, remains a contender for his old job.

Last night the prospect of John Toshack, the former Liverpool and Welsh international who now manages Real Sociedad in Spain, becoming involved emerged when he said he would gladly help his country.

'I would not be interested in managing Wales on a full-time basis but if Terry Yorath or whoever it is and the Welsh FA feel I can be of help I would be absolutely delighted,' he said. 'I feel I have something to offer and if I can get permission from my club I could help on match days and in the days leading up to games.'

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Ken Jones, page 38