Football: Venables rejected by Wales

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MARK HUGHES and not Terry Venables will lead Wales' ailing football team into the final two matches of their Euro 2000 campaign against Belarus and Switzerland. The 36-year-old Southampton player was handed the poisoned chalice after the full 27-man Football Association of Wales council decided the courting period with Venables had come to an end.

Having chased the former England and Australia national coach for more than a month, they finally got cold feet, for the time being at least, when faced with an annual wage bill of around pounds 150,000 and the request for a get-out clause after only a year.

So in the end the FAW failed to show the kind of intestinal fortitude displayed by the Welsh Rugby Union when they backed up their public declaration about scouring the world to bring home the best possible coach.

The WRU bit the bullet, paid the price and had a run of six successive wins on their annual investment of pounds 250,000 on the coach, Graham Henry, from New Zealand. The FAW said they would follow suit, but have instead resorted to asking one of their greatest players to pick up the pieces.

At a hastily arranged press conference outside a Cardiff hotel yesterday the FAW secretary general, David Collins, revealed that the contractual demands made by Venables effectively ruled him out of the job.

"There were a number of contract issues that the council felt it couldn't meet and weren't happy to undertake," Collins said. "As far as the FAW were concerned the contract situation wasn't viable with Mr Venables."

So was it the money or the quick-release clause that frightened off the FAW in the end? "I never discuss financial arrangements but the contract situation revolved around a get-out clause after 12 months," Collins said. "He was offered a three-year contract but wanted a review after a year and that proved a stumbling block."

So it means the FAW are in the same position as they were after Bobby Gould's decision to resign following the 4-0 defeat to Italy and still have to nominate a permanent manager.

Hughes, whose managerial experience is limited to working alongside Neville Southall as one of Wales' caretaker managers for their last outing against Denmark, is used to tackling adversity head-on. Usually his combative style gives him a good chance of coming out on top.

His pedigree as a player with Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Southampton is without question but it is too early to judge his qualities as a manager. The Welsh players rallied round him in the 2-0 defeat by Denmark, but there is a long way to go for his players to regain the respect of their rivals in Group One. The FAW is taking a huge risk but feel it is worthwhile as they try to buy themselves more time in the quest for the right man to lead Wales into the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The 71-times capped Hughes has to find new ways to inspire his team-mates before they travel to Belarus on 4 September and host the Swiss on 9 October.

"The council feels that Mark was the best candidate for the job for the forthcoming internationals," Collins said. "We know he can't do it full- time because he is still under contract to Southampton but the chairman of the club will allow him to do it on a part-time basis. Southampton will release him to manage those two games. As for playing, that is his decision but I understand he will be concentrating more on being a manager.

"I spoke to Mark and he was delighted and he wants to do the job 100 per cent and we are giving him the opportunity to do that."

Collins made it clear that the term "caretaker" was not being added to Hughes' job title, but he added: "He will lead the side for the next two games and we will review the situation after that. He will obviously be a leading candidate for the job to take us to the next World Cup but we will look at that after the next two games. If he wins the next two games against Belarus and Switzerland he will obviously be in a very strong position."