Football: Venables to 'bring back fun' to England: A controversial character who has represented his country at every level is awarded a chance to revive national fortunes in style

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HIS predecessor went out playing kick and rush and snarling at a linesman. Terry Venables took over with a pledge to put the smile and style back into English football.

The game's worst-kept secret was out in the open at last yesterday. Venables is the new England coach, with a pounds 170,000-a-year contract to run to the end of the 1996 European Championship.

Coach, not manager, mind. Not that too much should be read into the distinction. Venables' sole area of responsibility and involvement was to be the team, but that would have been the case, we were assured, whoever got the job.

What the introductory press conference, at Wembley, lacked in suspense it made up for in content. It was encouraging, upbeat stuff from a man whose coaching expertise is matched by his facility for handling - his critics would say manipulating - the media.

Tricky questions about the Sugar saga, or the Panorama probe into his business affairs were fielded with one-handed nonchalance, like Pat Jennings in his prime. He was still suing both parties to clear his name, but this was a day for talking football, not finance, he said.

He was flanked on the dais by two of the men who chose him, Sir Bert Millichip and Graham Kelly - chairman and chief executive of the FA respectively.

Millichip, a solicitor by profession, had no doubts about Venables' suitability for the job. It had taken more than nine weeks to appoint him, but there had been much to consider, he said. 'We have been criticised for being too urgent and we have also been criticised for delay.' What had mattered was getting the right man and the chairman was confident that he had.

'I was very impressed with Terry's desire to be the coach, and the eagerness with which he wanted to get down to work'.

Kelly said that the sub-committee responsible for the choice, of which he was a member, had found Venables was 'widely regarded as an imaginative coach and an inventive tactician', and someone capable of 'firing people's imagination.'

Both Kelly and Millichip made it clear that the weight of opinion, public and professional, had clinched it for a candidate who was something of an outsider at the outset.

Jimmy Armfield, the FA's head- hunter, had canvassed all and sundry and come back with one name. 'A significant factor,' Kelly said, 'was the element of professional consultation which we felt was necessary this time. The overwhelming body of opinion from the professionals in the game was that Terry was the outstanding candidate'.

Doubts had been raised by the various inquiries into his business dealings, in and outside football, but the FA were content that they had covered themselves there. In the event of any serious allegation being proved, Venables' contract would be terminated, without compensation.

In the circumstances, was he surprised to get the job? 'A few months ago, I wouldn't have thought that I'd be in the reckoning. The FA have taken a long time to make this decision. They had to show due diligence, and I'm happy that they did.'

England's failure to qualify for the World Cup had left Millichip feeling 'humiliated - like a poor relation' at the draw in Las Vegas. Venables could understand that. 'Everyone feels very low at the moment, and it's about time we brought some fun back. The only way to do that, of course, is by winning games.'

He would set about 'the biggest task I've ever faced' with different methods and different personnel. He was not prepared to be specific, but we can expect a decent trial for the sweeper system to which Graham Taylor paid no more than lip service, and an end to the ageist nonsense which saw the previous regime ignore the claims of Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Ray Wilkins, et al to the point of perversity.

Taylor fell between tactical stalls time and again, to the confusion of his players. Venables would not be making the same mistake.

'We must have a system of play, and an alternative to it, which the players can understand and are familiar with, but the problem is that I'm going to have so little time with them. It's up to me to make it as simple as possible, so that they know exactly what they've got to do.'

He would be looking for a blend of youth and experience, using older players to bring on the next generation. Paul Gascoigne would be 'an integral part' of his team.

'From the matches I've seen this season, the quality is undoubtedly there. The older, more experienced players still have some life left with me. It's no good putting a lot of young players in together and having them flounder. It's important for the younger ones to have experience around them. For example, Nick Barmby was helped tremendously last year by Teddy Sheringham, and the same is true this season of Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley.

'I want to play in a way that will win the admiration of the public, which means good football. Not fantasy football, where you play well and lose, you've got to have common sense. As the man said, we've got to go back to basics - stop goals, create in midfield and finish well.'

England's absence from the World Cup and the fact that they are not required to qualify for the European Championship they are staging leaves them with nothing but friendlies to play these next two-and-a-half years.

Lack of competitive football was a problem Venables acknowledged. He would push for as much time as possible to work with his players - as many free Saturdays as he could prise out of the Premier League - to compensate.

'We are not strong at the moment, but we have the potential to do a great deal better,' he said. The target was 1966. Consternation on the platform, laughter in the hall. 'Sorry, a Freudian slip, that. No, 1996 is the target. If I do particularly well, I would hope to stay on after that.'

The FA would like his successor to come from within the staff he assembles, so the appointment of his assistant will have unprecedented significance. Various candidates are under consideration, Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins among them.

The pressure of the job had seen Taylor perish in a cascade of

F-words. Venables sympathised, but could not imagine himself going the same way. Terry the Turnip? Leave it out, son.

'I know the score. It's not too much different from Barcelona, where the pressure was intense too. I just feel that if I hadn't accepted the challenge I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. I want to find out whether I can do the job or not.'

The learning process starts on 9 March, when the European champions, Denmark, come to Wembley.

(Photograph omitted)

Venables the restless spirit, page 26

FA Cup preview, page 27

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