Football: Why England need a man on the inside

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The Independent Online
TWO questions are bothering all true lovers of football. First, is it possible to manage England successfully from a cell in Wormwood Scrubs? Second, when do the Welsh FA intend to stop all this power-posturing and give Terry Yorath his job back?

The first is, admittedly, a touch far-fetched but those leaders of English football charged with avoiding another cock-up on the managerial front have led us up so many garden paths they have exhausted all normal reserves of speculation.

It appears that they've happened on a likely chap but are hesitating because of some possible impediment to his smooth accession to the throne of thorns. They are in a better position than the rest of us to know about tell- tale rattles from the cupboard, but prefer to bluster on in that touchingly confused manner that suggests all manner of complications.

But so what if their man is suspected of being a serial murderer or he is in the frame as mastermind behind the top ram-raiders of the home counties? What would he get, life? Ten years?

With good behaviour and a few decent results he'd be out in bags of time for the 2002 World Cup. And by then England could be a team of world-beaters, whipped into shape by a manager subject to none of the distractions and pressures that have helped to damn his predecessors.

If I remember rightly, there are cells in the Scrubs that overlook adjacent football pitches and with a good megaphone he could conduct training sessions from his window and save a fortune on Bisham Abbey. While watching the games on television, he could relay instructions to the bench by mobile phone and should the prison governor not give permission for the phone, it wouldn't take a minute to tap out a message such as 'Get that bloody Gazza off' on the pipes in his cell.

The press would not be able to pester him and, more importantly, neither could the FA International Committee. He could concentrate his mind totally, projecting it to planes of thought never before attained in football, and the tabloids could call him all the Terry Vegetables in the world and he would be oblivious. The more you think about it, the more you wonder if it is possible to do the England job from anywhere else.

Alas, the above is unlikely to happen. Just because the episode has been bizarre thus far doesn't mean it will continue in this vein. It is probably all the fault of Graham Taylor. Chaos has been in command since the former England manager fell on his sword on 23 November instead of waiting for the FA to elbow him on to it. Had he seen out the final six months of his contract, as they should have arranged beforehand, we might have seen a much neater transition from one manager to the next.

But, taken by surprise, they have stumbled from one contradictory statement to another. At first they said there would be no appointment before the spring and it would be a two-tier management structure with a father figure and a young buck. Then they appointed Jimmy Armfield to assist the search and he forecast a long haul, possibly until the summer. Why this sensibly patient approach became a mad rush is a mystery.

Even worse, this scramble has been fed by a rash of blabbermouthing from various members of a committee whose first priority should have been secrecy and discretion. The consequence has been a succession of irate clubs whose managers were named as being under earnest consideration. Kevin Keegan, Gerry Francis, Bobby Robson, Bryan Robson, Howard Kendall and sundry others have been mentioned as contenders by football writers I would normally be inclined to believe. One of the most reliable was adamant that Howard Wilkinson of Leeds was going to be the senior partner in an England double act.

Contrary to popular belief, sports journalists require a solid tip from a reliable source before committing themselves. In this episode too many informed stories have been flushed down the pan to be true. But last week we nearly had our man. Wembley was booked to introduce Terry Venables to a press conference but it was cancelled after fresh, or re- heated, allegations about his business affairs were aired.

The knight on the white charger is out there but has a few more brambles of innuendo to hack his way through before he gallops up to the drawbridge. I hesitate to applaud the sight of another decent man being sacrificed to the dragon of England's expectations but you couldn't find anyone more suited to face that danger.

A decent man being sacrificed on a different altar is Terry Yorath, the Welsh manager-in- limbo. His contract was allowed to expire at the end of the year while his masters conducted a similarly clumsy and noisy search for a possible successor.

I have a theory that has been 40 years in the forming and concerns those who occupy these powerful places in the committee rooms. There was a time, not many years ago, when they were much more to the fore and actually picked the international teams. The advent of the full-time manager removed most of their duties and responsibilities and he took their places as the embodiment of the nation's football. You haven't heard much of the Irish FA since Jack Charlton arrived.

Only when they are between managers do the administrators step back into the spotlight and they enjoy the glow so much they are tempted to bask in it as long as possible. There is no obvious reason why the Welsh FA began looking for a new manager. The disappointment of not qualifying for the World Cup finals was a blow but no one - players, press or public - blamed Yorath. The Welsh FA claimed he gave them a salary ultimatum but that is transparent nonsense.

If they felt they could find a better man, they were entitled to make discreet inquiries. But their approaches to Terry Venables and Bobby Robson brought only public rejection and they will be now be hard pressed to find a replacement with superior credentials. The death of their president at Christmas did not help matters but last week's decision to appoint a caretaker manager while Yorath hangs around unemployed is difficult to understand.

Perhaps they are intent on proving who really carries the power in Welsh football. It is a pathetic stance. The passing of Sir Matt has reminded us of where true inspiration comes from in this game. It certainly doesn't come from a committee room.

A SCOTTISH lawyer wants the Welsh hooker Garin Jenkins to be prosecuted after his display of punching at the Arms Park last weekend. He can be assured that the Welsh are none too pleased with the player, either. We can only assume that the referee did not send him off because he was waiting for one of the punches to find a target.

One former Welsh international was contemptuous of such wildness. 'I have come to the conclusion,' he told me, 'that he was trying to break his own hand.'