What went wrong with the Lions, Harry... and the top FA job Mark Palios offered me

In his first major interview since the Lions tour of New Zealand, Southampton's director of football talks to Brian Alexander
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The Independent Football

The image of Sir Clive Woodward's finest moment has pride of place on his kitchen wall. The World Cup has been won. England are celebrating with wide-eyed joy, Australia are on their knees, heads bowed. In another room his winner's medal and subsequent knighthood are framed with a small plaque paying tribute to his wife, Jane. Photographs of his children are everywhere. This is Team Woodward. It's a family affair.

In his Thamesside garden in Berkshire is the office where the conquest of world rugby was meticulously planned. But just over two years later Woodward left behind the sport that had made him. He is now a football man, the director of football at Southampton, someone setting out on a new journey after quitting Twickenham and enduring the ill-fated Lions tour to New Zealand last summer.

It would be fair to say that things have not exactly gone according to plan following the extraordinary night at the Telstra Stadium in November 2003, but Woodward's self-belief, attention to detail and self-confessed control freakery is fully in evidence during his first major interview since last summer.

But this is not the arrogant Woodward we hear about. Confident? Yes. Passionate? Absolutely. But the 50-year-old has taken the knocks and, as he puts it, "removed the shrapnel".

He has exchanged a sport that embraced and admired him, for one that offers him a joyless clasp of suspicion. But he's not worried by that. He's prepared for a long apprenticeship.

And though he has his critics in the football world he has some very high-profile admirers as well, most notably - and perhaps extraordinarily - Mark Palios, the former chief executive of the Football Association.

In our interview Woodward reveals that Palios - the FA's chief executive until his affair with Faria Alam forced his resignation in the summer of 2004 - was on the verge of offering him the job of technical director of the FA. "He was excited about the prospect of bringing in someone who had enjoyed success in a different sport," Woodward says. "I've heard that Jürgen Klinsmann has brought in a hockey coach to help with Germany's World Cup preparations. I think that's fantastic. He'll bring a new perspective.

"But I said to Mark Palios that I'd rather go and learn the business of football elsewhere before taking on such a big job at the FA. After resigning from the England rugby job I was offered all sorts of opportunities, some in rugby, but mainly performance director jobs in other sports.

"However, the only one that really excited me was when the chairman of Southampton, Rupert Lowe, contacted me. I said I'd only come if the management team were happy. When I accepted the job at St Mary's we were in the Premiership and Steve Wigley was the manager. By the time I arrived, Wigley had gone, Harry Redknapp was in charge and we'd been relegated. There were a whole bunch of new people there, but I just got on with it."

Were they welcoming? "Harry was fantastic. I shared an office with him for a time and he always kept me in touch with what was going on. Yes, we were very different people, but we got on fine."

Did your presence have anything to do with Redknapp's return to Portsmouth? "Not at all. Harry felt that Portsmouth was where he should be. Straightforward as that. I was in a different culture and had lots to learn."

As to the immediate future, Woodward is happy where he is. "My only target in football at Southampton is to bring in new ideas, to support the manager George Burley and to make a major contribution," he says. "I want to get all my coaching badges. I have Uefa level four to take in May, then the pro licence in a year or so.

"Then I want to manage a football team. Not in the Premiership, but any one of the 92 professional clubs. That will take me time. The coaching is not a worry to me. I watch probably more football than anyone else. I can hold my own in any conversation about tactics and coaching.

"But the big learning curve is how to build a team. Where do you get players from? How to deal with agents and chairmen. That's the challenge, but with George Burley's help I think I can get there. But I'm not taking short cuts. I want to be credible. If I get an offer to manage a club and I'm not ready, I'll say so."

Woodward has plenty of regrets. The first was how he handled the press conference at Twickenham to announce his departure. "It was right for me to go. After the World Cup win, the squad was splitting up and there were jealousies creeping in. Not from the players, but from certain people at the RFU [Rugby Football Union].

"Getting the knighthood put me on a pedestal. The players were then thrown straight into the tour of Australia and New Zealand. It was unfair. We weren't properly prepared and I don't think any of us realised how tired we were. I said to the RFU that if we were to win the World Cup - under me - we'd have to change things again.

"I'm happy for the élite players to be employed by their clubs, but I felt they were playing too many games and that we needed individual programmes for them. The RFU wanted to de-tune things, if anything, so that was it.

"So, no regrets about going, but I lost it with the media at that press conference. I regret that. I didn't handle it well. I'm still annoyed with myself over that," he admits.

Woodward, in hindsight, also rues some of the decisions he made on the subsequent British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. "I don't regret taking the job on, but I wasn't myself.

"As England coach I was always anti-Lions. I played for them and I respected their traditions but Lions tours always affected my preparations with the England team. But when they offered me the chance to manage that tour I felt I was on a roll. I genuinely believed I could reverse the trend and win in New Zealand. But we were badly beaten 3-0. I'm a logical, clear thinker and a little bit of me was saying: 'Are you mad? Why don't you just retire?' I'm all about meticulous planning and team building. I did try to do it differently and I thought about it rationally and got on with it. Everyone was with me, the best players and the best coaches, but I wasn't myself.

"A couple of England players said as much during the tour and an Irish player admitted that he was disappointed in me. A lot of people thought I was being too diplomatic. It didn't go well. I now have to live with it. I've only just recently managed to remove all the shrapnel from my body!"

Woodward denies making mistakes over team selection, but is adamant that the early loss of Brian O'Driscoll and Richard Hill had a devastating effect. "O'Driscoll was the talisman. The 'spear' tackle was terrible and they didn't even cite the players responsible."

But what about the appointment of No 10 spin doctor, Alastair Campbell? "The press told me that I was underpowered in terms of media management," insists Woodward. "They said I needed a big hitter. So I asked my wife, Jane: 'OK, who's the heavy, big hitter in that game?' She mentioned Alastair, so that was it. I'd never met him before but I went for him and got him. I feel a bit sorry for him now. He wasn't able to do his job."

Did you agree to him giving the players a team talk before the second Test? "Yes, but that wasn't anything special. If I felt any of the management team had anything good to say, I let them. No big deal."

Woodward firmly believes that he's turned some important corners in his professional career and has a mission to manage one day and introduce sports science techniques to Southampton, particularly developing individual programmes for every player.

But he remains passionate about the immediate future of England's international teams. He believes that Andy Robinson can win the next World Cup, but he thinks the FA has made a big mistake over the announcement of Sven Goran Eriksson's replacement as manager. "They should delay that decision until after the World Cup in Germany," he insists. "The idea to allow the new man to go to the World Cup with Sven is ludicrous. I can think of nothing worse. The speculation about who's going to get the job is already an unwanted distraction."

Who should get the job? "They simply have to appoint the best man in the world to match a team that should be No 1 in the world. If the best man is English, or British, then even better."

Would the job ever appeal to him? "That would be ludicrous from where I am now. If I was 30, then possibly. But I'm 50. Time is not on my side," he says, before adding, "I've got to chip away and learn loads so that I can work with Rooney and Beckham one day."

Brian Alexander is presenter of 'Sport on 5 Report' on BBC Radio 5 Live. This is an edited version of the interview broadcast on 5 Live last night.