England fail to find time for Home Nations

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The Independent Online

England are unable to commit themselves to a regular Home Nations Championship because of their packed international calendar. However, they could yet face Scotland in a "Battle of Britain" encounter in May following informal talks between the Football Association chief executive, Brian Barwick, and his Scottish FA counterpart, Gordon Smith, in South Africa on Monday.

Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales have confirmed they have agreed in principle to establish a series of three bi-annual tournaments beginning in 2009. England were involved in discussions which have been ongoing for several months, but decided not to enter into an agreement as they considered their other potential commitments.

Howard Wells, chief executive of the Irish Football Association, said: "We kept England involved in those conversations and they had every opportunity, if they had wanted, to participate. But it was not on their agenda at the time and as a consequence, we moved on.

"That is not a criticism of England," he added, "just the reality of not being able to fit those games into their calendar."

It is understood the FA is reluctant to enter into any new arrangements before Steve McClaren's successor as manager has been appointed.

In addition, despite England's failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland, they have high hopes of rectifying that situation in time for the 2010 World Cup and would want to plan accordingly for that by testing themselves against opposition from further afield.

The agreement in principle to the tournament involving the other four countries – it has been dubbed "the Celtic Cup", but is unlikely to be called by that name – has rekindled memories of the Home International Championships.

Each side will play three games in each tournament on a home and away basis rotating over the years, as happens with rugby union's Six Nations Championship. The respective associations are currently working to finalise commercial arrangements and fixture dates.

They hope the tournament will help to improve the level of competition for their teams, who have struggled to qualify for recent major finals.

Wells said: "We have been talking about it for several months, it has been a debate for some time. The reality at our level in terms of qualifying for major tournaments is that it is always going to be difficult. Therefore, we wanted to look at what options there might be after that to create better competition."

The former Netherlands coach, Louis van Gaal, has clarified his comments in which he appeared to indicate an interest in the vacant England manager's position.

Van Gaal had fuelled speculation on his availability when he said on Monday: "There are many candidates but I am willing to do it, otherwise I would not have a clause in my contract about a head coach's job of a national team." However, Van Gaal, who is currently coach of the Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, said: "It's a great job for someone who has ambitions like me. But it won't happen before the summer of 2009."

Van Gaal has a year and a half before he can take advantage of a clause in his contract that allows him to sign a deal at any country on his list. The countries that make up the list are the Netherlands, Germany, England, Spain and Argentina.

Van Gaal added: "[AZ] chairman, Dirk Scheringa, will not let me go and I don't want to go myself. Will the story change if England offer him ¿10m? No, you don't know Dirk."

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