FA's England plan falls at the first

Search starts again after Newcastle veto Robson
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Newcastle United last night spurned an approach by the Football Association for Bobby Robson to take temporary charge of the England team. Although this is a swift, and possibly embarrassing rebuff to their short-term solution of solving the conundrum of the immediate future, the FA's chief executive David Davies maintained: "Despite this disappointment, significant progress has already been made this weekend as we seek a successor to Kevin Keegan."

Newcastle United last night spurned an approach by the Football Association for Bobby Robson to take temporary charge of the England team. Although this is a swift, and possibly embarrassing rebuff to their short-term solution of solving the conundrum of the immediate future, the FA's chief executive David Davies maintained: "Despite this disappointment, significant progress has already been made this weekend as we seek a successor to Kevin Keegan."

It is understood that Arsÿne Wenger remains top of the FA head-hunters' wish-list as the long-term solution, but the FA are aware that neither he nor any other contenders would be likely to become available immediately, and possibly not until next summer.

Their short-term plan was to call on the former England manager Robson, who would have been aided by Peter Taylor, and possibly one other assistant from the English Premiership ranks. But Newcastle responded with a statement, following a meeting they held with Robson immediately after the 1-0 home defeat by Everton, which read: "The board have unanimously rejected the Football Association's request for the release of Bobby Robson. He has been informed and has accepted the board's decision." Not without considerable regret, it must be added. Robson has always emphasised that he would help the national side in any way possible - indeed he did so yet again in yesterday's match programme.

Newcastle's veto was the first evidence of how difficult it will be to replace Keegan, although it appears confusion has already arisen. Newcastle's apparent understanding was that Robson would be needed for a total of seven games, which, if friendlies are included, would take England up to June and approaching the end of their World Cup qualifying games. My understanding was that the appointment of a caretaker would involve Robson of taking charge of the side for next month's friendly against Italy, and possibly the two World Cup qualifiers in March against Albania and Finland.

Davies confirmed as much last night when he said: "We had wanted his experience and enthusiasm for a short period... reports that we specified that this might involve seven international games are totally wrong."

It is still possible that, given this misunderstanding, that the FA might persuade Newcastle to reconsider. There is certainly no question of Robson, at 67, being expected to do the job permanently. Also, the FA are keen that there should be an accent on teamwork, with other Premiership managers taking considerable responsibility.

Where do the FA go from here in the short-term? It hardly appears feasible that they will ask their technical director Howard Wilkinson or Terry Venables, having apparently made clear last week that neither featured in their deliberations. It is conceivable that Taylor could be asked to take on the job, along with a Premiership counterpart such as Alan Curbishley. Taylor coached the England Under-21 team successfully and, when working with Glenn Hoddle, carried out several England coaching sessions before matches.

In the long-term, although Wenger has emphasised that he intends to see out his contract, which expires in two years, the erudite, highly able Frenchman is seen as the ideal candidate for England coach. He satisfies all the criteria laid down by the FA's selection committee on Thursday, but also being a man who would be acceptable to those who coach and play in the English game and to the supporters.

A manager such as John Gregory is an excellent barometer of opinion within the English game. He told me this week: "If it has to be a non-British coach, there is only one candidate - the professor. That's my name for Wenger. There's no doubt he has got a lot of credentials."

The FA appear adamant that their search should not be restricted by national boundaries. Excellence is the absolute prerequisite. There is much rationale in that. Yet, without the implicit consent and support of the English game, such an appointment could end in acrimony when judgement day arrives and results do not quickly endorse the appointee's qualities.

If Wenger could be persuaded, he would be asked to work with one or perhaps two assistants called up from the fraternity of young English Premiership managers. The net would possibly be cast further, with a player being fast-tracked into a coaching role. The name of Tony Adams would be considered particularly suitable in Wenger's case.

If Wenger insists on honouring his Highbury contract, then it is possible that the FA will turn to the successful Lazio coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, though consideration of a foreign coach unfamiliar to the general public of a nation which is notoriously insular, would be an enormous gamble for the seven-strong selection team, who are, in a sense, on trial themselves.

Another alternative is Roy Hodgson, the Englishman who achieved so much with the Swiss national team, was highly thought of at Internazionale, and would have been a certain contender, if he had not endured that torrid spell at Blackburn Rovers. Hodgson is currently in charge of FC Copenhagen and is another tied to a contract.

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