Home rule call to the kingmaker

As calls grow for an English coach, Dein receives timely advice from his own manager
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The Independent Online

If members of the Football Association's nominations committee climb wearily out of bed this morning to read the following quote from Arsène Wenger, their heavy hearts - with one notable exception - will be magically lifted. "If tomorrow I'm free and England offer me the job," the Arsenal manager told Sunday newspaper reporters at the club's training ground, "I will of course take it."

Whether spoken with tongue in Gallic cheek or not, what should immediately send all bar one of the benighted head-hunters burrowing back under the pillow, was his clearly liberal interpretation of the word "tomorrow". Possibly as in "tomorrow never comes"; possibly as in tomorrow, 2008, when the current contract of a man of great loyalty runs out.

Furthermore there was every previous and subsequent reference to the subject in a long conversation, such as: "At the moment I don't feel the need to go from club football to national team football," or, "I feel completely focused on what I want to achieve with Arsenal," and "I am personally convinced that England needs an English manager."

The FA bigwig to whose ears that is sweet music is, of course, David Dein, who as vice-chairman of both the governing body and one of its biggest clubs, is regrettably allowed to wear two magic hats. With the red-and-white one on, he lured the then little-known Wenger to Highbury 10 years ago and has no intention of allowing his man to undertake national service after a decade of sustained and stylish achievement that make him the almost perfect candidate.

Dein was also instrumental, with the former chief executive Adam Crozier (a committee of two being considered quite sufficient at the time) in bringing Sven Goran Eriksson to London and must therefore have believed he was about to complete a distinguished, er, hat-trick in delivering Luiz Felipe Scolari. Friday's dramatic about-turn has thwarted that for the time being.

But even wearing his metaphorical Three Lions baseball cap, Dein the kingmaker will be happy to hear Wenger's dismissal of any interest in another coronation. In different circumstances that interest might just have been kindled. Had Arsenal, say, failed to push through plans for a new stadium or done so amid such financial restraints that team-building was affected, Wenger might just have been tempted after a relentless decade by a change of pace and scene. Had the Champions' League campaign crumbled as early as usual and half a dozen bright young prospects not emerged almost simultaneously, the same could conceivably have applied.

But as Wenger casts one eye on Paris and the club's first European Cup final and the other one on the magnificent new home where his exciting young team will play their football next season, he sees no reason to imagine that the FA's little patch of grass in Soho Square is any greener. "It's a big honour for me to be talked about, but I'm not a candidate. It is a top job responsibility-wise, for expectations and the media, but time-wise certainly not, and for technical influence it is not a top job.

"What I call technical influence is that you take a young right-back of 19 years old in the afternoon and make him work on crosses, and then you can have an influence and after six months see his improvement. You never do that with the English national team. You get the players for three days and you have to win against Slovenia. If you lose you're crap; if you win, you're great. And you need two or three exceptional players and personalities in every generation."

Sorry, Mr Barwick, but it didn't sound like a job application. There was some further advice for you and the chaps, however: "You need a good coach with experience and a thick skin who can lead and cope with the pressures from the media. That's why I think it's a job for a guy over 50. For example, Stuart Pearce will certainly make an exceptional manager but he's too young to do a job like that."

So, the 54-year-old Steve McClaren, 54-year-old Martin O'Neill or young (51) shaver Sam Allardyce? But not Alan Curbishley (48), who now says: "I don't think I was ever in the race."

Quite why O'Neill, Barwick's preferred candidate, found so little favour in the first place is more of a mystery than ever. The panel may have wanted greater commitment to the whole FA coaching structure and no more than one of his own team to come along with him; but surely Scolari was exactly the same. As a friend of O'Neill's put it: "Don't tell me Scolari wasn't going to bring in a coach or two of his own. And how involved was he going to get with the England under-17s?"

Would it have been O'Neill or the equally blunt Allardyce who told the interrogators in the Oxfordshire safe house that, frankly, he would be more interested in winning the World Cup? Either of them would now appeal to members of the committee or the full FA board who have been part of the Stop McClaren Campaign. Otherwise the Middlesbrough manager will emerge as what he has looked all along, the compromise candidate.

The FA are not concerned by yesterday's tabloid revelations, of which he had forewarned them, and his sense of timing is as exquisite as Massimo Maccarone, whose goals at the death have twice propelled the club towards the Uefa Cup final. But as former Wales manager Mark Hughes, who has some experience of these things, said last night: "The more you have on the committees, the longer it takes."

DIARY OF A FIASCO

23 JANUARY

FA announces Sven Goran Eriksson will leave his post after the World Cup. Brian Barwick, Noel White and Dave Richards begin process to find his successor.

27 JANUARY

Barwick announces he wants Eriksson's successor in place before the World Cup.

5 FEBRUARY

Bolton's Sam Allardyce says he would "love the opportunity to be interviewed" for the job.

10 FEBRUARY

Richards says "I believe it is time for a British manager", sparking speculation about Martin O'Neill.

19 FEBRUARY

Boro chairman Steve Gibson says he will not stand in Steve McClaren's way of taking the job.

27 FEBRUARY

FA chairman Geoff Thompson, Sir Trevor Brooking and David Dein join the selection process.

22 MARCH

Charlton's Alan Curbishley says he expects the FA to "speed up" the appointment.

20 APRIL

Interviews are completed but FA delay decision on favoured choice.

26 APRIL

Barwick holds talks with Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

27 APRIL

Newspapers report that Scolari has been offered the job.

28 APRIL

The Brazilian rules himself out of running, citing media intrusion.

29 APRIL

McClaren reinstated as favourite, despite revelations about an affair with a secretary at Boro.

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