Hungry for the job? Venables is starving

Headhunter's verdict: The FA should wait
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The Independent Football

Perhaps the Guinness Book of Records will one day put an exact time on it, but something like 35 seconds must have elapsed between Kevin Keegan throwing in the towel and the name Venables being uttered for the first time as his likely replacement.

Perhaps the Guinness Book of Records will one day put an exact time on it, but something like 35 seconds must have elapsed between Kevin Keegan throwing in the towel and the name Venables being uttered for the first time as his likely replacement.

Ever since, Tel's name has spawned acres of printer's ink and hours of telly babble. Terrace persons whose opinion was sought as they slouched away from Wembley sang the identical anthem, "Gorra be Venners, ain't it?" The man's many allies in the media were not exactly slow out of the blocks and those players who deigned to utter, or flog, a quote were holding the same hymn sheet. As Teddy Sheringham pointed out, who else who is English is up to the job?

The answer, sadly, has to be: nobody - yet. The post turned Bobby Robson's hair white first time round. Were he unwise enough to be corralled into another dabble - and, astonishingly, he seems interested - it could end with him going off to coach Heaven's Angels First XI. The other Robson, Bryan, is a prime example of a great player who has not made the transition to great manager, despite lasting long enough at Middlesbrough after spending an awful lot of money.

After Charlton's Alan Curbishley and Leicester's Peter Taylor - too soon for both - all you're left with is no-hopers, lags and foreigners. And Terry Venables. As yesterday's odds shrank to odds-on, Tel was playing a smart game in midfield. A shrug, a smile, a few careful words. He knows well enough there is no need to paddle too hard when the tide is flowing so powerfully for him. Whatever the strength of the FA's objections to Venables' much-criticised business dealings, these are popularly perceived as curmudgeonly and obstructive. Even though the appointment panel contains one of Venables' most obdurate opponents, Noel White, it may be impossible to resist the clamour, at least in the short term. Venables dismissed any enmity on ITV's On The Ball: "I've never had an argument with any people on the FA - not even Mr White. We had a discussion which was quite frank, behind closed doors."

As far as the job was concerned, he said: "I'm not ruling myself in or out. I really don't know. There are so many mixed feelings about it." Asked whether he still had the hunger for such a high-profile role, he remarked: "Starving actually. If you're saying to me, have you lost the bite for it, I would say no. I could live without it. But I want to be in and around itbecause I care about it."

If the FA does opt for Venables, it is crucial the backing is wholehearted. "No manager can operate in any walk of life without the support of the board," said David Bateson, a top headhunter with the Hertford and London firm Kettlefish. Bateson spelled out the qualities required: "You must have second sight, the ability to walk on water and you need resilience and charm. It is a nightmare job, such an unusual mix of inspirational leader, negotiator and politician.

"I can't believe any top-flight Premiership manager is going to be let go because the club game is so important now. I think the FA has got it wrong at the moment. They should be making an appointment now for someone to take up the position in a year's time. I don't see any point making thesecond-best appointment on a permanent basis if you can get the right person in a year. Meantime, get someone on an interim basis: either keep Howard Wilkinson or bring back Venables."

To suggest that he become a stop-gap is enough to dim what the tabloids call "Tel's cheeky chappie charisma" but the way Arsÿne Wenger was talking on Friday, hinting at availability when his Arsenal contract ends in 2002, fits the Bateson theory. "Venables has done an extremely good job in the past but every man has his day," he said. Though the unlikely mix of Gazza and Sir Bobby Charlton is loudly behind the English-only argument, Bateson insists: "I don't think it has to be an Englishman. It would be preferable, but if you take a much longer view there is so much to change. We need something different."

Wenger would be different but two factors could stand in the way of any candidature. First, he is planning to sue the FA over that 12-match touchline ban; secondly, Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, is on the FA's selection team and would be unlikely to acquiesce in the departure, end of contract or not, of one of the country's two best club managers.

As Wenger himself has pointed out: "A country of 60 million should be able to find a coach of its own." In Venables it has one, whether Noel White concurs or not.

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