If the FA listens it will hear one name

Within the game there is a mass chorus of belief in the wisdom of Terry Venables returning to the job of England manager
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There is a report, possibly apocryphal, that certain unnamed officials of the Football Association were discovered at the weekend applying thumbscrews to a ball-boy who had artlessly offered the opinion that Terry Venables might indeed be the best man for the England job.

There is a report, possibly apocryphal, that certain unnamed officials of the Football Association were discovered at the weekend applying thumbscrews to a ball-boy who had artlessly offered the opinion that Terry Venables might indeed be the best man for the England job.

This incident presumably occurred shortly after Venables acquired another supporter in Sir Alan Sugar, who before coming into contact with his former partner at White Hart Lane was an obscure, if wealthy "geezer in electronics" and now of course is a prince of football, right up there with Ken Bates and Martin Edwards, and also, like them, immeasurably richer for his contact with the old game.

Sugar's endorsement of Venables might have been a delayed thank you after all their years of strife. It might have been fresh evidence that Sugar has smartened up a little since the days he declared that "buy low, sell high" Wimbledon were the model for Spurs and that Christian Gross had the makings of a new Bill Nicholson. Or it might just have been a case of going with a flow that is rapidly becoming tidal.

Whatever it was, the FA's chief executive, Adam Crozier, will surely have taken note. So far Crozier has been admirably cool-headed on several vital points. He says that no one has been excluded from theselection process.

There will be nothing like the indecent rush which saw Kevin Keegan installed with such futility early last year. And that a full range of professional opinion will be sought. Hence, perhaps, the rigorousinterrogation of the ball boy.

What seems self-evident is that the pro-Venables forces would be wise to take their time and keep down the stridency of their claims on their hero's behalf. Venables is not football's ultimate guru. His record does not compare with that of Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsÿne Wenger or Aimé Jacquet. But that he has a formidable claim on the England job, one that he has already done with considerable success, must be clear to any fair-mindedobserver.

Such is the weight of support for him within the game, the FA can no longer hope to avoid the issue as it did when it dashed to appoint first Graham Taylor and then Keegan. Crozier, formerly a top man at the heavyweight advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi, knows enough about public relations to make that old option a non-starter. A variation of the old Abe Lincoln rule at last comes into play : you can't fool enough of the people all of the time.

At the very least the FA will be obliged to hold up to the light any reasons it has for ruling out Venables. For the moment he is sullied by vague talk of baggage from the past. As many of his close friends advised him over the years, Venables was never going to make the success in business he would in football, and one consequence of his failure to take that advice is his disqualification as a company director. But is the FA, and specifically Venables' old foe, Noel White, the chairman of the international committee, saying that past, and non-criminal, mistakes in one walk of lifeautomatically disqualifies himfrom practising another, howeveraccomplished he may be? It cannot wash, not this time.

Why would so many in the game, ranging from Ferguson and Wenger and Sugar to Peter Davenport, manager of Macclesfield and Bob Walker, chairman of Halifax Town, join in such a mass chorus of belief in the wisdom of appointing Venables? Why do the England team almost to a man urge his selection? Is it because the cheeky chappie has some mesmerising power which only a few FA officials and high-minded columnists can resist? No, I don't believe it is that. Having known him for around 30 years, I suspect it is because few football men have been able to generate in such equal proportion degrees of both sharpness and warmth.

Venables communicates with his players, enlivens them and, when things do not go right, reminds them that they have been engaged in a football match and not the Third World War. His worst critics depict a barrow-boy flashness. But there was nothing flash about his reaction to the disappointment of that loss in the penalty shoot-out against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 96, when Venables cradled the head of the distraught Gareth Southgate.

Players remember such things. They note the difference between football men whose emotions are entirely coloured by results and those who have feelings beyond the cruel line of win and loss. If I have one abiding memory of Venables it is of his walk from the Wembley field after guiding Spurs to a semi-final victory over Arsenal, at that time when the "listening bank" was turning a rather deaf ear to Tottenham's plight. The shutters might have gone down on Spurs then, but Venables held the line. As he left the field, he clenched his fist and you saw a shudder of satisfaction and pleasure go through his body.

Football men also remember things like that. They can detect passion. This time, you have to suspect, in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Adam Crozier said he would consult. In this case, itsimply means listening to the roar.

 

Fears about Michael Owen's ability to deal with the selectorial whims of Kevin Keegan and Howard Wilkinson may have been over-pitched.

This, anyway, seems like a reasonable interpretation of his reaction to his latest mishap. With blood pouring over his face, he announced from a stretcher at Derby at the weekend: "Just give me a couple of minutes and I'll be right." Almost from the moment he scored that superb goal against Argentina two years ago, Owen has been obliged to undertake a gauntlet run of frustration. Injury, charges that he is a cheat, advice from such a luminous professional as Neil Ruddock that he had to change his act, have all beaten against him.

But he has a wonderful mantra. In all circumstances, including the blood-spattered, he says: "Just let me play."

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