Impulsive last gesture of a true romantic

The Great Motivator should have puffed out his chest and made one final act of great motivation
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The Independent Football

On Saturday evening the Great British Public, to whose will Kevin Keegan had earlier so nobly (or, if you prefer, spinelessly) deferred, reached for their phones and offered their opinions on who the next England coach should be. I tuned in to three phone-ins - on Sky Sports, TalkSport and Radio Five Live - and heard the following names proposed, with varying degrees of vehemence: Terry Venables, Arsÿne Wenger, Alex Ferguson, Peter Reid, Peter Taylor, Bryan Robson, Bobby Robson, Howard Wilkinson, David O'Leary, Martin O'Neill, Johan Cruyff, Jean Tigana, Joe Kinnear, Jack Charlton, Ron Atkinson, a Harry Redknapp/ Peter Taylor dream ticket, even a Terry Venables/Paul Gascoigne dream ticket. By 9pm I'd had enough. Clearly, it was only a matter of time before the names of Mo Mowlam and Sir Richard Branson were thrust into the frame. I myself was beginning to wonder whether an Alan Titchmarsh/Charlie Dimmock dream ticket might possibly be the answer.

On Saturday evening the Great British Public, to whose will Kevin Keegan had earlier so nobly (or, if you prefer, spinelessly) deferred, reached for their phones and offered their opinions on who the next England coach should be. I tuned in to three phone-ins - on Sky Sports, TalkSport and Radio Five Live - and heard the following names proposed, with varying degrees of vehemence: Terry Venables, Arsÿne Wenger, Alex Ferguson, Peter Reid, Peter Taylor, Bryan Robson, Bobby Robson, Howard Wilkinson, David O'Leary, Martin O'Neill, Johan Cruyff, Jean Tigana, Joe Kinnear, Jack Charlton, Ron Atkinson, a Harry Redknapp/ Peter Taylor dream ticket, even a Terry Venables/Paul Gascoigne dream ticket. By 9pm I'd had enough. Clearly, it was only a matter of time before the names of Mo Mowlam and Sir Richard Branson were thrust into the frame. I myself was beginning to wonder whether an Alan Titchmarsh/Charlie Dimmock dream ticket might possibly be the answer.

What had brought us to this? After the miserable defeat at Wembley I had left the pub disconsolately, debating Kevin Keegan's future with my friends Derek and Paul. We agreed that if England played as badly in Wednesday's match against Finland then his position, as they say in politics, would almost certainly become untenable. But we had forgotten Keegan's capacity for the grand gesture. I arrived home to see him falling on his sword, live on Sky. I phoned Derek to break the shocking news. "Bloody hell," said Derek, adding "I expect he'll turn up as one of Sky's pundits on Wednesday." Derek has no illusions about life. He comes from Blackpool, where illusions are strictly for visitors.

Keegan, by contrast, is a romantic. And like all romantics, he acts impulsively. But as admirably honest as it was for him to admit on Saturday that he wasn't quite up to the job, so it was plain wrong of him to turn his back on it. In retrospect, he should have gone after Euro 2000. But having stayed on, he should at least have waited until Thursday morning - win, lose or draw on Wednesday night. Instead, he has made the task in Helsinki twice as difficult for a team with its self-confidence already in tatters. The Great Motivator should have puffed out his chest and performed one final act of great motivation. But then, in a cack-handed way, perhaps that is what he is doing, reasoning that his memory might inspire his players more effectively than his presence. That is how romantics think.

Whatever, I find it impossible to condemn him too vigorously either for his ill-timed resignation or for his error-pocked tenure. Partly because he is such a decent guy, but partly because England could have had the ghosts of Sir Alf Ramsey and Bobby Moore in their dug-out on Saturday and still contrived to lose. Paradoxically, the limp performance of Michael Owen now counts in Keegan's favour. Here was a player the coach did not appear to cherish as much as the man in the street. He made him substitute in the friendly against France, then brought him on and Owen scored. "You pillock, play him from the start against Germany," bellowed the man in the street. So Keegan did, and Owen has never looked so ineffectual. "The plonker, he should have kept Owen on the bench, then thrown him on with 20 minutes to go," wailed the man in the street.

And so, once again, the poisoned chalice passes to Howard Wilkinson. Which might be the best short-term option, for Wilkinson has the effervescent character of a stone, and poison does not permeate stone. On Thursday morning, though, according to Adam Crozier of the Football Association, a full-time coach will be sought. And for many of the punters who called the phone-ins on Saturday night, the best-qualified candidate is Terry Venables.

Who knows, if Tel can convince people that he does not keep dodgy company, he might be in with a shout. In the circumstances, he would probably be wise not to turn up as a pallbearer at Reggie Kray's funeral.

I'd like Peter Taylor to be offered the job, perhaps with an éminence grise, such as Bobby Robson, looking over his shoulder. After all, if the FA is to make someone sip from that poisoned chalice, it might as well be forced to eat humble pie itself. Taylor's international record, as coach of the Under-21 side, was pretty much exemplary, and with Leicester City soaring in the Premiership, the decision to sack him looks more foolish by the day. As for the other options, like many people I remain emotionally resistant to the idea of a foreign coach. On the other hand, the appearance at Wembley of a beaming Steve Redgrave offered a timely reminder that the team that has given us most pleasure over the past few weeks, Britain's coxless four rowing team, was coached by Jürgen Grobler, a German.

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