The revolving door at the Football Association took another metaphorical spin yesterday with Steve McClaren announcing he was resigning his position as an England coach. Sven Goran Eriksson said he intended to stay on in his own job as manager, despite the resignation on Wednesday evening of Adam Crozier, the FA chief executive who appointed him. But there was little other reason for optimism at the headquarters of the FA in Soho Square.
Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, even floated the notion that disciplinary measures should come within the jurisdiction of the Premier League as opposed to the game's national governing body. Richard Caborn, the sports minister, described Crozier's departure as "very unfortunate" and sought to sooth the nerves of investors in the £757m Wembley project, which Crozier effectively picked up off the ground. It remained unclear who will replace Crozier, or when, or what neutering will be performed on the powers of whoever fills the post.
McClaren said he had agonised over his decision to step down but that his job at Middlesbrough needs his undivided attention from now on. "After the World Cup I agonised for many weeks," he said. "I let my heart rule and felt that, yes, I could carry on and give both jobs the kind of commitment that is required. But I soon found that that wasn't to be and it would be inappropriate for me to carry on.
"I feel the time is right because it gives them time [before England's next competitive fixture, the Euro 2004 qualifier in Liechtenstein in March] to find somebody else. I've always said that I would review the situation after every game. It was never intended to be long-term, it's just sort of dragged on. I felt last year with the World Cup, it would be inappropriate to leave then. [But] my main priority is Middlesbrough. This is where I earn my living, this is where I want to do well and the timing seems right."
McClaren insisted his decision had nothing to do with Crozier's departure or any difference of opinion with Eriksson. "Sven was disappointed, but he understood and he respected that. He's been a club manager, he's been an international manager, he knows the pressures are immense on both, so he understood, and likewise Adam."
Eriksson said yesterday he was "shocked and saddened" by Crozier's resignation. However, he added, he was determined to carry on in his job. The Swede also paid tribute to McClaren. "I'm very sorry we are losing him because he is one of the best coaches I know," he said. "However, I totally respect and understand his decision."
Wenger's comments on discipline came as he described Crozier's departure as "more political than [for] obvious reasons of non-competence". The 20 Premiership clubs want to see a Professional Game Board established to hand them more power, to which Crozier was opposed. When the PGB materialises, the FA is likely to oversee little more than the FA Cup, amateur and youth football, the England team and discipline. But Wenger asked: "Why should the Premier League not look after its own discipline? You can create an independent body outside your own organisation. I don't see where the problem is with that."
Caborn, meanwhile, attempted to minimise the impact of Crozier's resignation on the progress of the Wembley project. It was little more than a month ago that Crozier announced the final go-ahead for the stadium and the bulldozers moved in to start demolishing the old stadium.
"He saw the Wembley deal through and it is very unfortunate that he has gone," Caborn said. "I wouldn't have thought it will have any adverse impact on the project. He signed everything off in the name of the FA, not as an individual."
Caborn added that Crozier had done a good job in starting to modernise the FA. "He was in tune with what the Government wants, which is increased investment in grass-roots football. We were also starting to have serious discussions about how we could help struggling clubs in the Nationwide League. It is unfortunate he has gone, but at the end of the day it is an internal FA matter and the Premier League clubs have won the battle."
And in doing so, they have left the future of the FA, 139 years old last Saturday, in question.