When Brian Barwick, and his assembled wise men, sit down and decide who will be the 11th England manager they will start with a blank sheet of paper. It had better be a large sheet. The field is as wide open as any Grand National, not least because the obstacles which lie in wait for Sven Goran Eriksson's successor are as big as Becher's Brook and The Chair combined.
Must be English. Tick. Must be as pure as the driven snow, happily married with an unblemished professional record (especially when it comes to transfers). Tick. Must speak English. Tick. Must have a sustained record of success. Tick. Must cost rather less than £5m a year. Tick. Must be available. Tick. Must be tactically aware. Tick. Must be media-savvy. Tick. Must have international, or at least European, experience. Tick. Must be able to spot a reporter dressed up as a sheikh, or a wannabe celebrity on the make and masquerading as a secretary. Tick.
Actually, no one ticks all these boxes. Even Sir Alf Ramsey would have failed the media-savvy test, especially the modern media. Sir Bobby Robson ticks most boxes, but he is 73 next month, has just taken a job as consultant to Steve Staunton, the new manager of the Republic of Ireland, and first managed England 24 years ago.
Which leaves Barwick, the FA's chief executive, to trim this long list (in alphabetical order): Sam Allardyce, Rafael Benitez, Trevor Brooking, Fabio Capello, Alan Curbishley, Sir Alex Ferguson, Guus Hiddink, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Paul Le Guen, Gary Lineker, Steve McClaren, Jose Mourinho, Martin O'Neill, Stuart Pearce, Frank Rijkaard, Bryan Robson, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Peter Taylor and Arsène Wenger. "Oh, what the hell," Barwick might say, "let's add Sir Clive Woodward and make it a round 20 - at least he's won a World Cup."
There are plenty of good men in that list, but there are myriad difficulties for the selection panel. To start with, several either could not, or would not, be prised away from their clubs (such as Wenger and Mourinho, and probably also Rijkaard and Benitez).
More than half are not English, and the FA, post-Sven, would prefer a breast-beating Englishman. Whether he should be happily married, as some keep suggesting, is irrelevant. Glenn Hoddle was happily married when he became England manager. It was during his reign he left his wife and children. But he must be clean of any suspicion of "bungs".
Of the Englishmen, Brooking, a few months at West Ham aside, and Lineker have no coaching experience. Not that that stopped the Dutch appointing Marco van Basten, or Germany (having been turned down by the coach of Greece) Jürgen Klinsmann. Both have made promising starts. But neither Brooking nor Lineker have expressed any enthusiasm for the post.
Of the other natives just Robson and Pearce played international football, only Taylor and McClaren have coaching experience at that level. None have been overwhelming successes in the club game, though all have done well at times.
Discarding Woodward, at least until the next time, this leaves Allardyce, who this season has done well in Europe and deals with some big egos at Bolton, and Curbishley. Perhaps the two Robsons, Bryan as manager, Bobby as adviser, might work. Bryan was Bobby's England captain and they remain close.
But the stronger candidates are foreign, notably, of those likely to be available, Capello, Hiddink, O'Neill and Scolari. Capello is the outstanding club manager of this generation having won titles with Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus. But he would be very expensive and his English is thought to be limited. Hiddink has combined success at club level at PSV Eindhoven with impressive work at international level with South Korea and Australia. O'Neill is a Catholic from Northern Ireland, which ought not be an issue but might be, not least with some of the more extreme England support. He is also out of the game tending to his sick wife. Scolari has poor English but is learning - he has also expressed a wish to manage England. Having knocked England out of the last two major tournaments, with Brazil and Portugal, the FA may work on the basis that if you can't beat them, hire them.
Of the other three non-Englishmen, Le Guen, though very successful with Lyon, is too little-known, Hitzfeld, being German, might be a step too far. And it is hard to imagine Ferguson working closely with David Beckham, the highly influential captain, and a chief executive, whom Ferguson believes anti-Manchester United because of his support for Liverpool.
Whoever it is will need iron self-discipline, street sense and luck.
Six candidates for England manager
Became manager of Middlesbrough in 2001 after serving as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant at Old Trafford. Led Boro to the League Cup in 2004, and to seventh in the League the next year. Good progress in Europe this season but dire League form could count against him, as might his conservative style of play.
Won 1988 European Cup with PSV Eindhoven and was appointed Netherlands coach in 1995 before going back to club management with Real Madrid. Has international experience after guiding host nation South Korea to 2002 World Cup semi-finals but would England go for another foreigner?
Five years at Wycombe saw promotion to the Football League and Division Two. Won promotion and Carling Cup with Leicester City. In 2000, left for Celtic, where he won League in 2001, 2002 and 2004, when he reached Uefa Cup final. Left to care for ill wife, so may need persuading to take England role.
Began Bolton managerial career in 1999. Promoted to the Premiership in 2001 and in 2003 he guided the Trotters to the Carling Cup final. Reservations persist over Bolton's style of play but his team are seventh in the League and into the Uefa Cup knock-out rounds.
Led Charlton into the Premiership after winning the play-offs in 1998 against Sunderland. Relegated at the end of the season, but Curbishley led the club back to the Premier League in 2000. Little experience of handling top-name players but established Charlton in the top flight.
Made player-manager of Nottingham Forest for the 1996-97 season. They finished bottom of the Premiership, with six wins. After resuming his playing career, Pearce became Manchester City manager in May 2005. Lacks experience but holds extensive managerial and coaching qualifications.Reuse content