Time to persuade Wenger and Dein

Bandwagon rolling for El Tel and there may yet be a role for him - but the accent should be on a Frenchman
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In Finland, the season approaches when its inhabitants can look forward to 51 days of uninterrupted darkness. As Adam Crozier surveyed the remnants of an England squad just about managing to contain a still-emerging footballing nation on Wednesday evening, the winter ahead must have appeared similarly bleak.

In Finland, the season approaches when its inhabitants can look forward to 51 days of uninterrupted darkness. As Adam Crozier surveyed the remnants of an England squad just about managing to contain a still-emerging footballing nation on Wednesday evening, the winter ahead must have appeared similarly bleak.

For the FA's chief executive the new dawn is but a distant glimmer of brightness, even though he disguises his trepidation at bearing the responsibility of identifying and soliciting England's new head coach with the polished optimism of a former advertising man. "I do believe that this is genuinely a great opportunity for the right person," the Scot declared on Friday. "We do have a squad that is better than it is performing and being given credit for. When you speak to some of the foreign coaches, they are so enthu-siastic about some of our younger players."

Unfortunately for most of us, it is difficult to look further ahead than the next few months. In that respect, all the evidence revealed by the events of the past week, from the embarrassment inflicted by Rudi Völler's Germans to the further ignominy suffered after failing to account for a team representing the land of Rudolphs, confirms that these are desperate times.

We have entered a period when politics, personal vendettas and vested interests will all play some part in the kingmaking selection process. The term "the impossible job" used to refer to the England head coach. Now the search for that man himself has acquired a similar definition. Whichever way Crozier turns, he will contemplate solutions that appear acceptable at first sight, but then become problematic when viewed long-term. As the man himself expressed it: "There are a series of people saying he [the new England coach] has to be foreign; a whole series of people saying he can't be foreign; people telling you there is only one answer [presumably Terry Venables]; people telling you that one answer is unacceptable. There are so many opinions flying around."

In such a battleground, England are fortunate in that Crozier is not exactly the virgin soldier he is portrayed. "My background is not steeped in football," said the former Saatchi & Saatchi man. "But what I can do is pull together all opinion and make sure we consult with all the right people. Whoever we appoint, I and the rest of us will be judged on that appointment."

He added: "When you're faced with situations like that it's all about staying calm despite everything that's going on around you, when you're getting 500 contradictory pieces of advice. It's about listening to the people who really understand the issue."

You can just imagine Lancaster Gate resembling one of those police incident rooms. It is a scene dominated by the gruesome, brutalised, scarred heads of those departed. Of Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor, Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan. With the goalless draw with Finland now past and buried, and possibly best forgotten, the search is seriously under way to track down the next victim. Probably to be appointed by Christmas, with salary virtually no obstacle.

Crozier is depicted as meretricious, a professor of spin, but thus far his procedures appear sensible enough. Though he has established an advisory panel notably lacking in input from management (other than the FA's technical director, Howard Wilkinson), he emphasised that there will be widescale consultation of the professional side of the game.

"We will get some expert advice from past England managers and those from our top clubs," said Crozier. Jimmy Armfield, a head- hunter in the past, will also be consulted. "Public opinion is one thing and I wouldn't decry it, but more important is expert opinion. David Davies and I have already started that process. We have spoken to a number of people in the game, including senior players [David Beckham and Tony Adams among them]. Making a decision in a vacuum would be a silly thing to do."

Ultimately, he anticipates establishing a shortlist "of two or three people". Any approach will be made by him alone. "There will be no envoys wandering round the country." Crozier added: "We don't want to be bounced into a decision. It would be crazy to do that when we don't have to make a quick appointment."

So where does his think tank, which could swiftly become a septic tank, start? Ideally, with a high-profile name installed quickly. That is unlikely. The insistence that it must be "someone who has top-class international experience, at the very highest level in European or world club football" severely limits options. For this observer, if we overlook Sir Alex Ferguson, who together with other Celts such as Martin O'Neill or David O'Leary would probably find the task emotionally unacceptable, there could be no better candidate than Arsÿne Wenger, whose English as well as his coaching expertise is superior to that of his home-based Premiership counterparts. He is in many ways an adopted Englishman and handles foreign and British players with aplomb.

Wenger intimated on Friday that the job could interest him in two years' time. That would give the FA considerable optimism that the Frenchman might be persuaded to start earlier. However, the fact that the Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, is on Crozier's selection panel could be an obstacle. Conversely, he may be prepared to do an Al Fayed and offer his manager to the nation.

To disqualify foreigners - a category in which we must presumably include Scots and Irishmen - would leave the selectors with a very limited hand. Other than inexperienced or not auspiciously successful characters, all that remains are past England managers - Graham Taylor, Bobby Robson, Glenn Hoddle, Terry Venables - together with Roy Hodgson, who before that traumatic experience at Blackburn Rovers would have been the obvious choice of many. The only plausible candidate is Venables, but the campaign to have him reinstated appears destined to fail.I have always been an admirer of his attributes, but I am also acutely aware of those who would dig deep to smear him over past business affairs. At the very least it would prove a harmful distraction, and there would be much opportunity for mischief-making before the next World Cup qualifier, against Finland, on 24 March.

If Venables was a contender, it would be a relatively simple matter to expedite, but Crozier appeared to hint that was not an option by saying: "The idea that we will have someone by the Italy game [31 days away, on 15 November] is a non-starter." When asked whether anyone would be eliminated for any "non-football reasons", he retorted: "It depends on what those reasons were. There isn't an individual in the world who hasn't made mistakes. It would depend on what those mistakes were, and how serious."

However, Crozier added pointedly: "But people need to go into the job with their eyes open, and we need to go into the job with our eyes open as well."

A possibility that should not be ignored, though, would be to utilise Venables in another way. On the advertising hoardings of the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, we were enjoined to view Batman and Robin the following day on Channel 5. It reminded you that, in the absence of the ideal - such as Wenger or maybe the Lazio coach, Sven Goran Eriksson - the preferable alternative is a mentor and protégé, say Venables or Bobby Robson, together with Alan Curbishley or Peter Taylor.

Either of the latter two could be a satisfactory solution, assuming Taylor could overcome his difficulties with Wilkinson. Another candidate might be Stuart Pearce - no Stuart Little, him - or Tony Adams.

Wilkinson has inferred that to seek out a foreign candidate would be an indictment of English coaches. Sir Bobby Charlton says it would be an insult. Unfortunately, their attitude is at odds with reality. Crozier was correct when he contended: "All I would say is that if you look at the number of English managers at the top of the game there aren't very many. There isn't a long shortlist."

For Crozier and his gang of six, this is a time for pragmatism, not emotion. It was the latter sentiment that consigned Kevin Keegan to become England coach. This time, there is time to ponder all options. This time, as Crozier stresses: "It's a huge appointment for us, and we've absolutely got to get it right."

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