Barwick sidestepped Dein in direct England approach to Wenger

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger may never have wanted the England manager's job but the truth is that Brian Barwick was originally told by the Football Association's main board to speak to the Arsenal manager, regardless of David Dein's opinions.

Dein, Arsenal's vice-chairman and an FA board member, has long been viewed as having an interest in keeping Wenger away from the England job - and that was a view, sources have indicated, shared by his fellow board members. When the process to find Sven Goran Eriksson's successor began in March, the board told Barwick to go directly to Arsenal and Wenger rather than take Dein's word that the Frenchman was not interested.

The point was, one source said, "forcibly put" to Barwick, who did go to see Wenger after obtaining permission from the Arsenal hierarchy. The FA chief executive admitted that he had spoken to Wenger when he announced Steve McClaren's appointment on Thursday.

Wenger told Barwick that he had no interest in taking the job while he was still under contract to Arsenal - his current deal expires in July 2008 - although he did not rule out doing so in the future. The FA confirmed again yesterday that it had met with Wenger in response to criticism from Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson, who claimed Dein had "protected" his manager from an approach.

It has been a difficult week at the FA. A source described Dein as "contrite" during a meeting on Thursday, when the five-man appointment committee was interrogated by the FA board over its approach to Luiz Felipe Scolari and his rejection.

Dein had championed the Brazilian, who withdrew from contention as the FA was finalising his contract. Some board members could not understand why Barwick had said in Thursday's press conference that McClaren was his "first choice" when there was vast evidence to the contrary. "Not even Alf Ramsey was first choice," said one.

While the FA board has resolved to back its chief executive he was given a "rough ride" in Thursday's meeting, one source said. High on the agenda was why a second round of interviews had been held at the Oxfordshire house of the lawyer and businessman Sir Victor Blank.

There was disbelief at the FA board meeting as to why candidates had been ferried in cars with blacked-out windows through a sleepy village - a tactic that was always likely to attract the attention of the media.

But there was sympathy for Barwick, not least because the more influential members of the board remain exasperated at the lack of leadership from the chairman Geoff Thompson who, they believe, has given his chief executive no direction. "Utterly hopeless", was the description from one source of the FA chairman's contribution.

Unfortunately for those who want change in the FA, Thompson retains the support of the county associations and smaller organisations who make up an influential powerbase on the FA council. There is also a fear that the implementation of the Burns review, which is intended to modernise the organisation, is being fatally slowed down.

The board was told McClaren had performed extremely well in his two interviews and it has more confidence in him than that expressed by England supporters.

However, it is understood that once Scolari had rejected the job, a decision was made between McClaren, Sam Allardyce and O'Neill, with the latter two closer to getting the job than has been thought.