In the current series of The West Wing, the American political drama, there is a moment when the acting US President is told by the Chief of Staff that there are occasions in government when the best course of action is to take no action. If the Football Association had followed such advice the running farce of the last fortnight would not have occurred, and the inquiry which reports to an emergency FA Board meeting today would not have been required.
However, in its ongoing quest to jump from the 19th century to the 21st century, the FA has sought to become pro-active in its media relations. This has had its benefits, but there are times when its desire to manage the news has been ill-judged. One of those times was 19 July.
The previous day it had been alleged, in the News of the World, that Sven Goran Eriksson had had an affair with a secretary, Faria Alam. The FA should have taken no action, telling inquisitors that it was none of their business and none of the FA's business. Instead, apparently in response to a request from Alam, it questioned her and Eriksson then had its lawyers send a letter to the media denying the allegation. By the end of the week a humiliated FA was forced to retract that denial.
Geoff Thompson, the lightweight chairman, then made a rare public appearance, announcing an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the week's events and, in the same breath, pre-empted it by exonerating Mark Palios, the FA's chief executive, who had also had an affair with Alam.
It is this inquiry which reports today, but if Thompson had hoped that by now the media frenzy would have died down he has again been mistaken. The story has bounded on with the startling revelation that Colin Gibson, the FA's director of communications, attempted to betray Eriksson by revealing details of his affair in return for the News of the World omitting Palios' involvement.
That cost Palios his position and, today, Gibson is likely to follow him out of the door when the Board takes up his offer to resign. Alam is also sure to leave the FA. She would prefer not to go but if the inquiry finds she lied to her employers, which seems probable, they will be in a position to institute successful disciplinary proceedings. She may thus accept a negotiated departure, involving a lucrative confidentiality clause, or simply sell her sleazy tale to the highest tabloid bidders.
The FA's executive director, David Davies, should survive, which leaves Thompson and Eriksson, both of whom have plenty of enemies around the boardroom table. Thompson, in an attempt to protect his £75,000-a-year salary and place on the Uefa and Fifa cocktail circuits, may argue he knew nothing about anything, which strikes one as as good a reason for a vote of no confidence as any. However, unless Thompson resigns the issue would then go to the full FA Council which, having only recently re-elected Thompson, is likely to back him again.
Eriksson will be even harder to shift, much as the majority of the Board would like to do so. Some believe he is simply not up to the job, some believe he has brought the FA into dispute by his behaviour, and some of these middle-aged men simply appear to be jealous of his £4m-a-year salary and active "social life".
None of these prejudices, however, are grounds to sack him without finding around £10m in compensation. Only if it is proven that Eriksson lied to Davies about the affair - and he could argue that the executive director had no right even to ask - has the FA any prospect of avoiding a pay-out which can neither be afforded nor justified. Eriksson may be flawed as a manager, and certainly not worth £4m a year, but obviously superior candidates will not be found easily. He is, after all, the only England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey to reach the last eight in successive competitions and retains the backing of the dressing-room.
Despite his tactical conservatism - his main weakness - Eriksson is quite capable of taking England to the next World Cup, which is the main requirement of any England manager. Merely participating in the big tournaments fills the coffers, winning them is a bonus.
He may, of course, decide he has had enough of the intrusion, the sniping, the politics, and accept a deal. But there is no obvious place to go for the big jobs have all been filled, at least for the moment. Eriksson knows, too, that England have a chance of glory in 2006, a prospect which would bring him immortality, and the last laugh.
The inquiry's remit is narrow [see panel] but today's Board meeting will be more wide-ranging. It will not, though, consider a few issues that are far more relevant to England's national team than Eriksson's fondness for female company.
These include the mothballing of the proposed National Football Centre due to the outlandish cost of the new Wembley, which several current Board members backed; the continued failure of the Premiership to ease the load on England's leading players by cutting down to 18 clubs, a move resisted by the Board's Premiership representatives, David Dein apart; and the overseas recruitment policy of most Premiership clubs, Phil Gartside's Bolton, Rupert Lowe's Southampton and Dein's Arsenal included, which shrinks Eriksson's pool of available Englishmen by the week.
Once again English football is bogged down in irrelevancies, in this case a needless scandal, and fails to see the big picture.
FACT-FINDING MISSION WHAT THE FA INQUIRY SHOULD BE ADDRESSING
KEY QUESTIONS FOR THE INQUIRY TO ANSWER
What did David Davies ask Sven Goran Eriksson following the media allegations on 18 July that he had had an affair with Faria Alam, Davies' secretary?
What was Eriksson's reply?
Who authorised the subsequent legal threat and comments to the media on 19 July?
On the basis of what information, besides the conversation between Eriksson and Davies, did they do so?
Who knew that the legal threat and statements were being issued?
KEY QUESTIONS SOME BOARD MEMBERS ALSO WANT ANSWERED
Who authorised, and who knew about, Colin Gibson's attempted deal with the News of the World that would have betrayed Eriksson to save Mark Palios?
Should Gibson's resignation be accepted?
Why did Thompson exonerate Palios on 27 July?
Why did Davies praise Eriksson on 2 August?
Who authorised Eriksson's salary increase?
What would the cost be of sacking Eriksson?
Can Eriksson be sacked without paying him off?
How much would it cost to buy Alam's silence and has she anything left to say?
Who will stand in for Palios as the chief executive of the Football Association while a long-term replacement is sought?
HOW THE DAY IS LIKELY TO UNFOLD
The 12 Board members, the FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, and various solicitors will be telephoned to reveal where the meeting will take place.
The Board members will start assembling at the venue, while the media attempt to locate the venue themselves.
The meeting will begin. Board members will be told of the inquiry's strict terms - investigating the circumstances in which a statement falsely denying Sven Goran Eriksson's affair with Faria Alam was released by the FA, then contradicted a few days later.
The solicitor Peter Norbury, who has been interviewing interested parties this week, will present the evidence from all sides.
The 12 Board members will then decide if disciplinary action should be brought against any of those individuals, including Eriksson, Alam and the executive director, David Davies. Sackings are unlikely today.
The Board may privately discuss the positions of Thompson and the director of communications, Colin Gibson, who offered his resignation. Thompson can only be ousted at a meeting of the FA Council in October.
All individuals concerned will then be notified of the outcome. The findings are then expected to be made public.
If disciplinary action has been brought against any FA employee, a disciplinary hearing would have to be held at a future date.
JUDGE AND JURY THE CHAIRMAN AND THE 12 FA BOARD MEMBERS
Geoff Thompson:Has been an FA councillor since 1973. Assumed acting chairman's role in 1999 following Keith Wiseman's forced resignation. Elected to four-year term in 2000, re-elected last month. Unilaterally exonerated Mark Palios of blame in Eriksson affair last week. Viewed as weak and self-serving by some. Sits on six FA committees: Disciplinary, International, Community Shield, Finance and Funding, Grants and Loans, County Grants.
SIX REPRESENTATIVES FROM THE PROFESSIONAL GAME
David Dein:The Arsenal vice-chairman helped to headhunt Eriksson in the first place and was instrumental in pushing through the Swede's extended, improved contract earlier this year. Both those factors make it unfeasible that Dein will do anything other than give Eriksson his full backing, otherwise his own judgement becomes questionable. FA committees (1): International.
David Richards:Chairman of the Premier League, thought to have opposed Eriksson's contract extension. Has his own agenda in the Premier League's power struggle with the FA, which saw Mark Palios's predecessor, Adam Crozier (who hired Eriksson), hounded out of office. Happy to see Eriksson go, but wary of the costs. FA committees (4): FA Cup, Crowd Control, International, Technical Control Board.
David Sheepshanks:The Ipswich chairman, known as an honourable figure, will not morally condemn Eriksson, having rolled with the punches himself, not least when Ipswich's finances collapsed. Said Eriksson's original appointment was "an exceptionally good one" but questioned terms of his new deal, which now make dismissal prohibitively expensive. FA committees (1): International.
Peter Heard:Chairman of Colchester and influential committee figure. Sat on the three-man panel that judged Rio Ferdinand's missed drugs test. Thought to be opposed to terms of Eriksson's contract extension but knows the fault for it being offered lies elsewhere, a fact which needs addressing. FA committees (3): Crowd Control, Disciplinary, Referees.
Rupert Lowe:Chairman of Southampton. Political pragmatist. Unafraid to say what he thinks even when many disagree. Would never call for Eriksson's head for matters in his private life, and is not against foreign coaches per se. But not the kind to pay managers £4m a year without results, or sit idly by while others do so. FA committees (1): FA Cup.
Phil Gartside: Bolton's chairman and the newest of the six members of the board from the professional game. An avowed internationalist, as evidenced by Bolton's dressing-room. Like several others, will be wary of the cost of sacking Eriksson unless serious malpractice is proved beyond doubt. FA committees (1): FA Cup.
SIX REPRESENTATIVES FROM THE SHIRES
David Henson:Devon's FA representative, who has been disgusted at the negative publicity generated by the Eriksson affair: "We are left looking like mugs and that can't be right." Would be happy to see Eriksson ousted, not least because his contract is so costly. FA committees (5): FA Trophy, Leagues, Sanctions and Registrations, Grants and Loans, Small-sided Football.
Ray Kiddell:One of two vice-chairmen of the FA. Has been Norfolk's representative at the FA for the last 24 years. Another old-school figure who saw Eriksson's contract extension as a waste of limited resources. FA committees (7): Leagues, Women's Football, Finance and Funding, County Planning and Training, League Finance, Women's Premier League, Women's Football Conference.
Roger Burden:Gloucestershire's FA representative for nine years. A 53-year-old building society managing director with a desire to clean up the game and keep its finances in good order. Eriksson's affair in itself will not have gone down well, nor his new contract. FA committees (4): Disciplinary, Referees, Finance and Funding, Grants and Loans.
Mike Rawding:East Riding's FA representative since 1989, and was elected on to the FA board last month to replace the retiring Alan Turvey. Currently ill, he will miss today's meeting but may vote, if required, by proxy. Wants those responsible for Eriksson affair to be removed. FA committees (6): Leagues, Women's Football, Youth, Football Development, Small-sided Football, Women's Premier League.
Peter Hough:The FA county member for Dorset since 1988. Sits on the disciplinary committee, from where he disagreed with the "new broom" politics of former chief executive Adam Crozier. Disagreed with Eriksson's new contract. FA committees (6): Disciplinary, Women's Football, County Planning and Training, County Grants, Women's Premier League, Women's Football Conference.
Barry Bright:Kent's FA representative for 20 years and chairman of disciplinary committee, which handed down an eight-month ban to Rio Ferdinand for missing a drugs test. Has also dealt with Roy Keane hearings. Committed to grass roots, not huge England managerial contracts. But wary of cost of sacking Eriksson. FA committees (6): Disciplinary, Community Shield, Finance and Funding, Grants and Loans, County Grants, League Finance.Reuse content