Board split by 'madness' of search for new FA chief

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The new chief executive of the Football Association will get a taste of his "impossible job" today after a final selection process where he will face staunch opposition from at least a third of the FA's board.

The new chief executive of the Football Association will get a taste of his "impossible job" today after a final selection process where he will face staunch opposition from at least a third of the FA's board.

The FA is hoping to announce Mark Palios's successor this evening after final interviews of three shortlisted candidates: Brian Barwick, ITV's head of sport; Richard Bowker, the former head of the Strategic Rail Authority; and a third businessman, whose identity has remained secret.

But the appointment process is sure to be marred, if not delayed, because of an acrimonious split on the FA's 12-man board, who will vote on the issue. The board split is between the professional and amateur game, although there are also internal differences within those groups.

The board comprises four chairmen of Premiership clubs, two from Football League clubs, six figures from the amateur game, plus the FA's chairman Geoff Thompson. The shortlist of three was selected by a committee of four from the board: Thompson, Arsenal's vice-chairman David Dein, Colchester's chairman Peter Heard and Ray Kiddell of the Norfolk FA.

At least four members of the board are understood to feel that the FA is not ready to make an appointment at all ahead of a potential restructuring that could change the new man's role. "The [appointment] process is complete madness," said one source.

Several others feel that the FA has been rudderless long enough and is in desperate need of a leader, however uncertain the assurances that can be given over his future. Hence a desire to appoint now, despite divisions across the board about the suitability of the candidates.

Some board members are also irked that they were not told all the candidates' identities until last night, leaving no time for in-depth deliberations.

The board will interview the three candidates for the £275,000-a-year job this morning. The FA has been without a figurehead since Palios resigned in August for his role in the Faria Alam affair.

In the wake of Palios's departure, there were calls from inside and outside Soho Square, including from the sports minister, Richard Caborn, for reform of the FA. A review of the situation, officially by the FA itself but effectively imposed by Caborn, is due to start in January under the guidance of an independent chairman.

The outcome of this review could alter dramatically the role of the FA's chief executive. In one restructuring proposal put forward by Southampton's chairman, Rupert Lowe, an FA board member, the FA would pass responsibility for key areas - such as marketing, the new Wembley and the England team - to an autonomous Professional Game Board. The FA, and its new chief executive, would then focus on rules, regulations, discipline and grass roots.

The broad thrust of Lowe's plan is thought to appeal to Caborn, who wants to see football's hierarchy modernised, but has been criticised elsewhere for being a tool to increase the financial power of the professional game, especially the Premiership. The review will inevitably come up with conclusions somewhere in the middle ground.

The appointment of the review's independent chairman will be discussed today, with various names being bandied around. They include Sir Andrew Foster, the former head of the Audit Commission, Sir Christopher Bland, formerly of the BBC and now the chairman of BT, and Niall FitzGerald, the new chairman of Reuters, recruited from Unilever.

Mission impossible?

Candidates to replace Palios

Brian Barwick

Currently ITV's Controller of Sport, in charge of all ITV's sports broadcasting. A 50-year-old Merseysider with a degree in economics. Before moving to ITV, he was head of TV sport at the BBC, where he worked for 18 years. Des Lynam has provided a reference. Liverpool fan.

Richard Bowker

The former chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, 38, has a good track record of steering companies through painful transitions. A self-confessed "lousy spin doctor". Known for his robust approach. Impressed Richard Branson while working at Virgin Trains, where he became co-chairman. Blackburn fan.

'The Third Man'

At pains to have his identity kept secret. It is understood he has a strong economic background and is the head of major firm, who do not know he has applied for the post. A late entry to the shortlist after the withdrawal of Geoffrey Cooper, a former deputy chief executive of Alliance Unichem.