Brooking the leading contender to pick up the poisoned chalice

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The Independent Football

It is often said being the England manager is the "impossible job". With the resignation last night of Mark Palios for non-footballing, non-financial reasons, the post of chief executive of the Football Association must be pushing it close for that unwanted title.

The FA will be keenly aware of that fact this morning as it continues to sift through the debris of a remarkable, shambolic fortnight that has surpassed even the FA's own peerless track record for farce. Yet one of the first tasks, when the dust has settled, for the FA chairman Geoff Thompson - if he is still in office - will be to recruit Palios's successor.

Sir Trevor Brooking's name will inevitably appear on a list of candidates. David Davies, the FA's executive director, will too, if he isn't ousted in the fallout from "Svengate". Other figures who might be in the running include Trevor Birch, formerly of Leeds and latterly Everton, Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, Brian Mawhinney, the chairman of the Football League, and David Dein, the vice-chairman of both Arsenal and the Football Association.

Others on the margins of a potential shortlist might be Brendon Batson, formerly the deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, his erstwhile boss (we are talking margins) and David Sheepshanks of Ipswich. Ken Bates might even make some bookmakers' lists, but given his record of diplomacy and relations with the FA, only if the bookies in question operate on another planet.

The job description is simple enough. The candidate will need to oversee the continuation of the modernisation of the FA with particular reference to streamlining its finances and keeping them on an even keel. He must be able to work in harmony with all sectors of the football family, not least the major clubs who increasingly hold sway. He must, ideally, have no skeletons in the cupboard, no taste for controversy but every ability to deal with it, expert diplomatic skills, and no private life that might make interesting reading on the front page of a Sunday tabloid.

As Palios found out, he must not be a boat-rocker (see the Ferdinand drugs affair), unless he wants to endure the wrath of the players, clubs and union. As Palios's predecessor, Adam Crozier, found out, he must not be too much of a moderniser (see Wembley, see the fight with the Premier League). As Crozier's predecessor, Graham Kelly, found out, he must not be too revolutionary for fear that his work will come back and haunt his organisation (see the formation of the Premier League) but he must also not be seen as too dull, for fear that he will be ousted for not being go-getting enough.

Whether such a person exists is doubtful. But Brooking is likely to be touted as that man by some. His credentials are sound in some areas, dubious in others. On the plus side, he is hugely respected, already works within the FA as the director of football development, has political experience from his days as chairman of Sport England, and is about as steeped in English football as anyone.

On the downside, he is known to have disliked much of the political bargaining that came with his Sport England role and might prefer not to immerse himself in the continuous headaches of big decisions at Soho Square. The FA might also want a figure with a track record of financial management, even financial crisis management. While Palios, a business recovery expert, has gone some way to sorting out the mess and debt levels he inherited, the latter mostly a result of the new £757m Wembley, the sorting of finances is a long-term issue.

Brooking may yet be a stand-in option, and asked to try the role. If he does well, it could become a permanent position. If not, the search will go on. Davies is another obvious caretaker. He has done the job before, and as the "great survivor" of the FA would no doubt manage things smoothly until a new man was appointed. It is doubtful Davies will take the job permanently. He was not wanted in the post the last time it came up. He is also thought to have considered quitting the FA in recent times, with the Australian media most recently linking him to a position within the Australian soccer association last December.

If financial experience is paramount, Thompson could do worse than ask Birch in for an interview. A likeable, able operator with a background in rescuing crippled companies (see Chelsea and Leeds, but not Everton, where his medicine was deemed unattractive), he has the ability and contacts to be considered, although he would not necessarily be attracted to the media attention.

Richard Scudamore of the Premier League is another in the frame but he was not interested the last time the post was vacant and considers his current job as the real seat of power. Brian Mawhinney is working quiet wonders at the Football League, dragging it into the 21st century, but he would want the kind of guarantees on his powers that the FA might not want to deliver. He is no "yes man".

David Dein is an unlikely candidate. He already has Arsenal. Gordon Taylor would not take the pay cut (to a mere £350,000) to leave the PFA, and would not want the hassle. Batson is probably not hard-nosed enough. Sheepshanks might be wary of the insecurity.

As with Palios and Crozier's appointments, the FA might go outside people in football via headhunters. Look where that got it.

The top job in football: 10 candidates to replace Palios

Sir Trevor Brooking

Currently: Director of Football Development at the FA.

Could be the popular choice. Probable favourite.

Currently: FA executive director.

Always seems to survive a crisis. Has done it on short-term basis and may do so again.

Trevor Birch

Currently: Unemployed, having just left Everton.

Dark horse candidate. Has many admirers in game.

Sir Bryan Mawhinney

Currently: Chairman of the Football League.

Done excellent job at League.

Richard Scudamore

Currently: The Premier League chief executive.

Good record, but would he want it?

David Dein

Currently: Arsenal and FA joint vice-chairman.

Mover and a shaker, but wedded to Highbury.

David Sheepshanks

Currently: Ipswich chairman and represents Football League on FA board.

Respected and popular.

Brendon Batson

Currently: Manages review of disciplinary regulations and procedures for the FA. Admired.

Gordon Taylor

Chairman of the PFA.

Perhaps too outspoken.

Ken Bates

Currently: Available

Knows the inner workings of the FA all too well, but Bates has enemies as well as friends.

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