Eriksson stays calm as nerves fray at HQ

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The Independent Football

As Sven Goran Eriksson calmly awaits this afternoon's Football Association Board meeting to discuss the recent turmoil at Soho Square, believing his job is secure, nerves are fraying elsewhere among the FA's hierarchy.

Friends of David Davies, the FA's executive director, fear that he may be implicated in starting the crisis, unfairly in their view. It is understood that a witness to the inquiry has claimed that Davies backed his secretary, Faria Alam, in her wish to explore legal channels to deny an affair with Eriksson.

A subsequent legal denial of the affair, issued via the FA's solicitors on 19 July, the day after the News of the World first revealed the affair, is the root of the crisis. The denial said that there was "no truth whatsoever" in suggestions that Alam and Eriksson were having, or had had, an affair.

Unfortunately for the FA, that was incorrect. The FA's reputation was critically undermined when it later had to admitthat the affair had taken place. Uncovering the chain of command that led to the issuing of the letter is the key aim of the inquiry. Insiders at Soho Square insist, however, that issuing legal letters "is just not David Davies's style".

It is thought that the issuing of the denial was the task of the FA's communications director, Colin Gibson, in consultation with the FA's lawyers. It is thought that more than one person gave authorisation for the legal denial to be sent. Gibson has already tendered his resignation over a separate episode in the saga, the alleged cover-up of an affair between Alam and Mark Palios, the chief executive who resigned on Sunday.

The extraordinary fallout from the legal denial on 19 July has already led to the resignations of Palios and Gibson, and further bloodletting is not out of the question in the wake of today's meeting. The 12-man Board will hear the independent inquiry's findings for the first time and decide what action, if any, needs to taken.

One of Eriksson's close friends said yesterday: "Sven just wants to get back to doing his job- leading England. And he is thinking of nothing else."

But it will not be a peaceful gathering, with the likelihood of internal warfare not only over the report's findings but about Eriksson's position as England coach in general, and his recent contract extension in particular.

The infighting is sure to drag on, as are the claims and counter-claims about who was responsible for the legal denial. One source said that Alam demanded FA legal action on her behalf "and her line manager backed her". Alam is Davies's secretary; Davies is Alam's line manager. Again, insiders say that Davies, a seasoned former journalist, is not a man who would aggressively press for "the legal denial route" in handling the media.

The identities of those responsible for the denial, and their precise roles, should become clear today when the inquiry report, compiled by Peter Norbury, a Manchester-based solicitor with the leading City firm Eversheds, is formally handed to the Board.

It is not known whether the report will implicate Geoff Thompson, the FA's chairman, or Palios, in that particular chain of events. Thompson could yet come under fire and face a vote of no confidence by the Board because of his unilateral exoneration of Palios last week. Some Board members feel that was premature and irresponsible, and would like Thompson to follow Palios out the door.

Davies may yet emerge from the crisis with his job and reputation intact. He is understood to be "extremely confident" that he and Eriksson will remain in their posts.

Davies's rationale is probably based on three factors. Firstly, that he believed Alam, in good faith, when she said she did not have an affair with Eriksson. Secondly, that he and Eriksson misunderstood each other, in good faith, when Davies quizzed Eriksson about the affair on 19 July. Thirdly, that he will argue he was not instrumental in legal action.

It is not known what the legal inquiry has concluded on this issue, but insiders say Davies feels he has a future at the FA.

The Board's meeting will take place this afternoon at a secret location in central London, somewhere away from Soho Square. "At the meeting a report prepared by Eversheds LLP, the FA's specialist legal advisors, will be considered," the FA said yesterday. No one involved in the inquiry - and that includes Eriksson and Davies - will attend the Board meeting.

"To ensure the process is demonstrated to be fair and accountable to all involved, the Board has appointed external law firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP to advise on matters arising from the report," the FA said. "All decisions must follow standard procedures and employment law."

The Board does not have the power to sack anyone today, only to exonerate people. If individuals have been found to be suspected of misconduct, charges will follow and the usual process be pursued.

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