Glenn Moore: McClaren the 'Comeback Kid' back on pole after extraordinary 24 hours

'Never mind England, being the FA chief executive is an impossible job'
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The Independent Football

In a few short weeks Middlesbrough have become the comeback kings, is their manager now about to become the Comeback Kid? If Luiz Felipe Scolari really has ruled himself out of the running for the England job then Steve McClaren is back in the running. If.

Oh, pity poor Brian Barwick. Never mind being the England manager, being chief executive of the Football Association has also become an impossible job. Indeed, the turnover is far quicker than that of England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson is on his third, not including the ever-present caretaker, David Davies.

Until yesterday - when Scolari, looking more than ever like Gene Hackman's evil sheriff in Unforgiven, unloaded both barrels into their carefully laid plans - the search for Eriksson's successor had gone as well as anyone could reasonably have expected.

Oh no it didn't, I hear you call, joining in the pantomime spirit, or should it be farce? Well, it was never going to be an easy job trying to fill the most high-profile job in football in secret. Especially not during the build-up to a World Cup, and in the business-end of the domestic season, when many of the strongest possibilities had more urgent business.

Yet the FA could not wait until July, it would be pilloried and the best candidates would be signed up elsewhere. Until Barwick was spotted in Lisbon the FA almost got away with it. Alan Curbishley had been seen being interviewed - but it was only to be expected that he would be among the contenders. Word got out that the shortlist had been interviewed again. Again, what else did anyone expect?

By this stage the back pages were full of certainties, most of them "exclusive": It was to be Guus Hiddink, then Martin O'Neill, then McClaren. Sam Allardyce had his moment. The one certainty was that it was an all-English shortlist. Then Barwick was caught in flagrante in Portugal. Perhaps he should have taken the boat to Santander, hired a car, and met "Big Phil" in a motorway caff somewhere between Porto and Coimbra.

If Scolari has called it quits it cannot really be because of the media interest. He has coached Brazil, where training sessions descend into chaos and press conferences are scrums only the hardiest can survive: a description which readily applies to a man who has twice got physical with journalists.

His "withdrawal" could be a bargaining tool, it could be a means of making peace with the Portuguese press, public and FA. It could, of course, be genuine.

Which brings us back to the Comeback Kid. Whoever is now appointed will now be known as The Second Choice. In fact, given the Dutchman Hiddink - clearly the most outstanding of the original candidates - took flight to Russia even while the three wise men were becoming the infamous five, he could be third choice (or fourth, after the apparently unavailable Arsène Wenger).

Will it matter? Not really. It will dent the pride of whoever gets the job, which may cost the FA a few extra thousand a week in recompense - and the FA will be so desperate to get its man next time it will pay almost anything. It also gives the FA something of a get-out if he fails. It can blame the press for driving away Scolari and Hiddink (who did not take kindly to the tabloids' keen interest in his active personal life).

If he succeeds no one will care. Sport, and life, is full of winners who were second choices. Churchill was not Prime Minister in 1939, Tony Blair would never have enjoyed the triumph of 1997 if John Smith had lived; Sir Alex Ferguson bought Eric Cantona only after a bid for David Hirst fell through.

McClaren has his positives. He ought to have the full force of the English coaching establishment behind him, given the fuss that has been made about the post being offered again to a foreigner. He knows the players, he has spent five years on the international circuit. And, while he is regarded as a defensive coach, perhaps, after Boro's extraordinary Uefa Cup exploits, he has discovered the possibilities of a bold approach to the game.

Which is not to say he will be next person to whom the FA turns. If Scolari, why not Fabio Capello (who is in danger of being run out of Turin as Juventus crumple)? Or Carlo Ancelotti. Jose Mourinho anyone?

This is what Barwick will dread. The circus is up and running again, invigorated by this false alarm.

At least it means the period of calm which Eriksson has enjoyed will continue. Graham Taylor, a former England manager, noted that he had never seen Eriksson looking so relaxed as he has recently. Never mind who his successor is, Eriksson is planning for a World Cup which starts in seven weeks.

Just imagine? What if he wins and the FA still has not found a successor. Will there be a clamour for Eriksson to stay? Or will McClaren, as the twin architect, be anointed by popular acclaim? It is far-fetched, but so have been this week's events, from Teesside to Marienfeld.

More likely the FA will now be rushed into an appointment and, if it proves to be McClaren, there will be much more at stake this summer than one World Cup. A bad campaign and there will be no honeymoon come August, just a loveless shotgun marriage.

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