James Lawton: Dein's divine intervention in boardroom delivers England from brink of disaster

From the Fake Sheikh to the real deal How the FA's search for Eriksson's successor has progressed over 15 turbulent weeks
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The Independent Online

For many David Dein will never be one of football's natural heroes. An arriviste, a little too slick for traditional taste, he has been at the heart of the "greening" of the game, one in which he has made both his name and large amounts of money.

However, an unlikely phrase comes to the lips as England near the end of their Monty Pythonesque pursuit of a successor to Sven Goran Eriksson with the likely appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari.

The unavoidable truth is that if you care a jot about who is put in charge of the national team, if you think it is too important a matter to leave to a bunch of committee men devoid of practical football experience and hopelessly entangled in risible, chauvinistic arguments about the need for an Englishman, or a near Englishman, to step ahead of infinitely more qualified contenders, you have to say quite simply: 'Thank God for David Dein."

Arsenal's vice-chairman has applied to the cause of the national team the principle that drove him to install Arsène Wenger as the coach of his club, one of the most inspired decisions in the history of English football.

Some ascribe political motives to his current impassioned support of Scolari, a battle of one-upmanship with such rivals as the Premier League chairman and fellow Football Association councillor Dave Richards. It is hard to care less. The important point is that Dein has backed by far the best candidate once it became clear that Guus Hiddink, the Dutchman with a near perfect CV, would not be put into serious running.

Dein deserves the greatest credit for pouring scorn on the idea that while England's leading clubs reached the conclusion that no native-born coach was qualified to work for them it was apparently perfectly all right for the leadership of the national team to go to someone in a lesser category. He has pushed for "Big Phil" with increasing determination and who, placed in a similar position, could in all conscience not have done so? Let us briefly consider the other options engaged by the Doomsday lurchings of the selection committee.

Steve McClaren was supposed to be a runaway favourite less than two weeks ago even at a time when Middlesbrough's senior player, Gareth Southgate, was preparing to deliver a shattering blow to his chances: revelations that the Middlesbrough manager had lost credibility within his own club.

Southgate's behaviour may have tasted sourly for anyone with minimum requirements in personal loyalty, but his message was surely a killing rebuke to those who had previously so egregiously inflated McClaren's credentials. One of the more bizarre claims was that it was vital to have an Englishman at the head of the "coaching pyramid". What pyramid? One that had not begun to produce a viable home-grown rival to the best of foreign opposition.

Even now Sam Allardyce continues to talk up his own prospects, with the outrageously one-eyed, tub-thumping support of the league managers association ... support which surely becomes embarrassing when Big Sam's track record is measured against Big Phil's. When this happens, we are surely on Gulliver's Travels.

Even the claims of Martin O'Neill, the nearly Englishman who most commended himself in a field stripped of Hiddink and before Dein's increasingly strong support for Scolari, pale against those of the man who won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and reached the finals of the European Championship with Portugal two years ago - and for a second time utterly outwitted the combination of Eriksson and McClaren in the vital quarter-final games.

When you put them in this context, Scolari's credentials could scarcely be more overwhelming. They remind us of what should have been the sole basis of the selection committee's work.

That was to arrive at the two or three possibly available candidates with the most impressive body of work at the level of European and international football. The series of interviews were a long-running joke. Reports that Allardyce and McClaren had interviewed well could only engender groans of resignation.

Did Scolari, with his fractured and explosive English, interview well? Who cares? More importantly, did he have the cut of a big football man, somebody who could slice through the egos and the infirmities of underachieving superstars? Was he the kind of man who you might listen to in a tight corner? These were the only questions of relevance in the interview room and they had to be asked of the committee men themselves. Scolari, of course, had already answered them in the only place that really matters - the field of action.

In his personal style Scolari could scarcely be less like the naturally retiring Sir Alf Ramsey, England's only World Cup-winning coach. Scolari is an extrovert, a bruiser who takes what is available to him.

He won Brazilian league titles with a tough, unromantic game; but then he carried the nation to World Cup triumph on the back of the fantasy skills of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. It was a pragmatic triumph, as was Ramsey's, and we can be sure that the Brazilian's arrival in the England camp will not send out waves of easy reassurance. Frank Lampard and Steve Gerrard better get their midfield acts together quickly enough or at least one of them could feel the chill. David Beckham's days of automatic office will be put through a cold-eyed microscope, as were those of the great Bobby Moore by Ramsey.

If Beckham doubts this, he has only to recall the hush that came to the stadium in Lisbon when Scolari hauled off the iconic Luis Figo midway through the European Championship quarter-final with England. Beckham, by his own admission, arrived at those championships much less than fully fit - he blamed it on the training regime in Madrid - but he never felt the heat of Eriksson on his neck. Figo, a national hero, had the humiliation of walking away from one of his last great battles. It was of no concern to Scolari. He had a match to win.

Scolari is not the forgiving type, of course. When Portugal slipped into immediate crisis as the hosts of those championships, when Greece stole a shocking one-goal victory in the opening game, Scolari, rightly or wrongly, knew where to put the blame. He fired the full-back Paulo Ferreira, who had made a crass mistake, for the rest of the tournament.

Such a man will not permit a hint of the old boys' club that many believe the England team has become under Eriksson. He wouldn't have been as passive, certainly, as the Swede when senior players debated the possibility of striking after Rio Ferdinand's banishment for failing to take a drugs test. Scolari, after all, has faced down the wrath of the world's most passionate football nation and emerged a folk hero.

That was when he braved death threats and insisted that Romario, the heroic little star of Brazil's 1994 World Cup victory in the United States, had drifted beyond contention for the 2002 tournament in Japan. "Sometimes when you are coaching a team," Scolari once said, "you think you are with a beautiful girl, and then one morning you wake up and you think she is ugly. You have to stay somewhere in between that ... you have to be fair, but you also have to do what is in your heart."

Maybe that was another way of saying that sentiment means nothing. You have to go with the best. David Dein, alone it seems, had the good sense to remember this in a critical hour of the nation's football.

* 15 JANUARY Sven Goran Eriksson is caught by the "fake sheikh". He tells an undercover reporter from the News of the World about his post World Cup plans and that corruption is rife.

* 24 JANUARY

The FA confirms that Eriksson (left) will leave his post after the World Cup.

Bolton's Sam Allardyce (right) is the early favourite, ahead of fellow Englishmen Alan Curbishley and Steve McClaren. Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Portugal coach, is an outside bet at 20-1.

* 26 JANUARY

Brian Barwick, chief executive of the Football Association and known to favour the former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill, says Eriksson's successor will be in place before the World Cup finals.

* 31 JANUARY

Eriksson reportedly tells guests at a Stockholm dinner that Guus Hiddink (right), the Dutch coach who guided South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002 and won the Champions' League with PSV Eindhoven, will be the next England manager.

* 3 FEBRUARY

A three-man FA committee - Barwick, Premier League chairman Dave Richards and Liverpool director Noel White - is charged with finding the new man, assisted by David Dein and Trevor Brooking.

* 10 FEBRUARY

Richards says: "It's time for a British boss, somebody who understands our passion, belief and commitment."

* 5 APRIL

Barwick prepares a shortlist of three or four ahead of formal interviews. O'Neill (left) is still seen as favourite, ahead of McClaren, Curbishley and Scolari.

* 14 APRIL

McClaren (right) appears to have overtaken O'Neill with some FA officials after guiding Middlesbrough to the Uefa Cup and FA Cup semi-finals.

* 21 APRIL

The FA claims that the interviewing process has come to an end, with an anouncement to be made within a week.

* 22 APRIL

Scolari is surprisingly reported to be back in contention for the job, as the FA comittee meet for a crucial meeting.

* 25 APRIL

Scolari (right) denies meeting with the FA about the vacant England manager's job.

* 27 APRIL

Scolari is on the brink of becoming the new England manager as Barwick admits to holding talks in Portugal. All that remains to be settled is the size of the salary.

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