James Lawton: Palios should not play ambassador to Beckham's court

Spread of football's infamy at home must be priority for FA chief executive rather than flying off to Spain to seek advice from England captain
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The FA chief, Mark Palios, to fly to Madrid to see Beckham. England captain says, "Of course I will be involved because I have got to have a say". This is not so much a news item as a parody of what passes for proper sports administration.

If it proves true, if Palios, who earned some measured praise here recently for his principled stand on the Rio Ferdinand issue, does indeed get on a plane to Spain he will have been badly advised indeed. He is supposed to be the boss of English football not a supplicant at the court of the Beckhams. He is expected to lead a deeply troubled sport, not play half-baked public relations.

Yesterday's meeting between Palios's representatives - David Davies and Trevor Brooking - and the England players, including strike agitator Gary "Red Nev" Neville, did have a point, but mainly, you have to believe, as an opportunity for both sides to admit that it was hard to say who most mishandled the Ferdinand crisis in the build-up to the European Championship qualifying game in Istanbul, the vacillating FA or the gormless rebels.

The FA fumbled the later Alan Smith case, no doubt, but then the player himself, at the time and subsequently, was not so easily cast in the role of a martyr.

What Palios needs to do at some speed is to separate necessary action from the kind of absurd window dressing which the proposed trip to Madrid would represent.

Most of all, he has to get some sort of grip on the kind of behaviour which provoked a host of grimly negative headlines over the weekend.

He has to drag English football into a era of financial responsibility which would make impossible the kind of business dealings which have provoked the latest controversy over the role of Sir Alex Ferguson's son, Jason, in the affairs of Manchester United. Whether Ferguson Jnr is involved in any business impropriety in the Tim Howard transfer deal is not the main point. Most relevant at the moment is the fact that English football transactions are considered in other parts of the world to be quite outrageous in the scope they offer for corruption.

In America's National Football League, for example, agents do not lay their hands on a single dollar until a transfer and contract deal have been processed meticulously by accountants and lawyers at league headquarters - and then only directly from the agent's client. "How else would a properly run league conduct this kind of business?" an NFL official asked me in some disbelief at the time of the George Graham bung affair.

Palios has to mount a napalm attack on the staggering potential for conflict of interest which now exists in the national game, which, to make the point yet again, was so dramatically symbolised by the ability of leading managers to hold shares in the company of an agent with whom they regularly did their club's business.

He has to work for a code of conduct which would put a curb on the kind of nauseating venom which spilled out of Eyal Berkovic at the weekend, a bilious attack on his former manager Kevin Keegan which did much to explain why it is that the talented Israeli midfielder has spent most of his career on the move.

Palios has so much to do to clean up English football that the idea of his taking time to mollify David Beckham makes the head whirl and the stomach churn.

Beckham, of course, matter-of-factly welcomes the possibility. Beckham says, "It's a bit difficult for me to attend things like that [yesterday's meeting] but I have been in contact with the FA and at some point they will be coming here". Why? What do they have to say to Beckham that couldn't be contained in any agreement with the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, about some new clarity in selection and disciplinary procedures?

Eriksson's duty, which some of us thought he shamefully neglected in Istbanbul, is to run the team and impose discipline. Beckham's job, one towards which he has at times shown an extremely shaky grasp, is to lead the team on the field, by example and with common sense. His desire to be deeply involved now is certainly in sharp contrast to his demeanour when his former Old Trafford team-mate Neville was so stridently shouting the odds in Istanbul. Eventually, when the team's, and his own, image was hitting the rocks in an unprecedented way, he came out with a statement which said, when you got right down to it, very little indeed.

There was a platitudinous avowal of patriotism, and a rap on the knuckles of the FA, but where had he been when the crisis was at its peak? Apparently summoning his boss Eriksson, who was in the middle of his evening meal at the time, for an "urgent" meeting with the players. Eriksson should, of course, have told Beckham to mind his manners and wait for a meeting that he, the coach, might or might not call. That's what Sir Alf Ramsey or any self-respecting manager would have done.

Where was Beckham at a crucial phase of the drive to qualify for this summer's Euro tourney, the match against Slovakia, a team who had given England serious problems in Bratislava? Suspended for the game as a result of his brainless behaviour in the match against Turkey at Sunderland, where most of the inspiration was supplied by teenager Wayne Rooney.

Beckham recorded a message urging good behaviour on the England fans, then flew to America in pursuit of personal publicity and commercial advantage. Michael Owen stood in, very successfully, while pointing out that the media circus really wasn't for him. He said he much preferred to make the back page rather than the front. Though Beckham didn't feel any need to be on hand to rally his troops against Slovakia, he says that of course he has to be involved in negotiations between the players and the FA.

You could call it selective responsibility. Or perhaps just another publicity opportunity. In either case, it's a joke.

Allardyce must focus on skill, not certificates

Sam Allardyce is appalled that the FA has appointed Trevor Brooking as head of development despite his lack of the Uefa Pro Licence Diploma, which is now supposed to prove a football man's competence. "The League Managers' Association is absolutely flabbergasted by the decision and has made representations to the FA about it," the Bolton manager says.

With due respect to Allardyce and his mates, I can think of any number of better ways they could have spent their time.

They could have been sorting out a code of conduct for themselves, covering such matters as poaching players - not to mention getting the ones they already have to play with a touch of originality - diving into jobs whose previous occupants had not been satisfactorily treated by club owners, bringing in regulations covering their dealings with agents, and finding among their heavily qualified number one or two authentic claimants for the succession to Sven Goran Eriksson.

Allardyce hugely praises the previous FA technical director, Howard Wilkinson - for his passionate espousal of the need for coaching certificates in particular.

He concedes, though, that Brooking is a nice guy. More than that, he was one of the most distinguished players of his generation, played many times for England and had his vision of the game shaped by no less than Ron Greenwood, outstanding football thinker and mentor of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, just to mention three World Cup-winners.

If confronted by a piece of paper and Brooking's life in football, in which would you place most confidence?

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