Little change in long-running farce of amateur meddling

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The Independent Online

It is rare to come across anyone today who thinks that football is simply a terrific game and a colourful spectacle, no more, no less. Anyone, in fact, who sees the cosmic musings of deep thinkers, the posturing of shallow thinkers and the huckstering of double-thinkers as a perfect spiral of lunacy. From muddled authority to the porous opinions of some glib radio phone-in presenters, whose number include a north London smart-arse moonlighting from his day job as a print rottweiler, a deluded one-time soap actor and a discredited politician, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that football is descending into a twilight of reason and language.

It is rare to come across anyone today who thinks that football is simply a terrific game and a colourful spectacle, no more, no less. Anyone, in fact, who sees the cosmic musings of deep thinkers, the posturing of shallow thinkers and the huckstering of double-thinkers as a perfect spiral of lunacy. From muddled authority to the porous opinions of some glib radio phone-in presenters, whose number include a north London smart-arse moonlighting from his day job as a print rottweiler, a deluded one-time soap actor and a discredited politician, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that football is descending into a twilight of reason and language.

Certainly, the present turmoil over who is best equipped to coach England's national team is a wincing reminder, for this veteran anyway, of a time when its selection was scandalously influenced by blazered buffoonery and many club managers were hindered in their work by directors who could not properly distinguish between a free-kick and a corner flag.

Things may be better than they were, maybe not. But it is easy to conclude that they have not changed a great deal since Len Shackleton's autobiography Clown Prince of Soccer published 40 years ago was given a sales fillip by a blank page under the chapter heading 'The Average Director's Knowledge of Football.' I am encouraged in this line of thought by remarks attributed last week to Simon Jordan, who was unheard of in football until he recently acquired Crystal Palace. Clearly believing that he has now been in the game long enough to comment on wider issues of the day, Jordan stated in a popular print that it would be a mistake if England turned again to Terry Venables.

Since Jordan's predecessor, Mark Goldberg, has cleared Venables of all responsibility for the present state of affairs at Selhurst Park (an effort by Jordan to smooth things over with Venables has fallen on deaf ears) the incumbent deserves all the calumny he gets.

However, more to the point is Jordan's arrogant assumption that possession of a football club brings the right to be heard. Instant expertise is nothing new and best considered in the echo of a blunt opinion held by Joe Peters, who hired me as a consultant when owner of Toronto Falcons in the old North American Soccer League. A hardy soul, Joe had been many things - lumberjack, deckhand, crop-spraying pilot, professional gambler - before making a fortune in real estate. "Save me from experts," I remember him saying. "Ex is something in the past and a spurt is a spray that never made it."

Those words sprang to mind last week when the Football Association discovered to its embarrassment that Bobby Robson's eagerness to again take charge of England in time for next month's friendly against Italy in Turin did not meet with the approval of Newcastle United's chairman. One question to be asked - Shackleton's dismissive side-swipe has lost none of its relevance - concerns the people appointed to find Kevin Keegan's successor. We know who they are but, Howard Wilkinson apart, how much do they know? Historians of the future may possibly be able to conclude that Keegan's resignation was a turning point, the beginning of the end of a policy that saw England managers or coaches appointed in vague circumstances.

The flurry of activity that brought temporary promotion for the Leicester City manager Peter Taylor and the Manchester United coach, Steve McClaren, indicates that the government of English football is at least listening, if not to things it doesn't want to hear. One thing it doesn't want to hear is support for Venables, whose cause has been championed by 18 Premiership managers and every England player canvassed after the World Cup qualifying match against Finland.

Following an abortive attempt to interest Sir Alex Ferguson the FA learned on Tuesday that it can forget about Arsÿne Wenger, who was supposed to have been on a short list of three with Sven Goran Eriksson and Roy Hodgson. Don't you get the impression that nothing much has changed? From the sound of things, football in England is still being run by amateurs. And they want it to stay that way.

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