Long road ahead after Burns' rite of passage

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The Independent Football

Alan Pardew can reflect that a broken-down nag would be treated more kindly. At least they shoot horses swiftly to put them out of their misery. Football managers are left lame, amid uncertainty, suffering a lingering demise and fearing what is almost worse, a positive prognosis that life can be prolonged - the chairman's backing.

Which is where we appear to find the West Ham manager this morning, although in the aftermath of West Ham's Carling Cup defeat at Chesterfield on Tuesday night so many stories abounded that the reality became as skewed as the Derbyshire town's crooked spire.

Did West Ham's chairman, Terence Brown, actually under-mine him by chastising the players in the dressing room, telling them that £16,000 had been spent on an overnight stay, and the club would have done better fielding a pub side? Or, was there, as Pardew insists, just a chummy chat in the tunnel between manager and chairman? As Pardew recalls: "He put his arm round me and said, 'Come on. We've been here before. We'll sort things out and turn it around'." Or was it something of both? Truth is the first casualty of a family at war with itself.

Either way, the future does not appear propitious for the man whose team of FA Cup finalists finished ninth on their return to the Premiership, but who in their second season are in a slough of form, culminating in Tuesday's eighth successive defeat.

The cause appears to be the cumulative destabilising effect of several factors. Certainly the Hammers' progress has been in indirect proportion to recent takeover talk, a period which has coincided with the contentious arrival of the Argentinian World Cup pair Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. There have been injuries, too - specifically to the striker Dean Ashton - and they can drag a beleaguered manager down like quicksand, although ostensibly there remains a reservoir of sufficient talent.

Could the explanation be simply so-called "second-season syndrome", a failure of the players? Maybe they have flown too close to the sun? Pardew believes as much, and has named, but not yet shamed into significant improvement, Anton Ferdi- nand, Danny Gabbidon, Yossi Benayoun and Nigel Reo-Coker.

At least Pardew, who largely retains the affection of West Ham followers, can argue that he has, in part, been ambushed by circumstances. His chairman can claim no such mitigation. Not for the first occasion in this proud club's recent history, Brown is central to the malaise.

It is difficult to conceive of improved health here until a takeover is complete, and though we know from the complexities of the way ownership was wrested from Doug Ellis at Aston Villa just how long that can take, it is imperative that the situation is resolved, and swiftly. The Hammers' allure to prospective buyers diminishes by the day while performances remain in decline.

But what are the options? One potential purchaser is the Iran-ian Kia Joorabchian. He arrived with the two Argentinians, who, as far as we can gather, were imposed on Pardew. Joorabchian is backed by the Israeli Eli Papouchado, who immediately placed himself in bad odour with the West Ham faithful by reportedly declaring his lack of interest in football and a definite fascination with property development. Rarely a sound combination where a club's future is concerned, particularly with it being mooted that the club should relocate to the Olympic Stadium after 2012.

Then there is an Icelandic consortium, led by Eggert Magnusson. Clearly, no relation to the late TV question master Magnus - "I've started, so I'll finish" - as his team reportedly have not even begun to win the contest, despite being the preferred option among the supporters.

Pardew would presumably elect for the latter option too. Joorabchian is believed to favour a new management set-up, though the prospect (subsequently dismissed) of Sven Goran Eriksson deducting £13,000 a day from the FA's payroll and heading for Upton Park was possibly not the solution the fans were seeking, nor the likes of the former defender Julian "The Terminator" Dicks, when he spoke of the players' lack of passion.

Though Pardew has declared that he won't walk, you could scarcely blame him if he did. True, there are scratches on the bodywork of what was a fine managerial reputation, created first at Reading and then West Ham. But nothing that cannot be repolished elsewhere.

If Pardew fails to make it into November as the consequence of defeat by Blackburn today, a fate prophesied in some quarters, he is in decent company. Already this month 36 managers have been fired or otherwise quit their clubs, Europe-wide. The managerial killing season is a year-long phenomenon.

Significantly, though, no movement in the Premiership and, coincidentally, no opening yet for Alan Curbishley, whose stock has risen without him lifting a finger to a tactics board while his successor, Iain Dowie, has struggled. Curbishley once rejected the Hammers' overtures. Would he do the same today?

It could be an answer he may have to provide imminently. However, one suspects that Pardew's Indian summer is likely to continue until Premiership survival expectations deteriorate from somewhat problematic to near insurmountable.

What is clear is that the remedy for West Ham's ills is not as straightforward as a new manager. Or Ashton's return. Or new players. Or the revitalisation of existing ones. It requires total en- vironment change. Only Terence Brown possesses the key to that.

The average football follower, participating in a word-association exercise, when offered the expression "FA" would probably respond with "fiasco", followed by "Wembley", "Steve McClaren" and "national academy". The perception of the game's governing body does not engender great respect.

If the 143-year-old organisation actually succeed in reforming themselves and improving their decision-making processes, then Lord Burns's report and its adoption by the FA council will have been worthwhile. Yet despite the favourable responses, we await the reality. Were there not similar sentiments expressed about the reforming of another institution containing too many time-servers: the House of Lords? Nearly 10 years on, they are still attempting to conclude that issue.

It was no surprise that the procedure under which the FA council voted through Lord Burns's proposals was chaotic in itself. And it is not certain to win over the doubters when the FA shareholders meet to vote in January.

The organisation will still remain a hive of diverse interests. The most crucial aspects are the appointment of an independent chairman and voting rights for the chief executive. Whether drawn from political or business circles, the former would be a key figure. The right man (if Seb Coe is unavailable, other possibilities include Sir Eddie George, the former governor of the Bank of England, and Sir Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI) or woman (Gordon Brown's adviser Kate Barker has been mooted) must be capable of instilling harmony.

Equally crucial would be the chief executive. Presumably, no area should be untouched by a sweep with the reforming brush. Following the débâcle over the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson's successor, is the incumbent, Brian Barwick, the man to lead the FA into a more enlightened new world?

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