Palios is no stranger to mind games

England crisis: New FA chief executive confronted with early test in the face of player rebellion marshalled by tough and articulate right-back
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Some degree subjects, like the one that the England cricketer-turned-journalist Derek Pringle took in land economy, ultimately prove useless to the men who sit them. The same can hardly be said of the degree Mark Palios studied for at Manchester University. As he prepares to do battle with Manchester United over the fate of Rio Ferdinand, and as the England squad debate whether to strike rather than play in their decisive European Championship qualifier in Turkey, the Football Association's chief executive may need to fall back on his studies of psychology.

Ray Mathias, who played with Palios at Tranmere during the Seventies, recalled that he would often ask his team-mates to describe their inner feelings on the team bus when returning from away games to use as case studies. You would not have to look too deeply into the England squad, none of whom felt able to address the press yesterday, to discover that their inner feeling is one of deep anger.

There are many who thought Palios erred in not taking charge of yesterday's press conference at St Albans, where it was left to the FA's director of marketing and communications, Paul Barber, to explain that if the players carried out their threat of boycotting Saturday's match in Turkey, England could be disqualified from the European Championship. It was, after all, on Palios' insistence that the country's most expensive footballer was dropped for failing to take a drugs test.

Palios is not usually one to shirk responsibility. From the start of his career at Prenton Park in 1973, he has been his own man and, interestingly, given the criticism his stance on Ferdinand has drawn from the players' union, he was the Professional Footballers' Association representative during his time at Tranmere.

Despite the general suspicion visited on any footballer with an academic background by their colleagues, Palios seems to have been accepted by his team-mates. "Mark had such a strong personality that the lads didn't regard him as strange at all," Mathias said. "He was a good mixer and a real leader of men on the football field, so he was well respected throughout the club."

When he began studying accountancy, his team-mates sought him out rather than the other way round. "He was always willing to give financial advice, there was sometimes a queue waiting to talk to him on the team coach," one former manager recalled.

At Ernst and Young, then PriceWaterhouse, Palios worked his way through the accountancy ranks to become what is known in the trade as a "business regeneration leader". He specialised in salvaging companies on the edge of bankruptcy. With the FA overburdened by the cost of rebuilding Wembley and the setting-up of a national football centre at Burton on Trent, he appeared to be an excellent recommendation to succeed Adam Crozier.

His predecessor was depicted as something of a New Labour man, who had moved the FA from the warrens of Lancaster Gate to the burnished chrome reception halls of Soho Square. Crozier was, however, too ready to offend the game's powerbrokers, the Premiership chairmen. He paid with his job.

As a former lower-league footballer, Palios may be more antagonistic towards the demands of Premiership clubs. "The game is not all about the Manchester Uniteds and Mark is aware of that," Mathias said. His colleagues at PriceWaterhouse describe him as "not an image man and not a spin doctor", an accusation that might have been levelled at Crozier.

His brief was a full and varied one: finance Wembley, cut costs, decide on the national football centre, and improve relations with Uefa, European football's governing body, which had been damaged by the cack-handed bid to supplant Germany as hosts of the 2006 World Cup finals.

Palios showed himself to be a swift axer of jobs at Soho Square and claimed recently that the FA's final payment had been made towards the project for a national stadium, saying: "From our perspective, Wembley has been financed." Among the departures have been Graham Bean, the "compliance officer", whose task it was to examine corruption in the game.

Interestingly, given the crisis which now confronts football after the events involving Ferdinand, the allegations of sexual assault at Leeds United and those in room 316 of the Grosvenor House Hotel, Palios' greatest concern is that football should put its disciplinary house in order. "The FA's disciplinary process is fundamental to everything the governing body of the game stands for," he said after the yobbish scenes which greeted the final whistle of Manchester United's fractious game with Arsenal at Old Trafford.

"I recognised that after my first day at Soho Square, and events since have strengthened my belief," Palios said. "The range of punishments for different types of behaviour need to be appropriate and need to be seen to be appropriate." Those are not likely to be seen as comforting words by Ferdinand or anyone else at Old Trafford.

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