Tomorrow morning, Brian Barwick will begin his new job as chief executive at the Football Association, and as he lowers himself into his chair he will see opening up before him the wide and disturbing vista of our national game.
Tomorrow morning, Brian Barwick will begin his new job as chief executive at the Football Association, and as he lowers himself into his chair he will see opening up before him the wide and disturbing vista of our national game. In the months since his appointment he will have made himself fully aware of all the problems but, suddenly, they will belong exclusively to him, and around his neck, and his neck alone, will hang the responsibility for solving them.
If only the health of the football being produced was his main priority he would have cause to feel a bit chipper. Surely there cannot be much amiss with a country able to offer us a game as good as Manchester United's meeting with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. I am still upset that such a gripping match should be settled by an infuriatingly bad goal but, allowing for that, the quality of our football generally is hardly suggestive of a crisis. Mind you, that may be because England haven't played recently.
Unfortunately, the troubles Barwick will be concerned with come not from the centre of the action but from its periphery, and an uncomfortable number of the characters involved there.
It was only a few weeks ago that Barwick was being advised in this space to bring some light and order to the murky doings of some agents. It is a measure of how swiftly controversies occur these days that the subject of agents has scurried back under the skirting boards, and since then we have had the riddle of the blatant goal that never was, with the subsequent cries for goal-line electronics; shouting matches between leading figures; and, last week, the dive to end all dives - or, at least, it should have been.
When a player fakes a tumble at speed it can be difficult to detect even by a close study of the video recording, but on Monday Bolton's El Hadji Diouf was far enough away from the diving clutch of the Blackburn goalkeeper, Brad Friedel, for there to be absolutely no doubt that Diouf's spectacular belly-flop was self-induced.
To the referee, Steve Bennett, it might have looked as if Friedel had caused the fall, but his award of a penalty was subsequently proved to be totally unwarranted. The fact that it led to the winning goal in a vital match compounds the error.
Diving has become a very serious issue, and the FA announced a clampdown only three weeks ago. But despite being presented with clear evidence that Diouf cheated they announced, astoundingly, that they were taking no further action. Their compliance department refused to act because the referee had a clear view of the incident. Obviously, he didn't, and if he did he had his eyes shut.
Passing the buck to the referee was a dereliction of their duty; or was it more sinister than that? Had they found Diouf guilty of deception it would be an admission that the game was won on a fraudulent goal. Do they have the power to alter a result or order a replay? If not, why not?
No one was more incensed than the referees' head, Keith Hackett, who called for Diouf to be charged with improper conduct. Simulation, he said, was a scourge in the game. Everyone agrees with that sentiment, but no one will do anything about it.
Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, claimed that diving in the penalty area had been going on for decades. So it has, but video evidence gives us the perfect chance to end it now. Whereas we may hesitate to allow football to be refereed by constant reference to the video, there is nothing to be lost by using replays to nail persistent culprits later.
It is abundantly clear that neither players nor clubs are going to desist voluntarily, so the only way to stop this appalling practice is for the FA to take retrospective action, and drastic action at that.
At least there are signs that the FA's disciplinary process is getting sharper. Making the wrong decisions more quickly is not a help but it does show a welcome sign that they recognise the game needs faster and firmer policing.
This area offers Barwick an early opportunity to impress by applying a fresh authority and intent. He does not have the luxury of a gradual settling-in period. With the Government-inspired investigation by Lord Burns due to start, he hasn't much time to knock some shape into the organisation before the outside interference threatens.
I am not sure how many skeletons reside in the cupboards at the FA's Soho headquarters, but he will probably find the chairman in one of them. Geoff Thompson, never the man for the high profile, faded even further from view following the departure of Barwick's predecessor, Mark Palios. Perhaps he will now emerge from a dark corner and show solidarity with the man hired to bring a little steadiness to the FA's tiller.
Barwick will have outlined at his inter-view how he intends to set about tackling the more immediate problems facing the association. If they didn't approve, they wouldn't have appointed him; although it is not reassuring to learn that he was opposed by the representatives of the professional clubs on the FA board. On the other hand, anyone they approved of would not be the man the job needs.
There was a time when the chief executive (he was called secretary then) would have a large number of FA councillors, most of whom were pleasantly doddery and in possession of little football sophistication.
His main task was to herd them towards the right decisions and, looking back, the administrators did a sound job of controlling them. They are of a different ilk now, much sharper and streetwise, and too many of them have a big financial interest in the game and find objectivity a touch difficult.
They need shepherding of a different nature, and I am looking forward to Barwick being up to it. One thing is certain - as good as the football is, the game is finding it difficult to match the drama and intrigue happening off the field.
A bad joke, not a bad man
A man has indeed reached a low point in life when he is dismissed by Sky TV for an "inexcusable" lapse of taste. Sky are not normally to be found occupying moral ground of any appreciable height.
But the former England, Manchester City and QPR star Rodney Marsh made a joke on a Sky Sports programme that concerned David Beckham and the tsunami disaster. I don't intend to repeat it, but it was a joke designed to poke fun at Beckham and not the disaster.
It was ill-advised and unacceptable, and has cost Marsh his job as a Sky presenter. Sky can please themselves who they employ, but by no means is Marsh guilty of an offence in the Ron Atkinson class. As a breed, footballers thrive on sick jokes, and they are not alone in that.
I guarantee that the same joke had done the rounds of a million emails and text messages. Marsh was just dopey enough to think it clever to repeat in public and, as an admirer of his footballing days and, occasionally, his punditry, I am sorry his gaffe was thought worthy of ending his media career.
Marsh will have to take his knocks, but let's not pretend that his tastelessness is a rarity in our society, or that his guilt is not shared by a considerable slice of the population.Reuse content