What game is Sven Goran Eriksson playing? I don't mean on the pitch, because I've long given up wondering about that, but in his apparent eagerness to get publicly involved in matters far removed from his stewardship of the national football team.
This is the time of year when an England manager can get respite from the limelight, when he can slide into the shadows or even loll about in the sun while we concentrate on summer activities. Instead, Eriksson is happy to be seen hobnobbing with the Russian who has just blasted his way into the British game as the new owner of Chelsea and is now buying everyone he can get his hands on.
Roman Abramovich is rushing around the transfer market in the manner of one of those television-quiz winners who can keep everything they can fill their super-market trolley with in one minute. Now, in their supposed role of guardians of the game, the Football Association should be offering some sort of reaction to this sudden and unsettling presence on the scene. Even a disapproving sniff would suffice.
All we had was the sight of their top man, dressed in his best suit, paying a call on Abramovich at his Knightsbridge home. Eriksson was in the company of Pini Zahavi, the agent who brokered the Chelsea deal - agents are not exactly flavour of the month, either, but that's by the way. Zahavi has been a friend of Eriksson's for 20 years and would have been able to interpret, as the Russian has little English.
Had there not been a photographer present as the pair approached the front door we might never have known about the assignation. Did someone alert the cameraman, or was he doorstepping just in case? The latter, I suspect, but, either way, Eriksson should know enough about the ubiquity of the British press not to take any chances.
He did acknowledge his folly in a hurried message posted on the FA's website, in which he accepted that the meeting "may create unfortunate speculation". That piece of self-censure erred on the mild side. To pass it off as a social occasion with someone new to the city was ingenuous. I've never heard of a billionaire who was that short of friends.
Similarly, Eriksson's pledge that he was totally committed to his role as England head coach and "looking forward to leading England to success in the future" does not have an authentic ring. Neither is it the first time he has found it necessary to make a public vow. His name has been mentioned in relation to the management of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, among others.
Some could conclude that he seems to be operating a policy, or having it operated on his behalf, of giving the FA and the nation a regular reminder that he doesn't have to stand around taking all the crap for the shortcomings of the England team. Which is precisely what he has to do if he wants to justify his large salary. To have seen Abramovich anywhere in these delicate days after the takeover would have been insensitive. To go trotting obediently around to his house was a ghastly mistake.
The only venue that would have been suitable was the FA's headquarters in Soho Square, where the Russian could have been welcomed as an important newcomer and the lads could have given him the once-over while he was being asked about his plans and ambitions. That no such polite questioning or gentle investigation is thought necessary after, or preferably before, a massive and sudden change of ownership of one of our major clubs takes place is a serious failure in the governance of football in this country.
You wouldn't get a job as youth-team coach at a club unless you could present the proper credentials; yet you can step into the chairman's chair of the biggest club in the land without the minutest examination of past, your ability or your intentions.
Far be it from me to cast doubts on the suitability of owners, but at the moment we have Wimbledon without a home and justifying a change of name to Bedouin Rovers. Fulham are in a similar state of flux, and long-time lovers of the club can only have the gravest concerns about their future. Aston Villa are said to be at the mercy of predators, and Leeds United's new chairman, Professor John McKenzie, appears to have had a losing tussle with Harry Kewell's agent.
The game is dangerously unstable, and only the FA have the authority to intervene with some sort of control over the running of our clubs. It is fashionable to put the boot into former chief executive Adam Crozier. He might have lacked a touch of thrift in his nature, but his intentions to tilt the balance of the game's power away from the clubs and back to the FA were well-founded. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone on the FA powerful enough, or man enough, to back him, and he was torpedoed by the Premiership chairmen, who want to retain every scrap of their power. Selling their clubs to whomever they choose is the least of the freedoms they cherish.
Spin not for this doctor
This Government might spin their way round most problems, but they received a frank warning last week that they won't spin their way to getting the Olympic Games for London in 2012. Bullshit may baffle some brains, but Dr Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, left the Prime Minister in no doubt that successful bids rely on fundamentals, not froth.
These are welcome words at the start of a long and potentially tiresome campaign to bring us the Games. Now that it is in motion, it would be churlish of those of us who questioned the wisdom behind the entire enterprise to carry on carping. There are far bigger sporting priorities at home that need urgent attention, but the bid committee deserve our support.
Now that they have been made aware that recruiting people like Sir Paul McCartney and David Beckham would be dismissed as pure window-dressing likely to be counterproductive, they can get down to serious planning. IOC members are harder-nosed and more persuasion-proof since the bad old backhander days and, says Rogge, are more interested in basics like security, efficient transport, top venues and good facilities for the athletes.
Given that our sporting infrastructure is so backward, the first task for bid leader Barbara Cassani is to start nagging Whitehall to make a start now on catching up with facilities already in place in rival bidding cities.
Rogge also reacted a little tetchily to being drawn into the shameful witch-hunt against our star heptathlete Denise Lewis. Certain newspapers had claimed that her connection with Dr Ekkart Arbeit, who was heavily involved in the East German drugs regime, would damage London's bid. Arbeit has been coaching Lewis in the throwing disciplines, and Rogge was quoted as saying it was "unwise". Last week he said it was her "full right" to do so, and that she should "not be harassed any longer".
Well done, Jacques. Please return any time you feel our hotheads need calming down.Reuse content