The Football Association's chairman, Geoff Thompson, and its acting chief executive, David Davies, are both likely to be rebuked for their roles in the bungled handling of Sven Goran Eriksson's affair with the secretary, Faria Alam, FA sources said last night.
Senior officials are not discounting the possibility that one or both may even be forced out of office, with the pair due to be asked by FA board members on Thursday to justify apparent errors in the way they have handled the Eriksson controversy.
"The chairman's job is to be decisive," one source said. "He [Thompson] was certainly decisive in exonerating [chief executive] Mark Palios last week but he hardly covered himself in glory doing so. You should not make statements like that until in possession of the full facts."
Palios resigned on Sunday evening after claims that he was party to an attempted cover-up of his own affair with Alam. Colin Gibson, the FA's communications director who negotiated the ultimately failed cover-up with the News of the World, offered his own resignation within hours.
Gibson had earlier said: "The FA knew about the details and the story about brokering a deal. I have given complete details of the events of July 24, including transcripts of telephone calls, my minute-to-minute movements and supplied them with a complete list of all my telephone calls."
The salient words there for consideration by the independent lawyer conducting the inquiry into the saga - and for the FA's 12-man board - is what precisely Gibson meant by "the FA" and "them". If it was only Palios, Thompson will remain under the spotlight only for his unilateral backing of Palios last Tuesday, three days after Gibson tried to negotiate with the Sunday tabloid.
If, however, Thompson was aware, before his exoneration of Palios, of Gibson's attempt to expose details of Eriksson's affair in exchange for silence on Palios's own dalliance, Thompson's position could become untenable.
In public, the FA seems to have no further appetite for bloodletting. Indeed, Davies yesterday embarked on a trademark exercise in crisis management, saying it is now his job "to ensure we go forward and bring people together".
In unequivocal language that will have come as music to Eriksson's ears, Davies gave the surest sign yet that the England coach's job is safer than at any point in the past two weeks.
Eriksson returned to London yesterday, although not to Soho Square, where his first appointment today will be with the lawyer conducting the inquiry.
"Sven is one of the outstanding coaches in the world - that is why so many people want to hire him," Davies said. "He has a consistent track record wherever he has worked and he is popular and highly respected by the players. This is a time for us to rally the staff and rally people around. Football is more important than anything."
Davies's words, no doubt intended as a show of solidarity in adversity, were not greeted with universal approval inside the FA. One source said Davies "should be keeping his own counsel" on Eriksson, at least until the findings of the inquiry are presented to the board in the specially convened meeting on Thursday.
Davies's fate seems inextricably linked to that of Eriksson. It was Davies who originally asked the Swede on 19 July about his affair with Alam. It was the subsequent issuing of official denials and legal threats by officials at the FA (whose identities are yet to be confirmed) that remains the core issue at the heart of the whole scandal. Had the FA simply not responded to stories of Eriksson's private life, the saga would never have escalated to such a level.
Eriksson has already stated that he never "categorically confirmed or denied" his affair. Davies's testimony, in which he is likely to say he asked Eriksson about it and received the ambiguous reply "This is nonsense" is therefore crucial. If Davies failed to ask Eriksson a direct question and failed to pin Eriksson down to an unequivocal response, he could be held account for failing to do so.
The dream scenario for Davies would be that the independent lawyer concludes that Eriksson's response was non-committal but not untrue and that Davies, in good faith, misinterpreted it. It would be extraordinary after yesterday's gushing endorsement of Eriksson if Davies's testimony claimed that Eriksson had told an outright lie.
If Eriksson is not proved to have lied, then the board will have little option but to let him continue in his job. This will be galling to some, who want him removed for footballing reasons and because they feel his £4m-a-year salary is too high, but the consolation will be the avoidance of a long and potentially ruinous court case. Eriksson's camp have already made it clear he would sue for a massive pay-off if sacked.
Davies would not discuss the inquiry in detail yesterday. "An investigation is going on into how this problem began," he said. "When staff come in we will be saying to people 'let us get on to important business in front of us'. Our business is carried out in the intense glare of publicity. It is a game people care for passionately and we have a responsibility to sort out these problems. We have had our problems in the past and we dealt with them and we will do that now."
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