Right to privacy left Eriksson with 'no case to answer'

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson escaped disciplinary action for his part in the crisis at the Football Association on a legal technicality. Witness interviews are understood to have stated that the England coach was asked a direct question about whether he had had an affair with secretary Faria Alam ­ and that his reply was sufficiently reassuring to back up her demands for a denial and the threat of legal action.

But the discussions between Eriksson and senior FA officials about Alam, were deemed to be "private matters". That meant that whatever he was asked about the subject, or replied, was inadmissible as evidence if the FA had attempted to charge him with misconduct.

At the meeting of the FA's Board on Thursday, solicitor Peter Norbury, who conducted the inquiry, talked through the evidence he had gathered, and the Board was advised that Eriksson had "no case to answer". They were told he would have had no case to answer even if, theoretically, he had lied in response to a direct question.

Prior to the meeting, several members would have liked to have removed the coach. But they knew they could not do so without paying the remainder of his contract ­ £14m ­ plus risking legal action from him in search of punitive damages.

Under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, Eriksson's case was water-tight. He should never have been asked about his private life in the first place. The details of what Eriksson said on 19 July to David Davies, the FA's executive director, when quizzed on the matter, therefore lost relevance.

It is a wholly unsatisfactory business ­ and partly explains the unsatisfactory statement released by the Board after its meeting in which there is no mention of Davies or, as the inquiry had promised, "the circumstances which led to the FA issuing legal statements".

There was an apparent rebuke for FA chairman Geoff Thompson with the appointment of two board members, Dave Richards, from the Premier League, and Roger Burden, of the Gloucestershire FA, to "support" him. Thompson's position remains vulnerable after he wrongly, and unilaterally, attempted to clear FA chief executive Mark Palios for his part in the débâcle. Palios, who also had an affair with Alam, has since quit after it was revealed that he and director of communications Colin Gibson had attempted to expose Eriksson. Gibson has also quit.

During the FA's last crisis in 1998, when chief executive Graham Kelly resigned, chairman Keith Wiseman limped on until he was voted out by the FA Council ­ with Thompson replacing him. "Thompson must accept responsibility for the shambles and resign," Kelly said yesterday. The next meeting of the council is on 5 October. FA Board members had considered a vote of no confidence at their meeting but may well now see how Thompson copes with the "immediate review" into the failings at the FA. They have little faith. Burden is among those considered a possible successor.

However, one board member, speaking off the record, insisted yesterday that the appointment of Burden and Richards was more to do with attempting to provide back-up for Thompson "until a new chief executive is appointed". That is a puzzling explanation as Davies was thought to be taking that role ­ and it was reported on the FA's own website ­ although he later claimed he was not acting chief executive. Interestingly, the board member refused to discuss Davies's own position but said that Thursday's statement was "a holding position".

That may quickly change. The FA is bracing itself for more revelations in tomorrow's newspapers after Alam signed a deal worth £500,000 with two tabloids, and ITV, with her publicist Max Clifford claiming she would offer "a unique guide into the people in the very highest echelons of the FA". Clifford said she did not want to inflict further damage on Eriksson.

Eventually the spotlight will return to football. England have a friendly on 18 August at St James' Park against Ukraine and Eriksson will learn then what the public mood is. This is quickly followed by the start of the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign with a double-header away to Poland and Austria. If England falter then the pressure on Eriksson will increase once again.