When it comes to the governance of English football, even the most consummate politicians at the Football Association can believe that they have all their ducks in a row only to find that at the last minute one has alarmingly floated downstream. So it proved yesterday for the FA in the embarrassing case of Stuart Pearce.
Just when the governing body thought it had at last brought the situation under control, having lost the captain and the manager in the space of six days, it turned out the man who will coach England in their friendly against the Netherlands this month also has an allegation of racism in his past.
Pearce's alleged racial abuse of Paul Ince in December 1994 at Old Trafford, a game in which the new England manager – for the time being at least – scored the winner for Nottingham Forest, was the ultimate sucker punch for the FA yesterday. Although Pearce does not appear to have publicly acknowledged the incident himself, not even in his autobiography Psycho, published 12 years ago, it has stood unchallenged.
In the circumstances it really was the last thing the FA needed after the week from hell and when it was reminded of it by a reporter at yesterday's press briefing, it was not hard to detect the utter dismay in the faces of chairman David Bernstein, Sir Trevor Brooking, general secretary Alex Horne and Club England's Adrian Bevington.
Until then, the FA had done as well as could be expected in the handling of the fallout since it emerged 10 days ago that John Terry's court case was to be adjourned until after the European Championship this summer. The implications of that adjournment led to the resignation of Fabio Capello on Wednesday night and one of those moments when the FA appears engulfed by one crisis after another.
Bernstein revealed yesterday as much as he could about the details of Capello's departure. He said that the Italian met with him at Wembley in an encounter he insisted was "amicable". The two men then went back to their respective offices at Wembley and when Bernstein went to visit Capello an hour later, the Italian tendered his resignation.
It has later emerged from sources close to Capello that he took greater issue with being left out of the decision-making process nine days ago than he did about the actual decision. But that is part of history now.
Bernstein described Capello's interview on RAI on Sunday as having produced an "unsatisfactory situation". "His backing of John Terry wasn't helpful in the way it came across or was communicated and it did give the impression of a conflict of views between the manager and the board," Bernstein said. "That's something which, in any football organisation, one doesn't want."
He admitted that speaking to Capello on the telephone was "not the easiest", given the Italian's struggles with the English language. He conceded that the four years of Capello had been "certainly expensive ... but it wasn't a mistake". He said that he offered Capello no "ultimatum" and despite "concerns ... went in with an open mind."
Having negotiated the departure of Capello and gained Pearce's immediate commitment to take over for the senior game – the Under-20s coach Brian Eastick will deputise with the Under-21s for that period – Bernstein will have breathed a sigh of relief. The problem is that the issue of the incident with Ince is not going to go away, given that Pearce will coach the Team GB football side at the London Olympics.
"We have got a match at the end of February, we need a short-term, quick answer," Bernstein said. "We have a team of good football people within the FA set-up and Stuart is one of them. He is a first-class, available option for this match. We have an open mind beyond that. It's not ruled out [he could get the job permanently]. Definitely not."
The FA chairman offered an elegant analysis of why it is not appropriate for an England international to continue to captain the team when he has a racial abuse charge against him. It was why the FA had previously been prepared to allow Terry to remain captain against the Netherlands on 29 February that the FA was less sure-footed about.
Bernstein said: "The history of Bobby Moore and Billy Wright and so on is the stature that one is looking for from England captains. This particular accusation [against Terry] – which, of course, is totally unproven – the FA board felt that going into a European Championship with all the connotations that are involved... was an overhanging issue that was not appropriate. It was not in the best interests of England for that to be allowed to continue."
It was, as Bernstein said, "an exceptional set of circumstances" which no one was about to argue with. Pearce must have seemed a decent alternative while the FA set about working out how best to get Harry Redknapp away from Tottenham Hotspur at the end of the season to lead the team to Euro 2012, but in this one revelation about the stand-in manager's past the FA has another problem.
The irony was not lost on the room that just as the FA begins drawing up a "code of conduct" for its players it finds yet another challenge laid down. How to deal with the past? It is difficult enough governing the present.
Fabio Capello yesterday issued a brief statement regarding his resignation:
"I would like to thank all players, staff and Football Association for the professionalism they have shown during my years as manager of the English national team. A very special thanks to all the supporters: they've always supported the team and me in our job. I wish all of them every success in achieving all their sporting goals."Reuse content