In April 2006, the Football Association was conducting interviews for potential successors to Sven Goran Eriksson who, after the "Fake Sheikh" episode in January of that year, had been told the World Cup finals that summer would be his farewell as England manager.
In an attempt to keep the process secret, the interviewing panel of the then FA chief executive Brian Barwick, Sir Trevor Brooking, Dave Richards and David Dein borrowed the Oxfordshire mansion of the well-known British businessman Sir Victor Blank. It must have sounded like a brilliant ruse at the time to ship in the likes of Steve McClaren, Sam Allardyce, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Martin O'Neill in Mercedes with blacked-out windows through the gates of Sir Victor's estate.
Those of us who have never had the chance to stage our own version of a G8 summit meeting at a stately home can only guess at the giggling and excitement that went into its planning.
In fact, with the mix of subterfuge, rich businessmen and famous football names, it had all the makings of a great newspaper story, which is exactly what it became. The very next day. The man from the Daily Mail – tipped off, as he later wrote, by the people in the local village Chippinghurst – was stood by the gate counting them in and counting them out.
The first clue for the locals had been the cavalcade of Mercedes driving slowly through the village. The reporter's suspicions were later confirmed when Barwick's chauffeur tried to accelerate when he spotted him, but not quickly enough to prevent his FA tie being spotted. There was no need to enlist the services of George Smiley to figure out this conspiracy.
The saga got much more chaotic later on when, having assumed that he had secured the agreement of Scolari to take over after the World Cup finals, Barwick flew back to England to watch his new man announce on Portuguese television that he was staying as Portugal manager.
That miscalculation was perhaps forgivable given Scolari's unpredictability. Less forgivable was, when McClaren was later appointed, Barwick's attempt to convince his audience that the Englishman had always been his first choice. No one believed that for a moment, least of all McClaren, and it took the intervention of an FA press officer between briefings to persuade Barwick quietly that this was not a line worth pursuing.
In appointing Fabio Capello, Barwick did rather better and, although Jose Mourinho led the FA a merry dance for a while, the Capello deal was forced over the line with a conference call to the FA board that put some noses out of joint. But there were no attempts to interview Capello on a bench in Green Park, with both parties in disguise and forbidden from making eye contact.
The point is that by next summer David Bernstein, the FA's current chairman, will have to undertake the same difficult process of appointing Capello's successor with the same intense scrutiny of his selection. So far he has responded to any mention of the subject with the diplomatic equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and singing loudly. "It is not something on our agenda at the moment," he said last week. "You cannot be half-pregnant on these things."
Coincidentally, given the metaphor, Capello's contract runs out in roughly nine months. What Bernstein seems to be telling us is that the appointment process will not begin until after Euro 2012. This does not seem a realistic proposition.
I know what Bernstein is worried about. He is worried about looking daft. About being discovered booking into the Premier Inn in Watford to meet Harry Redknapp. Or unmasked while whispering to Roy Hodgson through the grate in a confession box. Or whatever other plans the FA has to keep this under wraps.
A humble suggestion. This time, don't try to go deep cover. If the FA chairman is spotted talking to an English manager, or even a foreign one, so what? What is the worst that Bernstein can be accused of? Doing his job? Capello has no desire to stay beyond next summer. The FA has no desire to give him a new contract. Both parties are agreed on that. So let's all move on to the next stage.
The FA seems agreed that the next manager will be English, even if the first mention of it by Adrian Bevington, the Club England managing director, 14 months ago was not officially "policy'. The appointment process will be carried out by Bernstein, Bevington, Alex Horne (the FA's general secretary) and Brooking, who between them are sufficiently battle-hardened in the world of FA politics and press relations.
This is not, however, Manchester United, Arsenal or even Chelsea, where the decisions are made by a small group of individuals who can keep things very private. This is the FA, where decisions need board approval and there are inevitably factions and different interests. This is a polite way of saying that things do get leaked, but let's not cry about it.
There is a good chance that one of the clubs who employ Redknapp, Hodgson and whatever other English manager is flavour of the month come the new year – Alan Pardew? – will cry foul if the FA comes knocking. Despite the fact that every club has known since the last World Cup that English managers will be in demand by the FA from next summer. The clubs will no doubt have been making their own contingency plans. But what is the FA's alternative? Only approach managers who are out of work?
As with all big decisions in football, when the FA appoints the next England manager not everyone will be entirely happy with the decision. The FA might not get the first choice. But an appointment has to be made and the more po-faced or uptight it appears, the more the FA risks leaving itself open to ridicule.
Best to be upfront. Yes, admit that it's a bloody hard thing to get right. Who can argue with that? The FA would probably like to present its new man after Capello has gone and once Euro 2012 is over. Even better, bring him on stage in a puff of smoke to an amazed gasp from the audience. But who are they kidding?
So if you happen to spot Trevor Brooking ordering a chicken jalfrezi for Harry Redknapp in Moore Spice (1966) on Engineers Way in Wembley, bear in mind that is exactly the kind of meeting the FA should be having. As for Mr Bernstein, he should just relax and get on with it.
Chelsea fans could press Abramovich for his sales pitch
The Chelsea fans who own shares in Chelsea Pitch Owners – and thus are part-owners in the freehold for the pitch and stands at Stamford Bridge – have a unique opportunity to help shape their club's future. Of course, they should not relinquish this historic, and democratic, influence over their club's ground without negotiating hard for certain conditions on a potential stadium move.
Equally, they must show the likes of chairman Bruce Buck that they are prepared to listen to the club's side of the argument and not simply say "No" for the sake of it. The most intriguing part of all? What a good time this would be for Roman Abramovich to break his silence and tell the fans his vision for the future. If I was a CPO shareholder I would want to hear it from the horse's mouth – from the only man who really matters – before I signed away my share.
Wenger shown in new light by Reina
Confirmation at last that Arsène Wenger did try to sign Pepe Reina in the summer of last year: the Liverpool goalkeeper says in his new autobiography that his club rejected a remarkable £20m offer from Arsenal.
In that light, Wenger does not seem like such a conservative in the transfer market. He was also prepared to block the path of a young player, Wojciech Szczesny, for the short-term benefit. Wenger rarely explains why certain deals fall through, saying simply that he has a valuation on a player and will not go above it. In recent years he has been subjected to a lot of mockery for it. But you can see why he drew the line in the case of Reina, and the chances are this has not been the only occasion Arsenal offered big money and were rejected.Reuse content