Will he stay or will he go? There is no harm in reviewing the line of succession to the England manager's job from time to time, for strange things can happen. What if Sven Goran Eriksson were to fall foul of a Football Association board suddenly looking for an excuse to sack him, or if Chelsea needed a new man after ditching Jose Mourinho for failing to win his first Premiership match?
The essential qualities are judgement of players and a proven ability to weld the best ones into a winning team, backed up by experience of the world game at either club or international level. On that basis, Arsène Wenger is educated head and broad shoulders above most other candidates, and can also tick the boxes dealing with command of English and knowledge of the British game.
Coaching ability and media relations are other areas in which he scores highly, though both are overrated parts of the job; there will be no opportunity for serious coaching in two windy morning sessions before the World Cup ties in Cardiff or Belfast, which is why the title of head coach is a misnomer; and no press conference has ever won a football match.
Of all the foreign contenders, Wenger is also the one who has already come closest to winning over the public. Some Manchester United supporters may wish to be excepted, but even the most one-eyed among them have to acknowledge who it is that has deprived them of the championship in three of the past seven seasons.
Fabio Capello lacks language skills and a feel for Eng-lish football, and in any case is newly installed at Juventus; Ottmar Hitzfeld, the other for- eign candidate regularly trotted out, has just been sacked by Bayern Munich, which is hardly a recommendation. Luiz Felipe Scolari is building an impressive CV, but was hardly infallible at Euro 2004 and looks much better suited to a Latin culture than a British one; a man who will take a club in Spain or Italy next and not necessarily enjoy it. Nor have any of that latter group been helped by the ambiguity most people feel about Eriksson, who has been unable to justify the case for having a foreign manager per se.
So to the domestic list, in which the runners and riders tend to be too closely related to the most recent League tables. There is a flavour-of-the-month feel to Steve Bruce, for all his quietly unspectacular work at Birmingham, just as there once was to the claims of Gerry Francis, Peter Reid and Roy Hodgson. Charlton's Alan Curbishley must reluctantly be ruled out for lack of experience abroad and handling big players, though the FA have been shortsighted not to give him greater access.
That sort of chance has gone to David Platt, who did not achieve enough with the Under-21 squad, and Peter Taylor, who did but was then mysteriously cast aside until returning a few weeks ago. In countries with a proper system of continuity (Sweden and the Czech Republic for instance) Taylor would by now be Eriksson's assistant and a strong candidate to succeed him when the time came.
Martin O'Neill would be too much of a maverick to attract strong support at Soho Square. So the understandable favour-ite is Steve McClaren, on the supposition that Wenger does not want the job while there is still a Champions' League to be won (and might not be keen even if that was achieved with Arsenal or Real Madrid). Furthermore, the FA's vice-chairman, David Dein, holds the same position at Highbury and is hardly likely to recommend moving him. McClaren has worked for England at the last two major tournaments, is respected by the FA and the players (whose four-man committee will be consulted on any appointment), and has produced a mid-table Middlesbrough side who may be about to step beyond dull efficiency - in other words a safe pair of hands for a World Cup qualifying campaign.
He is the likeliest lad, unless of course England go the way of the ailing superpowers Germany and Holland with their new appointments, Jürgen Klinsmann and Marco van Basten, both of whom undeniably scored a lot of fine goals for their country and will liven up the five-a-side games. By which bizarre process, step forward... Gary Lineker.
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