The Nick Townsend Column: Guess the manager? England's answer will probably be Guus the manager

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You feel it should really be conducted by Julia Morley, this beauty pageant that has been sprung on the élite of world coaches. "And next, from Brazil, in a fetching tracksuit, a man who has [embarrassed chuckle] Copa-cobana'd a World Cup. It's Big Phil Scol-arr-iii..." It is an exercise hugely distasteful to thecoy, although most will be prepared to dissemble their pride, parade their attributes, and declare their desire to travel extensively at home and abroad and work with young people. And, most impor-tantly, be unable to resist the opportunity to procure "one of the best jobs in world football".

Sven Goran Eriksson insists he still believes that, despite recent events. Just as it is "events, dear boy, events" that prime ministers most fear, according to Harold Macmillan, so it is with England managers. Inevitably, we are almost talking about the Swede in the past tense, despite his presence at Friday's Euro 2008 draw. Those who suggest that the Swede's impending departure will not have an impact on World Cup preparations are deluding themselves, particularly with a successor likely to be lurking in the shadows.

We have arrived here not because Eriksson was not a courageous and astute choice in the first place, but because the Scandinavian has long outstayed his tenure in what he now somewhat piously denounces as "Scandal" land. He was found wanting as a coach in the last World Cup and European Championships, and not simply because he failed to plant his adopted flag on the summit. He has subsequently heaped embarrassment on the Football Association, and it is hardly relevant whether this has been the result of a sting or by self-injection.

As the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, who bears a passing resemblance to Oliver Hardy, sat alongside a hapless Stan Laurel Eriksson during a curious press conference on Tuesday which begged more questions than it answered, he possessed the demeanour of a man who wanted to yell: "That's another fine mess you've gotten us into."

Diplomacy would compel him to reject that notion. Nevertheless, it is a mess; one of the making of many, not just Eriksson. If he is as wise as his advocates insist as he embarks on the true "impossible job", Barwick will remain faithful to the selection policy of his predecessor but one, Adam Crozier, when the search begins this week.

It is worth recalling the calculations that installed Eriksson. Who remembers that back in late 2000 there were five names in contention: Roy Hodgson, Bobby Robson, Johan Cruyff, Terry Venables and Eriksson? According to impeccable sources, they were the FA shortlist to succeed Kevin Keegan.

Arsène Wenger was not, his Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, having been insistent that he would (or should) not breach his contract at Highbury. Also discounted were Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson (claiming that he was determined to retire two years hence), together with Gérard Houllier (committed to completing the rebuilding job at Anfield).

So, how did Eriksson end up as the chosen one? It was considered that Robson was too old, and that there should be "no going back"; Venables was the "people's choice", the coach with the X factor, but he failed, not as a consequence of "integrity" considerations, but primarily because, together with Hodgson and Cruyff, he did not fulfil the key criterion of Crozier and his six-man selection committee - "a sustained record of success".

It is, of course, a more subtle calculation than that, because temperament must also be a crucial consideration. Will Barwick & Co decide on another Eriksson, who, like the menthol Consulate cigarette, is "as cool as a mountain stream"? Or a Kevin Keegan-like figure, a Players' Navy Cut of a coach, representing the best of English virtues, with a strong-burning sense of patriotism? The debate is vehement.

It is inconceivable that the selectors will handicap themselves by merely scrutinising Johnny English. Any of Alan Curbishley, Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren could be the answer, but only if the question did not demand that they had secured major honours. The FA have long had their eye on Curbishley. Back in 2000, it was originally planned to integrate him part-time into the England coaching set-up. Curiously, it never happened. Perhaps potentially the most tantalising chocolate in the selection box, Stuart Pearce, is not yet ready, although offer him the opportunity and who knows? It is doubtful whether the FA would take that chance.

Martin O'Neill? A difficult one. The Ulsterman stands out as intelligent, intense, inspirational, tactically astute and the closest thing to Cloughie's presence on earth (sorry, Nigel). Apparently, he once declared that he would like to manage England. But his wife, Geraldine, is seriously ill. It could be a question he would dearly love to consider, but it could be wrongly timed.

Even those who for genuinely idealistic reasons are opposed to a "foreigner" would, you suspect, make an exception in O'Neill's case. Equally so, Guus Hiddink. It is one thing condemning Eriksson for being thrust upon us from "a nation of seven million skaters and hammer throwers"; it is quite another to decry a man who hails from the land of the beautiful game and who comes armed with, by far, the most impressive CV, other than Scolari.

Somehow you sense it prom-ises to develop into an intriguing contest between an Irish Catholic and an Orange man.

Lessons all round from the great homecoming

Some players are born adventurers; others home-loving boys, like Robbie Fowler and Gary Neville. Defying the old adage "never go back", Fowler, Anfield's prodigal son, has returned. Still only 30, and with Djibril Cissé's profligacy last Sunday against Manchester United fresh in the memory, the Toxteth-born player could be an inspired acquisition. Or he could be somewhat less so.

Fowler could well bag some crucial goals, maybe from the bench, which will earn him another year's contract. More likely, he will find himself in the worst kind of obscurity. Nevertheless, we all wish him well. Apart from his goalscoring feats - 171 goals in 330 games for Liverpool - his unpredictability and mischief-making, whether winding up Graeme Le Saux or aping a cocaine sniffer against Everton, make him one to watch. Whether he has been wise to follow the instincts of a homing pigeon... well, that must be in some doubt.

It was Fowler, incidentally, who, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, "ran towards our fans showing five fingers" during Manchester City's defeat of his men a fortnight ago. It was one of several examples the United manager offered to suggest that Neville has been hard done by in being charged by the FA after his own behaviour when Rio Ferdinand scored against Liverpool, and that there is a vendetta against his team.

That last accusation is typical Fergie, of course, and arrant nonsense. But he does have another point, despite police suggesting that Neville's actions contributed to the disorder that followed.

As he says: "It's difficult to contain people's emotions at times, particularly when there's a last-minute goal." He is right in that respect. At the end of a gladiatorial contest, players do daft things. It is no excuse for spectators to do likewise.

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