Whether it grasps the opportunity will depend on three key appointments to be made within the next six months. Get them right and England could regain its position as one of the world's leading footballing powers. Get them wrong and it will be condemned to the backwaters.
Four men will lead the FA into the next millennium. One of them, Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, is already in place at Lancaster Gate. On the situations vacant board are the posts of England coach, technical director and FA chairman. They are out there, somewhere, but finding them is not proving easy.
The most urgent appointment is the first, Terry Venables' replacement. This is a post every leading candidate has publicly declined. One of those declarations is about to be tested with Jimmy Armfield expected to meet with Bryan Robson next week.
While the FA's swollen bureaucracy dictates the coach will be chosen by the 13-man international committee (average age: late 60s, oldest member: 87) it is likely to rubber-stamp the choice of a five-man sub-committee featuring Kelly and advised by Armfield.
Whoever gets the job will be taking it on a permanent basis - the prospect of filling in while Venables deals with his court cases is not, said Kelly this week, an option.
"One case [the libel action with Alan Sugar] is scheduled for October - we will have played a quarter of the World Cup qualifiers by then," Kelly said. "Then there are other cases. We would be laying ourselves open to immense criticism if we allowed uncertainty to develop. You do not know how cases will pan out.
"We have given up hope of Terry changing his mind but, in seeking for his successor, you cannot do much better than looking at what Terry brings to the job: tactical awareness, a knowledge of international football, imagination, pragmatism. He is liked and respected by the players. He has instilled an awareness of the realities of international football in them and is in the process of instilling self-belief. The new man will have to be resilient. You do not want someone who will be knocked off course the moment a problem comes up."
Venables' legal entanglements also rule him out of the technical director's post - although, given the problems the FA is having in appointing one, he may be free before it is filled.
The job was originally mooted in November 1994 and the FA has been searching for the right man ever since. Twice the four-man selection sub-committee - Kelly, Armfield, Rick Parry, of the Premier League, and Jimmy Hill - thought they had found him. But both Gerard Houllier and Andy Roxburgh declared themselves committed elsewhere just as they were about to be recommended for the job.
"We are aiming high on this one," Kelly said. "We are still talking to people but we are not on the verge of making an appointment."
The brief is wide, said Kelly, as he reached for a folder in his recently refurbished office - adorned by pictures from recent England internationals; an unusual portrait of a besuited Kelly relaxing on a football pitch; and an old award from When Saturday Comes, for being "the person who had done most harm to the English game".
Reading from a long list, Kelly said the technical director "must decide if we need full-time coaches for the Under-21s and the Under-18s and a national goalkeeping coach. He needs to continue the work Terry and I have started in helping managers of clubs in Europe in assessing trends and addressing problems.
"Reserve team football needs to be looked at. There will be five substitutes in the Premier League next season - is there any point of regular Saturday reserve team football? Post-Bosman youth schemes for players aged 16 to 21, the FA national school, and John Major's Academy of Sport need studying.
"A new coaching structure is being implemented, tying in with Uefa's. It goes from teaching the basics to licensing prospective Premiership managers. That has to be overseen. The playing of small-sided matches for children needs promoting - and we are seeking to train 5,000 teachers a year to teach football in schools.
"And that," he concluded, "is just my agenda. Others may add to that. The nature of the job is long-term, writing development plans for a number of years."
This emphasis on paperwork has put off some candidates. The best coaches love coaching; by nature, they would rather be on the practice pitch than behind a desk. "It is a problem," Kelly said. "We are looking for someone of stature, with leadership qualities, but someone who can also administrate. It is more a case of directing operations than being at the coal face with the sleeves rolled up. You would not take the best coach unless he had some ability to organise - otherwise you will never get anything done. There are not many people who combine those qualities."
The chairman's best work will also be done out of sight, in quiet corridors and smoke-filled rooms. This is one appointment where the "old buffers" still have influence. The new chairman will be elected from and by the 88-member FA Council. Just seven represent the Premier League, 11 are from the Endsleigh and six from semi-professional non-League. There are 53 county FA representatives and 11 others. They include the independent schools, the three services, the Universities and, by some curious anachronism, both Australia and New Zealand.
Not all these will see the future of the game progressing the same way as the powerful barons of the Premiership. Thus Kelly's belief that "the most important thing is unity. Whoever the new chairman is, whether he comes from the professional game, the services, wherever, once he takes office he must cease to represent them and work for the unity of the FA.
"They are each important appointments. If the next England coach comes in and wins the World Cup in 1998, the benefits will be immense. If the next chairman of the FA stays for six years and we go into the next century in great shape, established within Uefa and Fifa as a significant force, he will be immensely successful. But the influence of the technical director could be equal to either.
"Sometimes we get involved with so much administration, promotion, and so on, we almost forget what we are here for, which is playing football. That is why the technical director is so important. He will have a major influence on the way the game goes in this country."
No one could accuse Kelly of forgetting the FA's roots. The 50-year-old was out there again yesterday, seeking his fifth goal of the season for the staff side - and still in need of technical direction.
Situations vacating: key positions the FA must fill
Glenn Moore's choice: Bryan Robson
Salary: Negotiable - Terry Venables is on pounds 150,000.
Reason for Vacancy: Resignation of Terry Venables.
Start Date: After end of Euro 96 (but would need to have been appointed before tournament begins in June).
Task: To qualify for, and then win, the 1998 World Cup.
Problems: A dearth of quality players is compounded by a draining club programme which leaves many of the best either injured or jaded. The survivors then have to learn a new style as the English game is inherently incompatible with world requirements. Also has to deal with mischievous dissenters within the FA and malevolent attacks from without. Not a job for anyone with skeletons in the cupboard.
The Favourites: Bryan Robson (Manager of Middlesbrough and England assistant coach): Players and pundits' choice. Has made bright start in management and has experience of coaching in international set-up. Kevin Keegan (Manager of Newcastle United): Playing and management record the equal of Robson but probably more attached to current job. Impressed when managing Under- 21's. Gerry Francis (Manager of Tottenham): Good organiser of players. Available, he works without a contract, but may not want the hassle.
The Possibles: Frank Clark (Manager of Nottingham Forest): Skilled at utilising limited resources. Glenn Hoddle (Manager of Chelsea): Commands enormous respect among young players. Howard Kendall (Manager of Sheffield United): Could have taken the job when Robson left. Glory days now some years past but promising start at Bramall Lane shows the nous is still there. Howard Wilkinson (Manager of Leeds United): A Tayloresque tendency to ramble from the lip hides a sharp and knowledgeable mind. Ray Wilkins (Manager of QPR): Former England captain widely respected at home and abroad. Bobby Robson (Manager of Porto): Ideally qualified having done it all before. Post-Taylor, his reign appears a golden age.
The Outsiders: Jack Charlton (retired as manager of Republic of Ireland): Hard to imagine him putting up with inevitable criticism of playing style. Don Howe (FA Technical Co-ordinator and England assistant coach): Unrivalled experience but better as an assistant than a figurehead. Peter Reid (Sunderland): Now reviving Roker, his time at Manchester City looks better than ever in retrospect.
The No-hopers: Kenny Dalglish (Director of Football at Blackburn Rovers), Brian Clough (retired), George Graham (banned).
Glenn Moore's choice: Don Howe
Salary: pounds 175-000-pounds 200,000.
Reason for Vacancy: New position.
Start Date: As soon as possible.
Task: To establish a coaching structure and style to take England into the 21st Century. Will influence football at every level from primary school to Premiership. The most important position in the English game.
Problems: At national level must overcome club v country dispute. Lower down a lot of petty fiefdoms will feel threatened, from the English Schools FA to club-based centres of excellence.
Already turned the job down: Gerard Houllier (French Football Federation): Former national manager, now technical director in France. Confirmed Anglophile but already tied up in French preparation for '98 World Cup which they host. Andy Roxburgh (Uefa): Former Scotland manager, now technical director of Uefa. Able administrator, widespread experience of coaching at all levels and knowledge of English game, but committed to Uefa.
Already declared unavailable: Howard Wilkinson (Manager of Leeds United): Interviewed but then ruled himself out.
Suitable, but probably unavailable: Louis van Gaal (Coach of Ajax): Came through the coaching ranks at Ajax to produce the most attractive, innovative and successful side currently in the club game. Alas, happy where he is. Johan Cruyff (Coach of Barcelona): Likely to be available after souring of relationship with Barcelona. But thought to see his future in Spain. Franz Beckenbauer (President of Bayern Munich): Hard to prise away from Kitzbuhel home and challenge of reviving Bayern. Roy Hodgson (Coach of Internazionale): England's most successful current coaching export. Unlikely to be tempted having finally achieved ambition of managing top Italian side. David Pleat (Manager of Sheffield Wednesday): Excellent coach but has already turned down a similar post at Tottenham because he preferred to work with players.
Not quite suitable: Dario Gradi (Manager of Crewe): A coach since 1968, earmarked for position within FA structure but not seen as enough of a political animal for top job. Dave Sexton (Under-21 coach): Involved with England under Robson and Venables. Might not welcome such a high-profile role and, at 65, too old. Rinus Michels: Dutch guru of Total Football now a freelance coaching consultant. Age is against him.
Outsiders: John Cartwright: Former head of national school and very respected youth coach. First involved with England more than a decade ago. Carlos Alberto Parreira: Steered Brazil to World Cup success. Now doing well with Fenerbahce in Turkey after disappointing spell with Valencia in Spain.
No-hopers: Terry Venables, Charles Hughes.
Which leaves: Don Howe (FA): As technical co-ordinator he is effectively doing the job already - and doing it well. Has the necessary experience but prefers hands-on coaching to administration. Would need persuading to make the post permanent. May end up doing the job by default until the likes of Houllier, Roxburgh or van Gaal become available.
Glenn Moore's choice: Keith Wiseman
Salary: Unpaid - but the last three have all received a knighthood.
Reason for Vacancy: Retirement of Sir Bert Millichip.
Start Date: End of Euro 96 in June.
Task: Diplomacy, in public and in private. Must promote English interests abroad and keep the peace at home.
Problems: The lack of trust and sympathy within the various factions of the English game - the Premier League, the Football League, and the wider "amateur" game. The danger of hooligans ruining England image overseas.
The Favourites: David Dein (Arsenal): Ambitious. Key figure in Premier League's commercial development. Too smooth for some, and not just the old farts. Geoff Thompson (Sheffield & Hallamshire FA): Long serving tough head of the disciplinary committee. Keith Wiseman (Southampton): Well- connected, not many enemies. Youngest member (50) of international committee.
The Outsiders: Sir Roland Smith (Manchester United): Chairman of the Plc, not the football club. Commercial background too strong. Chris Willcox (Gloucestershire FA): Sir Bert's deputy. Inoffensive but not dynamic. Ian Stott (Oldham): Reputation as sane and moderate administrator spoiled when he led abortive revolt of Endsleigh First Division.
The No-hopers: Alan Sugar (Tottenham), Ken Bates (Chelsea) and Ron Noades (Crystal Palace): Plenty of ideas, but even more enemies. Robert Chase (Norwich): Has wanted it too obviously. Sir Bert Millichip: Wants to carry on, but he is 82.
The Abstainers: Sir John Hall (Newcastle United): Energetic and visionary but committed to Newcastle. Jimmy Hill (Fulham): The only contender to have played, or managed, or refereed, or commentated at the highest level. Would have been interesting.
Likely Choice: Keith Wiseman - A compromise, but probably a good one.Reuse content