Legal minefield threatens to drive Venables to distraction

The England coach insists the fight to clear his name will not affect his work, but football may still suffer, argues Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
The Football Association took two gambles when it appointed Terry Venables. One was on his ability, the other on his probity.

Twenty-two months later the second appears to have been the greater risk. While his team are yet to be tested in competition, it is showing growing promise. But his reputation, while yet to be tested in court, is being steadily besmirched.

This latest embroilment, like most of the others, is alternatively serious or trifling depending on perspective. Given the effort the Department of Trade and Industry has put into investigating Venables its failure to unearth any conduct warranting criminal charges is something of a vote of confidence in him.

However, for Nick Trainer, Venables' solicitor, to say "after two and a half years of allegations and inquiries the only thing they have come up with is disqualification as a director," is disingenuous. It is a mild outcome only by comparison with some of the allegations levelled against Venables, not in itself. The possibility of being disbarred from being a company director is serious for a man who embraces the entrepenurial world with such enthusiasm.

As far as the football world is concerned the worst case scenario for Venables is for the Premiership inquiry to implicate him in a "bung" transaction. Their long-delayed investigation into the Teddy Sheringham and Paul Gascoigne transfers is still to report.

Venables is also being sued for libel by Alan Sugar and over alleged unpaid debts by three individuals and a multi-national. In return he is suing Tottenham for unfair dismissal, two individuals in connection with his business dealings and the BBC, the Sun and the Mirror for libel.

It is a formidable array of litigation, enough to occupy a substantial amount of anyone's time and mind. However, Venables insists it is not affecting his coaching of the England team and the FA support that view. From personal observation he would indeed appear to have an impressive ability to focus on the job. In this he is fortunate that the demands of international management are more flexible than at club level.

But, while the litigation may not be affecting his coaching, it is affecting his image and, by extension, that of the game itself. The FA may contend that Venables is employed to coach footballers, not in a financial position, but, as national coach, he is one of the sport's ambassadors.

This is not to suggest the populace are aghast at the stream of accusations. Even if the worst of these were true Venables would be regarded with the same indifference as Gerald Ronson or Ernest Saunders, both of whom were convicted in the criminal courts of far more serious financial offences than those alleged of Venables.

Most people judge Venables on what he does, or rather gets others to do, on the pitch. If he is disbarred, but succeeds in guiding England to success in the European Championships, few would regard it as a tarnished triumph.

The FA are aware of this. They are also aware that their own reputation rests on success in the Championships and that, were Venables to be sacked, that would be very hard to achieve. His success so far is a valuable shield against the FA's hardliners.

But the FA do have a wider responsibility. They are right to note that Venables is yet to be found guilty of anything, but the whole affair does little for the image of the game.

The overall effect is rather like watching Venables' midfield harrassing the opposition to win the ball. None of them, by themselves, can win it, but collectively they can. The worry is that, eventually, one of Venables' court cases will dispossess him.