Robson is players' choice for national coach

THE ENGLAND SUCCESSION: International experience seen as a prerequisite by the game's professionals.
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The Football Association may be still making up its mind, but those who make their living from the game appear to have made their choice for the next England coach. Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, had the most support when the Independent canvassed opinion among English players in the Premiership.

When the same cross-section was asked to put aside the claims of the young bucks - namely Messrs Robson, Keegan, Francis (Gerry), Hoddle and Wilkins - and select their outsider, there was a pronounced preference for Howard's way, with Leeds' Wilkinson and Sheffield United's Kendall drawing equally strong backing.

Robson may have ruled himself out - as have many of the other contenders - but if his arm can be twisted he would be the choice of Premiership footballers nationwide. More than half of the players we spoke to thought he was the best candidate.

The days of the Walter Winterbottoms, indeed, even more latterly, the Graham Taylors, are long past. Players nowadays, certainly international players, reserve their respect for those managers who have been there, seen it and done it. With 90 caps and experience in just about every major tournament in the world, the player they called Captain Marvel clearly qualifies on that score.

As Simon Barker, the Queen's Park Rangers midfielder, put it: "International players have big egos so you need a man in charge who could command their respect."

Wimbledon's Alan Kimble agreed. "In an open field I would choose Bryan Robson and that goes for the majority of my fellow professionals," he said. "We know what a tremendous player he was and although he is still in his early days as a manager, he has already been successful at Middlesbrough. He has international experience as a player and also as a coach alongside Venables."

Continuity was a big factor in Robson's favour with some players. "Bryan Robson fits the bill to my mind because he's already one step ahead of the rest having had two years working and learning alongside Venables," Kevin Richardson, the Coventry midfielder and former international, said. "He commands tremendous respect among players because of his track record, while his experience of man management at Middlesbrough will also be vital."

Nigel Spink, the Aston Villa goalkeeper, was another keen to see continuity maintained. "If Terry Venables does quit then we should keep the appointment in-house and that would mean Bryan Robson. He's seen at first hand how Terry works in a situation that is so different to being a club manager, plus the fact I also like the way he's got Middlesbrough playing."

Many voiced a preference to see Robson in harness with an older man, if not Venables then someone like Wilkinson. "We're lucky to have so many ready-made candidates for the job - even if some of them have started to put their clubs before country," Gary Charles, the Aston Villa full- back, said. "But when the dust finally settles I expect both Howard Wilkinson and Bryan Robson to figure prominently - maybe as a partnership."

Several players still clung to the belief that Venables would reconsider his position. Villa's Gareth Southgate said: "By common consent, Venables is still the right man for the job. I have not worked with enough people to confidently nominate anyone else. I'm surprised anyone would really want the job considering all the hype and pressure that goes with the territory. You would have to have the skin of a rhino to withstand the flak and that's why it's a pity Brian Clough is not still around - at his best."

After Robson, the main support of players was for Glenn Hoddle, Gerry Francis and Kevin Keegan, with some backing for Ray Wilkins. Francis had the support of the former England captain, Stuart Pearce, even though the Forest full-back has never played under him. "He has the ideal qualities for the job," he said. "A former England skipper, he also has a terrific record in League management as well as the determination to play the game the right way."

Someone who has played under Francis, the Queen's Park Rangers striker Bradley Allen, believed that he at least could be persuaded to throw his hat into the ring. "I know he has said that he doesn't want the job, but Gerry is a very clever man.

"If England don't do well next summer then it's a perfect situation for him. If he came in and took them to the World Cup he would be a hero. With the system he uses and the way he makes his teams so solid I'm sure he would do well. He is such a good tactician and secretly I think he would like the job. If he gets offered it at the right time I think he would take it."

Mark Draper, the Aston Villa playmaker, likened Keegan's qualities to those of Venables, and felt he had the all-round abilities for the job. "His playing career both at home and abroad was exemplary," Draper said. "He's very much his own man and anyone who can quit the game for eight years and then pick up the reins again with such impact at Newcastle must be special."

John Moncur, the West Ham midfield player, backs Hoddle, his former manager at Swindon. Moncur said: "I've worked under Glenn and know how good he is. He has a great knowledge of the game and to be a top-class manager you need to have played at the top level. If Hoddle and the other main contenders were ruled out, I would pick Howard Wilkinson or Howard Kendall because they both have proven track records."

Of the other contenders who have not ruled themselves out, there was substantial support for Bobby Robson, who led England to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup. There was some backing for both Ron Atkinson and David Pleat, while there were honourable mentions for Jim Smith, Jack Charlton and Kenny Dalglish.

Peter Fear, Wimbledon's Under-21 international, said: "Ron Atkinson is my choice. He has got a lot of character and he would give the team some personality. He is a manager who does his own thing and has a bit of a laugh."

Perhaps the most surprising name to be mentioned was that of George Graham. Some London players expressed support for the former Arsenal manager, despite the fact that he is Scottish and persona non grata with the Football Association at the moment.

Robbie Earle, the Wimbledon midfielder, said: "He showed down the years with Arsenal what a superb tactician and organiser he is and his record stands alongside anybody's. I know he's had his problems in the last year but let's face it, so has Terry. I think George would quite fancy the challenge and as a character he would be able to take the pressure that goes with it."

BACKING FOR GEORGE GRAHAM

'I think George would quite fancy the challenge and as a character he would be able to take the pressure that goes with it' - Robbie Earle

BACKING FOR GERRY FRANCIS

'He has a terrific record in League management as well as the determination to play the game the right way' - Stuart Pearce

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