The Nick Townsend Column: Woodward: inspirational choice or interfering one-World Cup wonder?

'It was a big call to leave football - I could have made a mark'
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The Independent Online

In late spring, he was still intent on becoming "Clive the guv'nor", determined to demonstrate that he could undergo a transplant of the sporting heart and successfully exchange rugby union football for association. By late summer it was full reverse for the former naval schoolboy.

The opportunity of revisiting the land of World Cup glory in pursuit of the Webb Ellis Cup as head of elite performance at Twickenham brought Sir Clive Woodward before his old employers, the RFU, only for Rob Andrew to beat him to the post. Now, as the autumn leaves fall, a character perpetually in need of showcasing his administrative and coaching talents prepares to lead Great Britain's Olympic family.

Will he enjoy a winter, and six further years, of content? Has the Rugby World Cup winner and would-be football manager discovered the niche that will offer him the challenge he has craved since 2003? Just as pertinently, will the Merlin of England's Rugby World Cup triumph prove temperamentally and politically adept at providing a stimulus for 35 Olympic sports, some as professionally administered as rugby, others seemingly in dire need of his input?

The British Olympic Association chairman, Lord Moynihan, and chief executive, Simon Clegg, evidently believed so when they offered him the role of "contributing to the successful performance of Team GB at future Olympic and Olympic Winter Games" which carries with it a total salary approaching £2 million during his six-year tenure, culminating in London 2012.

Woodward has already arrived on the doorsteps of skiing, wrestling and curling. On Friday, he and Clegg outlined his aims and responsibilities at the BOA's headquarters in Wands-worth. They spoke in the library, where cabinets contain the original ball used in the football final at the 1908 Olympics in London, when England defeated Denmark 2-0, and a T-shirt signed by the gold medal winning GB women's curling team after the 2003 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Those achievements epitomised the vast gamut of sports within Woodward's remit; from cycling, rowing and sailing - all medal-producing "at capacity" according to Clegg - to those whose cupboard is likely to remain bare whatever the new man's efforts.

More than once, the former England, Harlequins and Leic-ester centre touched on his expertise - his Loughborough background, his coaching of many sports as a teacher and his football experience - lest they had been, if not erased from our memory in the three years since that night of grand theatre at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney, then tarnished by ensuing events.

His name has become more synonymous with that calamitous life with the Lions and then the season of Swing Lowe but no Sweet Chariot, as technical support director at Southampton football club. Earlier this year, he found himself marginalised at St Mary's Stadium after the dethronement of the Saints' chairman Rupert Lowe.

Woodward insists, however: "I was quite happy in football. That was going well. I really believe South-ampton will go up this year. We've made a lot of changes down there.

"I had fully intended to spend another year at Southampton, and then potentially move into a manager's role. But then two things happened: the rugby job came up, which was a brilliant job; and this job got finalised because of the London bid. Suddenly, you are discussed and interviewed for two jobs.

He adds: "You have to ask yourself: are those two jobs better than what you're doing now, and the answer is 'Yes'. And this job came off. It's an incredible opportunity and I am certainly committed for six years - and I hope that it carries on after that.

"It was a big call to move out of football - I felt that I could have made a mark in there. But because of the Olympics being in our country and because I believed I could make a difference, that's why I went for it."

Does he believe he could have made a rare transition between football codes? "I really don't know. All I can say is that I was really enjoying it. It just came to me, if I could get through the first year, which would be my toughest, and which I did, then people would stop writing about it so much. It was just a case then of would I have got a job somewhere? I think I would have done, in the lower Leagues. And then worked my way up from there.

He pauses, then adds: "That's not to be now; you've got to put a line under that. But I think it proved, maybe, to Simon [Clegg] and Colin Moynihan, that I could work in other sports if I could go and work in football, and more than survive and make a contribution. Maybe that's what gave me the tick over the other candidates. I may have got this job because of my time at Southampton."

Clegg talks much about Woodward's ability to bring "added value". Yet will he come to be regarded as an inspiration or an imposition in his role as director of elite performance of the BOA, given that there are those who hold similar responsibilities at UK Sport, the distributor of around £100m of Lottery money a year, and the agency to which individual sporting bodies are answerable?

Those figures include Sue Campbell, the chair of UK Sport and ironically, a former lecturer of Woodward's at Loughborough; Liz Nicholl, their head of elite performance; and Peter Keen, the so-called guru of high performance drafted in because of his achievements in cycling.

Though there is no suggestion that those individuals have voiced any displeasure, one suspects Woodward would have to be a Steve Irwin to survive in the murky pond of sports politics - and even he ultimately met his match.

"I've read those things, but I knew there was not going to be a conflict," says Woodward. "It's a good thing to put in the press, but in the real world it's not going to happen. To do this job, you have to have everyone with you. In my rugby job, you had to create conflict to get it done. But in this role, a lot of the sports are run really well and UK Sport are doing an outstanding job. I hope I can help some of the newer [and less successful] Olympic sports by just being around."

He adds: "I know Sue [Campbell] very well. We speak regularly. We've met once a year since we left Loughborough. Politics are involved in most things in sport. Ultimately, you've got to be very sensitive to other people's views and standing. You've got to work within the system."

That may be problematic. Though he remains England's most successful major sports team coach since Sir Alf Ramsey, Woodward could still come to be regarded by some performance directors as an interfering one-World Cup wonder. Woodward, who was at Loughborough with Seb Coe and recalls watching him, insists he will retreat diplomatically if his advice to a particular sport is unwel-come. He is humble enough to accept: "I've got a lot to learn."

Having arrived at this juncture, he sees no way back. "In six years' time I will be 56. I cannot see myself going back into frontline coaching," Woodward says. "I don't see myself going to rugby or football."

Only time will tell whether Woody, having pecked at different possibilities has, at last, discovered his true nesting place.

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