Venables close to new contract

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The Association is finalising plans to extend Terry Venables' contract as England coach to 1999.

Venables had talks with the FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, at this weekend's European Championship draw in Birmingham to discuss a proposal by the chairman, Sir Bert Millichip, to keep him at the helm until after the 1998 World Cup.

They plan a further meeting in the next few days and that could complete the negotiations to secure Venables' position, which has been the subject of speculation after the coach's recent court appearance.

"It is entirely correct that Terry had an informal meeting with Graham in Birmingham and I understand that they will be talking again later this week," David Davies, the FA's public affairs executive, said.

Venables, eager to take up the challenge set in Paris last week when England were drawn against Italy, Poland, Georgia and Moldova in the World Cup qualifying campaign, wanted his future secured in advance of the Euro '96 finals. After England were pitched against Scotland, the Netherlands and Switzerland in Sunday's draw, he is confident he can conjure a home performance next summer to justify Millichip's faith.

But opposition from within the 15-strong International Committee could prevent the quick approval of a deal negotiated on the initiative of the chairman, who will retire as Venables begins his extra three years.

Charlie Thomas, a veteran committee member, described Venables as "an embarrassment" after his latest court appearances, when he lost one suit brought by Jeff Fugler but survived a meeting with the Official Receiver. Some of Thomas's colleagues share his concern about Venables' off-field activities.

Millichip, who retires after next summer's championships, insists that nothing has emerged from what Venables describes as "a conspiracy" to undermine the FA investigations that cleared him before his initial appointment.

"I am entirely happy with the way England are going. I think Terry is on the right lines and I don't want him going into the European Championship thinking he is going to get the sack, because he is not," he said.

Noel White, the committee's chairman, is uneasy at making that commitment before Venables has proved himself in the heat of battle, and several committee members made the point that his England record is hardly overwhelming. He has won only six out of 14 completed friendlies, though he has lost just one, to the world champions Brazil.

His predecessor, Graham Taylor, did even better, winning 10 and losing just one of his first 14 games, and five of those games were competitive.

Any future problems Venables faces on the pitch could be of his own making. He has been asked to suggest the warm-up programme he wants for England ahead of the European finals. The FA has told him he does not have to play crowd-pullers or crowd-pleasers, but anyone he believes will help prepare England for their group rivals.

Already, Euro '96 qualifiers Turkey, Bulgaria and Russia, plus Hungary, have made approaches to play England in the New Year, while there is a commitment for Croatia to come to Wembley on 24 April, but the FA's commercial manager, Trevor Phillips, will not make further arrangements until Venables has outlined what he wants.

"He will give me his ideal list and we'll go from that. I can't guarantee to deliver every name on the list, but it's the starting point," Phillips said. "We're certainly not in the position we've been in for the last two years, where we've had to try to tempt teams to come here. Now a lot of countries want to play us in the build-up."

n Scotland are to receive fewer than 10,000 tickets for next June's Euro '96 game against England at Wembley. The first England-Scotland match for seven years is already sold out.