What's in store for '94: Football

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THE new year is dominated by the World Cup and, on a domestic level, by the appointment of a successor to Graham Taylor - the man who left England with no interest in it.

While the major powers in the game savour the prospect of a summer in the United States, the Football Association is contemplating nothing more appealing than its own navel as it casts about for restorative management.

At least whoever gets the job - Terry Venables would be the logical choice - will not face the ordeal of trial by qualification. England forfeited their invitation to US '94, but the 1996 European Championship is their party and, as hosts, they are not required to qualify. The draw for groups takes place in Granada's Coronation Street studios in Manchester - who needs Las Vegas? - on 22 January.

First things first. Britain may not be represented at the World Cup, but Britain's footballers are, in the familiar guise of Jack Charlton's Irish rovers.

The Republic are doing their scouting at Somerset House again, delving into the ancestry of every player who ever downed a Guinness, with Mark Stein, Andy Linighan, Kerry Dixon and Stan Collymore the latest to come under scrutiny.

In fairness, it is not only the players who are inclined to stretch a point at such times. In the absence of the real thing, the rest of us are left to seek satisfaction by association, and England is claiming more Irish relations than Oscar Wilde.

Big Jack can do with all the new blood he can get. His team have grown old together, and with their principal striker, Niall Quinn, cut down by injury, the Republic will struggle to progress from the toughest of the six groups, where Italy and Mexico must be favourites.

As for the tournament as a whole, money will ensure it is a success, with none better equipped to be successful than the Germans. Wrong continent or not, the holders look the likeliest winners.

Ditto the Premiership. Alex Ferguson may prefer to count points rather than chickens, but the title is a one- horse race, with Manchester United set fair to dominate for years to come.

With the format doctored yet again, for the benefit of the privileged minority, they should also make a better fist of the European Cup next season.

Most things in football are cyclical, and our Scottish friends will be enjoying the irony of the United monopoly. Patronised for so long as a Rangers-led procession, suddenly it is Scotland's Premier Division that is the competitive one, with five teams in genuine contention.

The Scots must also be having a chuckle at the tortuous, bureaucratic way England have set about finding a new manager. Their own change was effected with a minimum of fuss, Andy Roxburgh having handed over to Craig Brown, the No 2 he had groomed to succeed him.

This logical progression was one of Taylor's better ideas, but it was all too much for the FA. It went along with Carlton Palmer on the right wing, but a bloodless transfer of power, with no disruption? Outrageous.