With candidate after candidate ruling themselves out of the race, who will take up the poisoned chalice that is the England job?

“What a mess this is,” said Graham Taylor of the latest developments in the selection of the new England coach. And there’s a man who knows about mess. It’s hard to disagree with him as we write, a few days after Luiz Felipe Scolari said no and on the eve of an expected announcement that Steve McClaren will shuffle up the bench to occupy the seat Sven-Göran Eriksson is to vacate. Time, obviously, to dispense with the men responsible for this debacle.

Yet, by proving their powerlessness and ineptitude, they were arguably just demonstrating the skills that got them their jobs in the first place. Noel White, the international committee chairman, is hardly a force at the club where he’s a director, David Moores’ Liverpool. There’s the deeply unimpressive Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League and a man whose flit from relegated and financially ruined Sheffield Wednesday to his current job was compared to appointing the captain of the Titanic to be Admiral of the Fleet. And, most important of all, there is the chief executive of the FA, Brian Barwick, connected to football through his work at BBC and ITV sport and with no previous experience of selecting coaching personnel. None of these men has what could be called a powerbase. This is precisely the kind of FA leadership that the Premier League clubs want.

Barwick’s predecessor as chief executive, the widely derided Adam Crozier, behaved quite differently from the outset. Like Barwick he lacked football experience but took the best advice he could find and then made the decision to appoint Sven-Goran Eriksson without recourse to a committee. Crozier also seemed keen to investigate allegations of corruption in football and had indeed begun to look into the dealings of one particular well connected agent. Crozier was far from perfect, but had his own ideas and the confidence in himself to carry them out. As a result he was at loggerheads with many club chairmen throughout his reign and in the end they forced him out. Barwick, with his ill-fated trip to Portugal, was simply David Dein’s bagman as the Arsenal vice-chairman sought to get his selection, Scolari, into the job, despite Dein not having been on the initial selection panel.

The Brazilian was not a bad choice, especially in the absence of a clear answer to the Martin O’Neill enigma; Dein was hardly out to scupper England. He may well have succeeded in getting his man, but for the problem of timing – caused by the fact that the FA are even weaker than the clubs would desire. There was never a good reason why a decision on Sven’s replacement had to be taken ahead of the World Cup. After all, England’s next competitive match, post-Germany, is not until September. Many countries will have vacancies, voluntary or otherwise, as a result of what happens at the World Cup and will then act to fill them. The private message from the FA is that they were scared that without the man in place the debate would dominate the World Cup – they were afraid of the media.

Scolari has claimed that the press pack drove him to distraction inside 24 hours. Many are unconvinced by this. What is certain, though, is that having our media stalking him would have had a deleterious impact on Portugal’s chances and that the only way to get them off his back was to withdraw from the race.

We also know that the vacancy exists because of the media, the crisis caused by the News of the World’s “fake sheikh” entrapment back in January. It seems that the clubs have manufactured an FA not only weaker than themselves but also weaker than the press, willing to give in to strident but vague notions that the England coach should be English, rather than the championing of someone who would have been a credible candidate in 1974, 1977, 1982 or 1990, because no such Englishman exists. Jeff Powell, the Daily Mail’s mindless patriot-in-chief, has been reduced to suggesting such names as Steve Coppell and Bryan Robson of late. It took Dein to supply some much needed backbone, but alas other factors conspired against him.

Whoever gets Sven’s job, Barwick should keep his. Part of the reason why he has followed the agenda of others is because he has seen what happened to his predecessors, Crozier and Mark Palios, cautionary tales both. Any successor would have Barwick’s fate to consider, too. It’s better that we have second-rate leadership when the alternative is third- or fourth-rate. A principle that Eriksson’s critics could wind up considering if the Swede is followed by someone who proves to be the new Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan or – what a mess that would be – Graham Taylor.

From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month

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