An adjunct gets promoted

It has hardly been an ideal beginning for Sven-Goran Eriksson's assistant STEVE McCLAREN, now the Swede's successor as England manager.

A sports columnist with an evident gift for euphemism recently described the new England manager, Steve McClaren, as striding into Soho Square's Football Association (FA) offices to begin his reign. I'd have thought shuffled, sidled, slunk or slipped might, in the circumstances, have been better words. For McClaren, previously the adjunct of the disastrous Sven-Goran `Greed is Good' Eriksson has hardly arrived to a fanfare of trumpets.

He is there, you might say, by default, after an embarrassingly clumsy attempt by the relevant, or irrelevant, FA committee to persuade Big Phil Scolari, Brazilian manager of Portugal, to take the job. He was pursued by the hapless chief executive of the FA, Brian Barwick, to Europe only to refuse an offer, which, according to Barwick, was never actually made to him. The propulsive force behind it came from the ever active David Dein, mover, shaker and instigator, the vice president of Arsenal, who wasn't even on the original committee but somehow managed, not untypically, to talk his way on to it. Give Dein his due; it was he to whom the Gunners can be endlessly grateful for procuring them the services of Arsene Wenger under whom the club has thrived and flourished. But, at Soho Square, the worms eventually turned and Dein was voted off the FA Board.

There was still, in fact, plenty of time to make the appointment. Indeed a whole fistful of countries would change managers after they had taken part in the World Cup — amongst them Brazil, Poland, Germany, Argentina and Italy. In some cases the managers themselves — like Italy's Marcello Lippi, Argentina's Jose Pekerman and Germany's Juergen Klinsmann — decided to stand down of their own accord. Others, such as the USA's Bruce Arena, got the bullet.

So McClaren it worryingly was. Not least because early in the year it was revealed by the captain and now manager of Middlesbrough, Gareth Southgate, that McClaren had been assailed by what the French call a `crise de herfs', some kind of a crisis, and senior players had to take over the running of a team which had just lost 7-0 at Arsenal and even 4-0 at home to modest Aston Villa. This is hardly the ideal augury for a man now due to face the slings and arrows of media criticism which at one time or another assail an England manager.

To compound all this, it was announced just days before McClaren strode, or whatever he did, into his new office that, incomprehensibly, his handling agents had taken on the counsels of the ineffable Max Clifford. What the FA must think of this is beyond speculation. Clifford it was, the arch wheeler and dealer in "sensational" news, who had acted as agent for Faria Alam, the exotic secretary who had affairs both with Sven-Goran Eriksson and with the then chief executive of the FA, Mark Palios, selling the lubricious details to the tabloid press for some GBP 500,000. She later tried to involve another executive in David Davies, but when the case came to court it was ignominiously thrown out.

It was Clifford, too, who had acted for Rebecca Loos, the girl who kissed and told after an affair with David Beckham.

Clifford also sold to a Sunday tabloid the tale of the liaison between a young actress and David Mellor, the egregious ex Tory politician and self-styled football expert, inventing the detail that Mellor had romanced her while wearing a Chelsea Jersey. True, McClaren claims never actually to have met Clifford, who has been engaged as an advisor to the agents of whom he is one of the major clients. Yet it is not denied that some months back, Clifford did act for McClaren to divert the potential flak after he had had a three-month fling with his secretary (why is it so often and so embarrassingly just a secretary?) making it clear that during that period McClaren was temporarily estranged from his wife. To hear that Clifford will have nothing to do with the running of the England team itself is hardly the ultimate reassurance. At the very least, one must seriously question McClaren's judgement. It's hardly the ideal beginning.

McClaren, it is said, will now sort out the England dressing room but will he? What is needed above all is surely to be rid of David Beckham whose influence over Eriksson was all-powerful. Such as when, in the middle of last season, he was ludicrously and disastrously used in a kind of nebulous quarter back's midfield role against Wales in Cardiff and Northern Ireland in Belfast; where England calamitously lost.

Keeping Beckham, the eternal one track pony, on the right flank where he has neither the pace nor the skill to do the classical winger' s job of going outside the back and heading for the goal line, may pay off with the occasional goal from a dead-ball kick, as it did a couple of times in Germany. Yet we have seen when the likes of genuine right wingers such as Aaron Lennon, twice in the World Cup, and Shaun Wright-Phillips have come on, how much more damage they can do. Beckham has now magnanimously renounced the England captaincy, but he should surely now be put out to graze.

McClaren wanted to be flanked in office by Alan Shearer and Terry Venables. Shearer, just retired from football, has already turned him down, electing instead to be a commentator for the BBC. Venables wants to coach, which he does very well, rather than just advise. His own time in charge of England was an anticlimax even though, with some luck, he did get them to the semifinals of Euro '96 at Wembley. He should have had the job several years earlier when at his peak with Barcelona, but the old fogeys of the FA feared his energy. Perhaps, though he could at least save McClaren from making basic errors.