Mess and McClaren

Sheer common sense would surely have dictated that if Steve McClaren were indeed to be given the job of England manager, the decision should have been postponed till after the World Cup, when we shall have seen whether he and Eriksson can do better than reach the quarterfinal.

Heaven help us, it will indeed be Steve McClaren to follow the flaccid Sven- Goran Eriksson as the England manager. This despite the fact that an interview with the Middlesbrough and ex England centre-back Gareth Southgate recently and so embarrassingly revealed that this January, around the time when Boro were thrashed 7-0 at Arsenal and crashed 4-0 at home to modest Aston Villa, McClaren had simply lost the plot. Indeed, said Southgate, a mature and experienced figure, it was incumbent on the senior players, especially the veteran Dutch international Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (and one suspects Southgate himself) to steady the ship. Hardly the most reassuring scenario when the clearly vulnerable manager is about to manage England, a job where the media pressure will be immeasurably greater.

Sheer common sense would surely have dictated that if McClaren were indeed to be given the role, the decision should have been postponed till after the ensuing World Cup finals, when we shall have seen whether he and Eriksson can do better than reach the quarterfinal, as in the previous World Cup and the 2004 European Championship. True, it was Eriksson who as manager rather than coach had to take the chief responsibility, or blame, for such anticlimaxes. McClaren's main role seemed to be to stand up and shout while Eriksson sat passive on the bench.

As for the current season, what of the pitiful displays in Denmark, a 4-1 thrashing, a pitiful 1-0 win in Wales and a shameful defeat in Belfast by modest Northern Ireland. In those last two games, Eriksson played the absurd strategy of using his beloved David Beckham as a kind of quarterback, neither fish nor fowl, hopelessly disrupting the whole pattern of the team. Since then, it is true, Beckham has gone back to the right wing, but even there, where under Eriksson he seems immoveable, his lack of the true winger's gifts of pace and swerve can make him a liability. Yet I cannot see McClaren grasping the bull by the horns.

There has been severe criticism of the tedious, protracted, half-baked way the selection sub committee of the Football Association (FA) handled the whole process of selection. Especially lampooned has been the hapless recently appointed chief executive of the FA Brian Barwick, who came from major roles in sports television, and has emerged as a figure of fun; though the joke, alas, is in English football at large. The word "buffoon" has been heard in the land. Not least when he ludicrously insisted, despite the plain evidence, that McClaren had always been the first choice.

This, though Barwick had had three meetings with Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian manager of Portugal, and had flown to Europe to do so. Barwick's limp rationalisation was that the job had never actually been offered to Scolari. Sheer casuistry, you may well say. The media response to this was sheer ridicule.

What now of the position of David Dein? The chairman and patron of Middlesbrough, Steve Gibson, has publicly stated that Dein should no longer be the kingmaker. I hardly think he will be; but nature abhors a vacuum, so when there is a power vacuum in an organisation, there is room and scope for a forceful, ambitious figure to move into it. Indeed, in the case of the misbegotten sub committee, Dein talked and pushed his way on to it. Which gives you some idea of the calibre of the bunch of old boobies who composed it. It was Dein who wanted Scolari, Dein who persuaded the sub committee to approach him when he hadn't been in the frame before.

How serious was Scolari, who eventually bowed out of the equation, about taking the job at all? Some, cynically or otherwise, believe he was just using the FA to extract more money from the Portuguese Federation. Scolari's excuse that he couldn't take the media pressure — photographers on the lawn and all that — hardly seemed fully convincing though his wife complained there had been death threats in Portugal itself.

But this was the man Dein wanted. Just as, far more impressively and successfully, he had wanted and got Arsene Wenger almost a decade ago for Arsenal where he is the vice chairman. As against that, he is said to have played a salient part in getting the England managership for Eriksson and even to have been in favour of the preposterous indulgence of the FA when Eriksson, for the second time, was found to be surreptitiously talking with Chelsea; he wasn't sacked but actually given a GBP1 million raise. What you might well call a disloyalty bonus.

Dein's power base has long been Arsenal and thereby hangs another tale. After he had been badly deceived by his partner in the commodities business with great financial loss, he still managed at GBP300,000 to buy a controlling shareholding in Arsenal which since the 1920s had been run by the Hill-Wood family. With changes in company rules, those shares became hugely more valuable, making Dein several times a millionaire. He grew richer still when he sold the bulk of those shares to fellow director and diamond merchant Danny Fiszman.

Meanwhile how odd to find ex Watford and England manager Graham Taylor, whose long-ball club methods once poisoned the wells of our game, trumpeting the importance of setting up an elaborate coaching system under the aegis of the FA. Heaven knows we had such a system under the unlamented Charlie `Long Ball' Hughes whose daft orthodoxy, shared by Taylor at Watford, did appalling damage to the English game.