Terry at Leeds United

TERRY VENABLES is back. As a club manager. To the predictable chorus from the usual suspects; or sycophants. Faute de mieux you might say despite all the excitement and the clamour, since he was not remotely the first choice. Having got rid of David O'Leary, who had certainly made a number of errors but had also, till last season, given Leeds a high profile and success in European football, Leeds might have contemplated the lines of the late Hilaire Belloc: "Always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse."

Initially their target was the Celtic manager Martin O'Neill, who has regenerated that club and in his peregrinations from Wycombe Wanderers to Norwich and to Leicester City has established himself as one of the finest younger managers in Britain having been an excellent midfielder for Nottingham Forest and Northern Ireland. It did look for a time as if O'Neill, though still under contract in Glasgow, might be tempted, but in the end he decided to stay where he was.

Then there was talk of Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach who had done so well with the South Korean team in the recent World Cup but it never seemed on the cards that Hiddink, once manager of Holland and of Real Madrid, would ever go anywhere but back to PSV Eindhoven, where he had had much success in the past. So the spotlight focussed on a very popular managerial figure, Steve McLaren, previously the right hand man to Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, actually the incumbent at Middlesbrough who are now said to be very cross with him; suspicious that he might have had secretive talks with Leeds though they never came out into the open.

In the end McLaren too bowed out of the picture; and so to Venables who himself you may remember, not long ago had an impressive spell as coach to Boro, when things were going so wrong there for Bryan Robson.

Is it a good appointment? Should Leeds have got rid of O'Leary so abruptly even if he made certain definite errors, such as somewhat greedily bringing out a book with a provocative reference to the trial of his Leeds footballers, accused of brutally beating up that poor Asian student outside a night club. He had also made some indiscreet statements about certain of his players - over exuberant ones you might politely say, such as the ever abrasive Alan Smith and the often cautioned Mick Mills, England's current right back. The fact that the Irish international striker Robbie Keane had plainly sworn at O'Leary when once substituted, without any subsequent penalty, was also a straw in the wind. It was suggested that David might have lost the respect and co-operation of his players. Player power, then? Perhaps, but as one who has known, liked and respected David since his teenaged days as an Arsenal centre half, I wholly reject the charge that he is arrogant.

There can be little doubt that the trial of several Leeds players, notably the talented centre half Jonathan Woodgate already an England international and the key midfielder Lee Bowyer - known to be anxious to get away as soon as possible - had a great deal to do with O'Leary's plight and problems. Nor is the whole horrid affair yet over. The student's family, not surprisingly, are bringing private prosecutions.

Who can say that they will not succeed? When Bowyer in a Hull, Yorkshire, court was acquitted - though the judge spoke harshly of him and obliged him to pay costs - and Woodgate was merely sentenced to do community service (the only prison sentence was on one of his dubious Middlesbrough friends, who had reportedly bitten the unfortunate student on the face whey he lay probe) it was hard to understand the verdict. Indeed the Sun newspaper published a devastating headline: "What do you call 12 Leeds United supporters in one room? A Jury!"

Bowyer's talents are beyond dispute, but he has an unhappy reputation, having been convicted in the past of smashing up a McDonald's restaurant in South East London - where he comes from - and abusing its Asian staff, while his original club, Charlton Atheletic, once suspended him for smoking cannabis. At the trial, his veracity was called sharply into question.

But then, Venables himself has had his troubles in court. The bleak fact is that he remains under a seven year suspension as a company director imposed by a judge who excoriated Terry's business methods. This, in fact, is arguably his Achilles heel. As one who has known and liked him for years and appreciated his many talents, clearly as a coach but not least as a writer, I have to say that his delusions of business grandeur have too often been his downfall. A mogul, you might say, he isn't, and when he went head to head with someone who is, i.e. Alan Sugar, then the main shareholder and main man at Tottenham Hotspur, it ended in court and ended in tears.

Predictably. It still baffles me and many others that Terry should have appointed as his chief financial figure at Tottenham one Eddie Ashby, who had time and again been made a bankrupt and would subsequently go down for alleged fraud. It was his knowledge of the court case coming up which induced Terry to resign as the England manager after his team had reached the semi-final of the 1996 Euro tournament only to lose on penalties to Germany. My own view was that England had ridden their luck; against Switzerland, against Scotland, notoriously against Spain, their one major performance being a 4-1 win against a Dutch team riven by internal squabbling, blacks against whites, it appeared, with Edgar Davids packed off home.

As Tottenham manager Terry had his successful moments, but the team never reached its former heights while his spell in charge overall at Portsmouth was a disaster. As manager of Barcelona, he made a brilliant beginning, crushing Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and winning the title, only to go off the boil the following season and lose on penalties, a dismal final in Seville, against modest Steaua. Catalan critics declared that they didn't want another Queen's Park Rangers (he had managed there too), playing 4-4-2 and an offside game.

As a player Terry won honours for England at every level from amateur international up, an accomplished if not a brilliant midfielder. As a writer, he was the moving spirit in the Hazell detective novels and TV series, with the Scottish writer, Gordon Williams. And now? He comes to a club in a state of turmoil, hopes to persuade Rio Ferdinand to stay rather than join Manchester United, will doubtless benefit at first from the euphoria engendered by a new manager. And then?