England is a nation that has been betrayed by the FA bunglers


Last updated at 09:20 25 November 2007

The match had been over for half-anhour,

and the wildest rain of the

evening was lashing the darkened

stadium. Down by the touchline, a

security guard stood in the slush and

stared at the field. The centre of the

pitch was a shimmering bog, scarred by studscraped

trenches and littered with random piles of

melting mud.

The guard shook his head. "You can't play football

on that," he said. He thought for a moment. "Well,

we certainly can't," he added. And he laughed. It

was almost the only full-hearted English laugh that Wembley heard on

Wednesday night.

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Brian Barwick and Geoff Thompson

In all the ritual blood-letting and

synchronised breast-beating which has

followed the loss of a football match,

that security man's reaction still seems

the most relevant. For Croatia were

operating on a different level.

Skipping across the cloying surface,

rolling short, perceptive passes,

scampering into productive space,they

demonstrated how far England have

fallen beneath the standards of modern

international football.

For those of us who cling to the belief

that the shoddy old game can

occasionally be beautiful, the Croats

were breathtaking. It was a genuine

privilege to savour the sight of

wonderfully accomplished players

obeying their better instincts and

reaping their rightful rewards.

England,as we know,were somewhat

less than breathtaking. If Wednesday

evening's display faithfully represented

the fruits of 18 months of work, then

the sacking of Steve McClaren carried

an air of inevitability.

Personally, I felt

some sympathy.Whatever the phonein

numbskulls may say, anybody

whom Piers Morgan dismisses as a

'half-wit' must surely have something

going for him.

And yet, regrettably, McClaren had to

go. When you weigh the advantage of

18 months' international experience

against the dog's breakfast he made of

his opportunities, there was only one

conclusion. He did not have the

stature, the intellect or the political

awareness to justify his position.

But if

his compensation of £2.5 million seems outrageous, then that is what his

contract decreed. Criticism should be

reserved for those who offered that

ludicrous bargain, rather than the man

who accepted it.

The same applies to Terry Venables,

his risible choice of deputy, who was

also sent packing.

The story of

Venables's career is one of almost

unrelieved failure; from Portsmouth to

Australia to Crystal Palace to Leeds to

England.Yet it has delivered him more

pay-outs than a defective fruit


At the time of his appointment, one

or two of us suggested it would all

end in expensive tears. It was not a

difficult forecast.

And so the depressing

duo take their leave, having

been mercilessly exposed.

Yet some of the people

who sanctioned their

absurd appointments

found the nerve to face

the media; to offer

their excuses and

to promise a new


when petty,

self-interest would be

subsumed into

the greater

glory of the

English game.

On reflection, it

was a great mistake.

We should not

dwell upon the

inadequacies of the

FA Board, since that

would be like shooting fish

in a bucket.

Yet their decision to make

a combined public appearance merely

endorsed what so many of us have

been saying for so long.

From the moment the chairman,

dynamic Geoff Thompson, innocently

announced: "and on my extreme right

is Brian Mawhinney", it was a slice of

vintage comedy.

Thompson's appearance

was clearly designed to

confound the belief that

he is no more than a

rumour. Yet he spoke as if

pre-programmed; lame

platitudes jostling with weary


"Root and branch" examination of the

England team set-up is a worthy

notion. But the results of that survey

must be presented to Chairman Geoff.

And what will he do? He has not the

faintest idea. Except it will take time,

and by then, the problems might have

gone away.

Close by him sat 'Sir' Dave

Richards, a man unwisely

plucked from Burton's window.

Like his chum Geoff, he says

very little in public. You may

understand his reticence from

this verbatim explanation of why

the FA Premier League, of which Dave

is chairman, is not working in the best

interests of the national side: "Everyone

keeps saying there aren't enough

quality England players," said Richards.

"Whether there are or aren't is

conjecture. The Premier League can't

shoulder the responsibility always for

the national team.

"The clubs are very successful, and if

you look round the clubs, at the

players that's there to be picked from,

there's a substantial amount. And it's

very difficult for the England manager

to decide which players he wants to

pick. But you may say that is a

problem. Going forward, we're

addressing that."

Even as you read these words, teams

of cryptographers are crawling over

Dave's remarks. Progress is slow.

Mawhinney offered this assessment

of the players: "If this is the golden

generation, the sooner we move away

from the gold standard the better."

It was the kind of laboured quip

which might have gone down

well with the older members of

his Cambridgeshire North West

Conservative Association.

But coming

from one who is wholly unqualified to

make such a judgment, it was merely

impertinent. As I said, fish in a bucket.

Yet these are the people who are making the crucial decisions in the

national game. And they will have the

final say on McClaren's replacement,

the decision which could influence the

future of English football over the next


Chief executive Brian Barwick has

been instructed to begin the search.A

decent man, Barwick, who is

particularly adept at separating TV

companies from their money.

But he

chose McClaren, and got it

grotesquely wrong. He should not be

allowed to trawl through lists of

candidates in the hope this time he

might get it right.

Personally, I would pass this decision

— along with many others — to the

director of football development, Sir

Trevor Brooking.

Having served on his

Sport England Council for three years,

I can testify that he is a man of

intellectual distinction and robust


In a perfect world, Brooking would

undertake for England some of the

roles which Franz Beckenbauer and

Michel Platini fulfilled for Germany

and France. He would be capable of

sorting the wheat from the managerial

chaff over the next few weeks.

After the chronic wastage of so much

time, energy and money, the FA can

afford no more mistakes. But the

nation has no confidence in their

judgment, and the nation has good

reason for its cynicism.

But this we know: radical reform must

be instigated, heads must tumble and

mediocrities like Thompson and

Richards can no longer be indulged. A

major football nation can tolerate no

more evenings like Wednesday.

England deserves better.

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