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Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Barwick's departure comes as no surprise


LONDON — England's uninspiring 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic on Wednesday was overshadowed by the news that Brian Barwick is to leave his post as chief executive of the Football Association after four years in it.

Christopher Davies

Barwick, who will be forever remembered as the man who appointed Steve McClaren as England manager, jumped before he was pushed after losing out in the power struggle to new Football Association independent chairman Lord Triesman.

It was not a good week for football hacks — while just about all of Fleet Street's finest predicted Rio Ferdinand would be Fabio Capello's permanent England captain, no one got a whisper of Barwick's unexpected pending departure.

Barwick's exit at the end of the year will see the F.A. searching for its fifth chief executive in 10 years. During that period England has had five different full-time managers — perhaps the national team's failure to go anywhere near matching the achievements of Premier League clubs in Europe is linked to such regular upheaval.

The news leaked out during the match at Wembley and Barwick's departure is linked with Lord Triesman taking a more hands-on role at Soho Square.

Lord Triesman doubted Barwick's business acumen and whether he was the right man to spearhead England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Eight months after his arrival, Lord Triesman has not only become the most powerful figure within the F.A. but the most powerful figure the governing body has ever had.

Barwick had a difficult baptism in the job as his first task was to appoint a successor to Sven-Goran Eriksson.

He failed to lure Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to join the England setup, the now Chelsea manager's recent revelation that he would have come to England if the F.A. had handled the matter better did not help Barwick's credibility.

Instead of appointing Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning coach to England, Barwick promoted McClaren — Sven Lite — who was Eriksson's assistant.

Barwick seemed to be in a minority of one who believed McClaren would be a successful international manager and after England's failure to reach the Euro 2008 finals the chief executive began another search for a manager.

Fabio Capello, initially, was a popular choice, but after one of the worst displays many can remember against the Czech Republic, the jury is still very much out on the Italian, whose club resume is second to none.

* * * * *

AS ENGLAND was losing a chief executive, the team was fortunate not to lose to the Czech Republic, a scrambled stoppage-time equalizer by Joe Cole saving collective blushes.

You wouldn't expect Fabio Capello to say England was rubbish, but the most flattering spin is that they were lucky rubbish. Yet again, players who are outstanding week-in, week-out for their clubs were unrecognizable when they pull on an England shirt.

Most fans would have chosen eight or nine of Capello's starting XI, and the team that struggled against the Czechs will probably be, with one or two exceptions, his choice to face Croatia in the second 2010 qualifying tie next month after the so-called routine game against Andorra in Barcelona, which now has a banana skin appearance.

"I think tonight we took another step," said Capello after the Czech debacle. "I'm happy. I saw a lot of things which I had doubts on. I think we'll be ready for the next game."

That view contrasted with the phone-ins, which almost unanimously said England was garbage, the players are a bunch of overpaid prima donnas, and they will struggle to beat Andorra let alone Croatia. The boos at the end told their own story of frustration.

It remains a mystery why good club players are poor international performers. Amazingly, a team full of domestic and European winners lacks confidence, and despite Capello's public optimism, privately he must be asking himself the same questions as everyone else.

So far, he has yet to come up with an answer.

Playing Steven Gerrard wide left in midfield was another unanswered question for supporters and media alike.

Both of England's goals came from set-piece movements and there was a disturbing lack of creativity in open play. David Beckham's international days may now be numbered, and the suspicion is Capello will play 4-5-1 against Croatia in Zagreb rather than two strikers.

This is as much because apart from Wayne Rooney, whose lack of goals for England is another head-scratcher, England has no other truly international-class striker (Michael Owen being almost permanently injured).

New captain John Terry looked sluggish against Milan Baros, a striker who made minimal impact with Portsmouth last season, and who had gone 24 games without scoring for club and country until his Wembley strike.

Great Britain is having an unexpected record-breaking Olympics, but for England's football team it is business as usual.

* * * * *

THERE WERE sighs of despair when Fabio Capello named John Terry as his England captain. Not just from supporters and the media, the majority of whom believed Rio Ferdinand would be a more fitting leader, but also — privately — from many within Capello's employers at the Football Association.

It would be a mistake to believe the Italian cares one iota what others think about his choice. Indeed, Capello cannot even understand why the armband is such a big deal. Such thick skin is a strength and a weakness.

On one hand we want the England manager to be his own man and not a puppet, yet at the same time if all things are equal it makes sense to go with public opinion rather than alienate those who paid up to £80 to watch Wednesday's friendly against the Czech Republic. Even £8 for a seat would have been excessive for a display that one observer said, "stunk out Wembley."

Terry's lack of general popularity comes from his occasionally too aggressive attitude on the pitch, notably toward referees. Chelsea has been fined by the F.A. more times than any other club in recent years for surrounding and harassing match officials, with Terry too often snarling from the front.

Off the field, there have been too many lurid allegations about his private life, while parking his Bentley in a disabled bay was not just illegal but also incredibly insensitive to the requirements of those more needy of the space.

Still, Terry said it wouldn't happen again so that's all right then.

Ferdinand is not without his darker moments. The ban for missing a drug test, which saw him absent from Euro 2004, and accidentally hurting a female steward as he kicked a wall in frustration after last season's loss at, ironically, Chelsea, are ignominious inclusions on the Manchester United defender's resume.

Yet most agree Ferdinand makes a better role model than Terry for all the Chelsea captain's commitment and leadership qualities.

Capello keeps his cards not so much close to his chest but super-glued.

Fleet Street's moles and sources indicated that Ferdinand would be the coach's choice as captain and the country's football correspondents were understandably less than happy when their "Rio to get the nod" stories proved off target.

Under previous managers, the football writers were usually spot-on with team lineups, but under Capello, their predictions have been less successful.

The only England leaks now are in the defense.

Perhaps this isn't surprising as the Italian tells his players who is playing soon after they board the coach for the game. He could not leave it much later, a policy (which in fairness is not unique to Capello) that leaves this correspondent bemused.

Surely it is better if the starting XI play together in training during the build-up to a game? Isn't it more advantageous if the players know who is playing so they can prepare both physically and mentally for an important match?

If the idea is to keep the opposition guessing, it is flawed. Most teams play the same formation and at international level there are no surprise debutants or inclusions as squads are known before matches.

Who plays is probably less important than the tactics, and teams are extremely unlikely to suddenly change their formation.

If Capello feels he has to keep everything secret from the Andorra coach, we have more problems than we thought.

* * * * *

I SHALL be glad when Sept. 1 arrives. The closing of the transfer window will mean an end to the daily bulletins about whether Dimitar Berbatov will leave Tottenham for Manchester United, if Robinho is going to join Chelsea from Real Madrid and whether Gareth Barry will swap Aston Villa for Liverpool.

Both have become sagas over the last few weeks, the stories like a pigeon flying into the wind.

We had belated closure on the Cristiano Ronaldo-Real Madrid daily soap opera, though that one will raise its ugly head again soon with "Ronaldo to join Real next summer" stories.

One down, three to go.

Christopher Davies is the author of the recently released book "Behind The Back Page."


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