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Is it April Fools?


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Is it actually April Fools rather than Valentines or have I emerged in some twilight zone


From the BBC gossip column


Gerry Francis has been approached by the FA and is a shock candidate for the England job. (The Independent)


Former Aston Villa and Derby boss John Gregory is close to becoming manager of the Hungary national team. (Various)


Oh and looks nailed on that Guus Hiddink will take the Russian national team job


Indy story on Francis



Gerry Francis, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Queen's Park Rangers manager, has emerged as a dark-horse contender to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson as England coach.


Francis, who captained England as a player, confirmed yesterday that the Football Association had contacted him to ask if he was interested in being part of the coaching structure after the World Cup. This has been interpreted as meaning a back-up role, or one working with a junior age-group side.


However, The Independent understands he was also sounded out regarding the top job and expressed an interest. His selection would be, on the face of it, a shock.


Francis has not managed since resigning from Bristol Rovers four seasons ago because two close family members were in intensive care. He has not managed in the Premiership since November 1997 when he stepped down at White Hart Lane. Yet his top-flight management record is superior to those of Alan Curbishley, Sam Allardyce and Stuart Pearce, the leading English contenders for the soon-to-be vacant post. Only Pearce, still to complete a year as a manager, has a superior international playing record.


Francis also played and managed in European competition and is the only man to have guided different teams to the status of top-placed London club. Age is not a problem: at 54 he is four years younger than Eriksson and just three and six years older than Allardyce and Curbishley.


His recent spell out of the game, during which he has kept in touch as a pundit, gives him the advantage of neutrality and mental freshness. Given that he is also happily married, and has never even featured in off-the-record gossip about "bungs", it is not, perhaps, such an improbable choice.


The "three wise men" selection panel - Brian Barwick, the FA's chief executive, David Richards, the FA Premier League's chairman, and Noel White, the chairman of the FA's international committee - will present a shortlist of names to the FA board on 27 February. They will begin the interview process soon after.


Richards and White are both known to favour an English candidate. Richards said last week that there was "no distinction" between the new coach being "British" or "English", which signalled support for the Northern Irishman Martin O'Neill, 54 next month and out of the game nursing his ill wife.


Francis was reluctant to discuss yesterday whether he would be on the shortlist, restricting himself to a brief statement. "If the Football Association would like to speak with me regarding the international set-up I'd be delighted to help in any way I can," he said.


Francis certainly has support within Soho Square, having twice previously been approached regarding the England job, as a successor to Graham Taylor, then Terry Venables. Each time he rejected the opportunity to be interviewed. In 1994 he felt that he had insufficient experience. In 1996 he wanted to concentrate on day-to-day club management and to build on his successful first season at Spurs, in which they reached the FA Cup semi-finals and came seventh in the Premiership - their last such placing.


Since leaving Bristol Rovers he has spent time with his young family, turning down approaches from Portsmouth and QPR among others. The relatives whose illnesses had prompted his break from football - his father-in-law and grandmother - both died and, he said recently, "the bereavements made me realise football was not the be-all and end-all of life".

"Time spent with family is so precious," Francis said. "My eldest son [Adam] reached a national athletics final and I was able to watch him run at Birmingham. I'd never have gone before, I'd have been ringing up from somewhere to hear how he got on. The school must have thought my wife was a single parent. I never made parents' evenings."


Further family tragedies have underlined this but the England post, with its less time-consuming commitments, would suit the Surrey-based Londoner.


He became a manager, at Exeter City, at the age of 32, injury having forced him out of the top flight. Back injury had curtailed an international career in which he was made England captain at23. As a manager he led Bristol Rovers to the Third Division title (now League One) before taking over at QPR in 1991. Under him they finished fifth in the Premier League's first season. He later took Tottenham to finishes of seventh, eighth and 10th, bringing through Sol Campbell and working with Jürgen Klinsmann, now Germany's coach.

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