England 2, Croatia 3. Probably the best result under the circumstances. Not, I hasten to add, because I have some anti-patriotic desire for the national team to fail (otherwise I would have wanted Brown to attend the match), but because this finally offers the chance for the English FA to get their eyes uncrossed and rebuild before the next World Cup, starting by appointing the man they should have gone for in the first place – step forward Martin O’ Neill.
International football calls for international pedigree, and Steve McLaren just doesn’t have this. I’m sure he’s a perfectly agreeable bloke, but with a background of coaching also-rans and his finest boast being as a number two to other more successful coaches, he was never the man to take the top job. After all, the same is true in any major position – hire mediocrity, and what do you expect?
In contrast, O’ Neill has won the European Cup twice as a player, which is likely to impress any of England’s current crop of so-called superstars. As a manager, his pedigree is first-rate – Champions League experience, league titles (albeit in the two-horse Scottish league), and two cups in England (one more than England’s soon-to-be-ex incumbent). He also has a history in getting the best out of average players – a skill which some might say would be called upon in dealing with England’s current crop.
However with a history of shooting itself in the foot (rivalled only by the current Chancellor), expect the FA to appoint yet another underachiever to the post, make a lot of noise about “getting behind the team”, before sitting back to watch another ignoble embarrassment unfold with a collective expression of "Not my fault, guv".
UPDATE: It has now been confirmed that failing to qualify for Euro 2008 will cost the English FA £5m. So in addition to the £2m payoff to McLaren, plus the lack of activity in shirt sales prior to a major football event, I would put the cost of the FA’s initial decision to appoint McLaren at round about £10 million. Considering he was appointed because he was cheap, this certainly seems to put the comparatively successful Sven-Goran Eriksson’s £4m a year salary into context.