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Daily Telegraph

THE END came for Mark Palios, the Football Association’s beleaguered chief executive, in a short but poignant telephone call to Geoff Thompson yesterday afternoon.

Palios told Thompson, the FA chairman, that he was accepting responsibility for what had gone on inside Soho Square and for the activities of his staff.

His resignation, which was accepted, came on the day the News of the World revealed taped conversations with Colin Gibson, the FA’s director of communications, in which Gibson was quoted as offering the newspaper details of the affair between Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England coach, and Faria Alam, a secretary at the FA.

Gibson had offered the information in exchange for the newspaper suppressing Alam’s affair with Palios.

It was immediately clear that Palios was under intense pressure and there was speculation as to when he would resign. Tomorrow was the favoured date but it turned out to be yesterday afternoon.

Events leading up to Palios’s decision to quit began when the News of the World revealed details of Eriksson’s affair with Alam three weeks ago.

The FA subsequently issued a strongly worded denial of the story, claiming there was “no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that our client [Alam] and Mr Eriksson are having, or have had, a sexual relationship”. The News of the World were also contacted by lawyers acting for the FA and Alam.

However, faced with the true picture seven days later after the same newspaper came into possession of e-mails which confirmed the affair and revealed Palios had been involved with the same woman, the FA were forced into an embarrassing climbdown and retracted the earlier denial.

Last Tuesday Thompson met Palios at FA headquarters and Palios gave him assurances that he was not involved in handling the situation with the media. It was on the basis of Palios’s assurances that Thompson exonerated him while maintaining that Eriksson himself was under investigation about his conduct.

But at that meeting Palios did not tell Thompson that an effort had been made on his behalf to get the News of the World to keep Palios’s name out of the newspaper in exchange for information on Eriksson’s affair. Thompson, a very religious man, sets a high store by the truth. He once told me that Adam Crozier, the previous chief executive of the FA, had to go because he had allegedly not been entirely truthful with Thompson. So yesterday, when he received Palios’s phone call, he was not surprised and had no problem accepting his resignation.

Gibson, the former award-winning journalist and sports editor of The Sunday Telegraph, has also offered to go and this will be put to the 12-member FA board when they meet in emergency session at 2pm on Thursday.

“I have offered my resignation to the board because I felt it was the honorable thing to do,” said Gibson last night. “They said the matter will be dealt with as soon as possible.”

Even before Palios’s resignation David Davies had been acting as chief executive but this was because the chief executive was on holiday. With his resignation Davies will be confirmed as acting chief executive, a role he has fulfilled three times in the last 10 years.

Yesterday’s dramatic developments, meanwhile, does not mean Eriksson is yet in the clear.

Eriksson will almost certainly be sacked if the lawyers who are conducting the internal inquiry into the turmoil at the FA conclude that he misled Davies, who questioned him about his affair with Alam.

One highly placed FA source said: “Palios’s departure is a big loss to the FA. He has sorted our finances out and for the first time we were getting proper financial reports to the board. But I believe he has gone because he did not want his family to be subjected to such pressure. I see him as a victim of circumstances.”

He added, significantly, that while Palios’s loss would be keenly felt, “if Sven goes, it won’t. Sven has yet to prove himself”.

The lawyers instructed by the FA to get to the bottom of ‘Svengate’ have collected signed affidavits from various Soho Square officials, including Davies. I understand Davies has categorically asserted he did ask Eriksson unambiguous questions as to whether he had had a relationship with Alam.

Eriksson has publicly claimed he did not mislead anyone, neither confirming nor denying the relationship as part of his policy of never commenting on his private life.

The FA source said: “Before this affair I did not hear a single colleague talking of getting rid of Eriksson but now I would say a majority are against him. This whole affair has reopened old wounds, such as his previous affair, the way he was given a pay rise of £1 million a year and an extension to his contract after it emerged he had been talking to Chelsea while England only got to the quarter-finals of Euro 2004. If Greece can win that competition, then the question arises: is Eriksson all that wonderful a manager that we have to have him at all costs?”

The lawyers’ report will go to the FA board on Thursday. Thompson is so worried about a media frenzy that day at the FA’s headquarters in Soho Square that board members have not been told where the meeting will take place and it might be moved to a secret location.

© Mihir Bose

      

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