Dignified Coppell and wide boy Harry lead surprise Euro assault

THE fight for the Premiership title might have been the closest for years, but it's difficult to get past the notion that this has been the most squalid year in Europe's most cash-laden competition. Jose Mourinho's complaints and Joey Barton's fists have dominated the last week, and now we have the unedifying possibility that several clubs want to protect their Premiership status and their money by resorting to the courts.

When Fulham and their relentlessly litigious owner Mohammed Al-Fayed are involved this is no idle threat. If he can pursue the British establishment for a decade and counting after the death of his son, the little matter of holding the Premiership to account is hardly daunting. The Fulham director Stuart Benson has said that "If that means completely refiguring the entire Premier League then so be it."

Observers have pointed out that it would not merely be the bottom of the Premiership that is affected. Manchester United's clause denying Everton the chance to field Tim Howard against them even after Everton had bought the American would also be open to legal pursuit on the same "third-party interference" basis that has caused West Ham so much grief. You suspect that Roman Abramovich is not the sort of romantic who would be above claiming the title in a court of law if it couldn't be secured on the football field.

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In this depressing arena, you cast around with some difficulty for redeeming features. In the Premiership a couple of managerial achievements stand out, in the form of two very contrasting characters. Going into next Sunday's final round of Premiership fixtures, Steve Coppell at Reading and Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth both have the opportunity to secure a UEFA Cup place for clubs that were among the relegation favourites at the start of the season.

Coppell's achievement at Reading is all the more estimable because he backs up his results with the most reasonable manner of any Premiership manager, never bleating about referees, casting no sideswipes against opposition defenders, maintaining a consistent dignity even when provoked by some of Mourinho's and Chelsea's most unpalatable statements this season. His post-match assessments of a game have the remarkable attribute of seeming detached and insightful rather than blinkered and biased.

If Coppell is in a new school of his own, Redknapp is unashamedly old-fashioned. His greatest asset is bonding with players whose careers have wandered down a cul-de-sac, and getting the best out of them. His remarkable rescue act last season was followed up with a season in which Portsmouth had ensured safety by Christmas and could focus on developing a challenge for a European place.

Both will face difficult tasks next season. Reading's resources make it apparent that they are in a false position, and Coppell will soon face the inevitable diminishing returns. Redknapp is handier at wheeling and dealing, and the club's directors will see the possibility of establishing Portsmouth as a south-coast Bolton, maintaining a top-eight status by operating a seaside retirement home for illustrious stars with a couple of years left in their legs. Redknapp's charisma is the most important aspect in this policy.

Of course there is an alternative next step in these managers' careers.

Several key figures at the FA already regard Steve McClaren's tenure as finite, with June's qualifiers offering the next possible stage to bid him adieu. Coppell, dignified, intelligent and effective, would be a sensible choice as a long-term replacement. Redknapp, avuncular, popular and astute, would make a perfect caretaker, rather in the way Joe Mercer restored the England team's morale after the departure of Sir Alf Ramsey in 1973.

Then again Coppell is probably far too reticent and sensible to accept any overtures from the FA, while Redknapp is the personification of the cocky wide-boy whom the stolid Northern suits at the FA took such a dislike to during the Terry Venables regime.

The FA would probably prefer the unemployed, for now, Sam Allardyce. Allardyce is his own biggest fan, and is now favourite to replace Glenn Roeder at Newcastle. However, he may yet wait until he sees how McClaren's team get on in June.

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We are left to offer up applause to the way Portsmouth and Reading have conducted their business, and with the confidence that Coppell at least will not emerge after the game on Sunday to spray abuse at all and sundry and threaten to sue the Premiership.