FA playing a high-risk game
The next chairman of the Football Association will be able to have held a position within the game the previous year after English football's governing body removed the controversial rule.
At a meeting at Wembley on Thursday, directors rubber-stamped the move, which had been widely expected but nevertheless remains contentious. That is because it removes the most significant reform introduced following the 2005 FA review by Lord Burns and means that Lord Triesman's eventual replacement can be recruited from inside football.
Triesman, who resigned in May after being secretly recorded claiming the Russian Football Association was working with its Spanish counterpart to bribe referees at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, was the first independent chairman of the FA. He was appointed to improve the image of the organisation's leadership after the review by Lord Burns highlighted a number of concerns over governance.
Lord Triesman was forced to resign in May
The appointment was actually a compromise. Lord Burns had recommended that two independent non-executive directors should be added to the FA's 10-man board, which is divided equally between the professional and national - or amateur - game. Yet the FA council refused to sanction the move and, instead, a deal was struck to make the chairman independent.
Although the FA will require Triesman's replacement to resign any job in football before starting as chairman, removing the 12-month rule will be seen as a backward step by some. The FA is already facing criticism over the way it is run, especially in the wake of the England national side's failure in South Africa.
The FA board has also approved the appointment of headhunters to find the next chairman but no interviews will take place until after the vote to decide the hosts for the 2018 World Cup on 2 December. That is because the FA is anxious not to further damage England's bid, which has already been hurt by the high-profile departures of Triesman and, two months before that, chief executive Ian Watmore.
In fact, it is possible that a new chairman will not be in place until April 2011, which means English football's governing body will have been without strong leadership for the best part of a year. Acting chairman Roger Burden will continue until an appointment is made.
Given the fall-out from England's World Cup performance and the controversial decision to renegotiate manager Fabio Capello's contract before the team even left for South Africa, the coalition government is eyeing the latest developments at the FA with great interest.
Ministers will not act before the hosts of the 2018 World Cup have been decided, knowing that any move to clean up the FA will play badly with world governing body Fifa, who fiercely object to any government interference in the administration of the game. But discussions are already under way inside Whitehall about what to do with the FA once the vote has taken place.
Win or lose, there is a strong argument for government intervention. If England's bid is successful, then ministers will argue that the FA needs to be well run to ensure it can cope with the demands of hosting a World Cup. Lose and the government will say the FA's leadership problems during the campaign will need to be addressed once and for all.
The problem for the coalition government is that it has very few levers it can pull to ensure the FA does what it wants it to. This was one of the reasons Lord Burns failed.
One idea being discussed, however, is to appoint a commission headed by a political grandee who could examine the way the whole game is run - not just the FA but the Premier League and Football League - and, if necessary, look at introducing an independent regulator.
This is not a new idea. Far from it. Every new government threatens football with the spectre of a regulator or watchdog similar to those that exist to police the media and the utilities. Nothing ever changes.
If the FA appoints a chairman with the right reputation and skill set to sort the organisation out properly, then ministers will not dare take such a dramatic step. They might ask that the FA looks again at introducing two independent directors but, beyond that, they would consider football's problems a matter for the game itself.
The FA is playing a high-risk game in going back on the Burns report. Thanks to the World Cup bid, it has some breathing space. But if it fluffs its chance to pick a real leader who can turn the organisation around and tackle football's deeper problems, then the new government may be prepared to launch the sort of shake-up many believe is long overdue.