Listen to this article
The general rule when trying to unravel a mystery is supposed to be "Cherchez la femme". In the splendidly spicy affair that has been unfolding down at the Football Association HQ in Soho Square, London, there has been no need to hunt the woman in the case. Pretty well everyone in Britain now knows of Faria Alam, the office secretary. And two important people evidently know her very well indeed.
One of those, the England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, was still in his job on Monday night and the odds appeared to be strengthening that he would stay there for now. Ms Alam's other known sexual partner, Mark Palios, was forced to resign on Sunday. This followed the collapse of an over-elaborate plan he allegedly authorised to give the News of the World all the juicy details about Eriksson, in exchange for leaving his name out of it.
For connoisseurs of British life at its most ludicrous when sex, the scandal sheets and the silly season interact to produce a rumpus over absolutely nothing, this whole business has been a delight. As Henry Higgins almost sang in My Fair Lady: "Hear them down in Soho Square/Dropping trousers everywhere."
And of course it is tempting to start drawing conclusions about absurd British prudery and to complain that the French handle these things better.
That, however, misses the point. This is not really about sex. It is about the only thing in life more innate and unstoppable than the sex drive, i.e. football. Indeed, David Davies, the FA's acting chief executive, innocently made the same point yesterday when he tried to insist: "Football is more important than some of the stuff we have had to put up with."
Before the weekend it seemed likely that Eriksson would be forced out, accused - falsely according to the England coach - of misleading the FA by denying his affair with Ms Alam. This was about as convincing as the notion that Bill Clinton was impeached for fibbing about Monica Lewinsky. He was impeached because his enemies wanted him out and thought they saw their opportunity. The same applies with Eriksson.
These enemies are inside the FA, in the media and in every pub in England.
There seem to be four elements to the real charges against him. One is indeed the question of sex. To what extent Eriksson has been an innocent victim of press intrusion is a matter of opinion. But he has made it fairly obvious he has not been returning home every night to his slippers and a wife in a winceyette nightie.
Arguably, his activities have improved the morale and image of grey-haired, bespectacled middle-aged men. They have not, however, improved the reputation of the Football Association, anxious to persuade the government it is a respectable organisation worthy of its trust and handouts.
The second, more important, element is the sense of footballing frustration and failure. England went into both the 2002 World Cup and the 2004 European Championship with national expectations and enthusiasm ridiculously high. But for the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, England would very possibly have won Euro 2004. However, they failed: pre-tournament confusion about England's formation suddenly assumed great significance, and Eriksson's reputation as a tactical maestro was shredded.
Eriksson's Swedishness is the third element. There are still people who yearn for the days when the England job was the apogee of an Englishman's career in English club management. This is out of fashion in just about every sport and every country. Nonetheless, there is a residual belief from which influential figures are not immune that a foreign coach lacks the passion, loyalty and patriotism that a national team manager should bring to the job. Eriksson's passion is well enough documented but it is directed elsewhere; his loyalty has been in doubt since he began dallying with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich about the possibility of becoming manager there.
Finally, there is simple boredom. Eriksson's three years in the job mean he has outlasted his predecessor Kevin Keegan and has drawn level with the three before that: Graham Taylor, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle. There is a yearning for a new Aunt Sally. Eriksson too hints at searching for a role with less pressure and more power.
One way or another, he may not be at the helm much longer. In an August heatwave, with little real news around, the departure of less interesting figures will not cool the story. FA chief executive or not, Mark Palios hardly represents a real scalp. A week ago, most newspaper readers would not have known whether he was a TV wrestler or the latest raunchy Mediterranean resort. He arrived at the FA 13 months ago with seemingly perfect credentials: a background in professional football and accountancy, and he appears to have done a respectable job.
But I reckon his credibility was shot long before the dealings with the News of the World were exposed. I do not think he ever recovered from being regularly referred to as "the former Tranmere Rovers midfielder".