Steve McClaren did not tender his resignation last night, but he knows the firing squad has been assembled. The Football Association will hold a meeting of the full 12-man board at 8.30am this morning. McClaren was informed last night and immediately told the players. They were still in the dressing room digesting the implications of their failure to defeat Croatia.
It is possible McClaren will not be asked to quit. He is still planning to travel to South Africa tomorrow to attend the draw for the qualifying rounds of the 2010 World Cup. However, although he still has some supporters on the board, they know the pressure to dispense with McClaren will become hard to resist. They will also be aware that the longer McClaren hangs on the more the focus will turn on them, and especially on Brian Barwick, the chief executive, who staked the success of his tenure on McClaren's appointment.
When McClaren faced the media after this defeat the first question, inevitably, was: "Will you offer your resignation?" After England's last competitive defeat at Wembley, the 1-0 World Cup qualifying round loss to Germany in 2000, Kevin Keegan resigned in a toilet. The new Wembley has 2,500 toilets but McClaren, after overseeing England's first failure to qualify for a major tournament in 14 years, was not about to resign in any of them. He said: "No I won't. I am not going to discuss my future. I don't think this is the time after such a huge disappointment. It is something to discuss later on."
He did, though, accept ultimate responsibility. "I said judge me over the 12 [qualifying] games – we deserve to be where we finish, so we did not deserve to qualify. That is my responsibility."
McClaren said that he was feeling "massive, indescribable pain," and the players likewise. "It is a huge disappointment," he added. "It is the nation, the fans here, people watching back home. To let them down, that is the biggest disappointment to me."
McClaren blamed mistakes for last night's defeat, but denied that the selection of Scott Carson, who made such a cataclysmic early error, was one of them. "I thought he was ready and I stick by that decision," said McClaren. "The conditions were difficult and the shot took a wicked dip. He made a fantastic save in the second half.
"Mistakes cost us, the start cost us. It was always then going to be difficult. Croatia are a good side and they looked like scoring every time they went forward. To concede three goals at Wembley was unthinkable before the game."
The players sought to share the blame. David Beckham, who may now be stranded on 99 caps, said: "We realise that if we don't perform we don't deserve to go through. There can be no excuses. If you lose you don't deserve any excuses. This is not how it should be. We know what we are going to get now. It won't be for a week or two, it will be longer." For himself, he insisted: "I can still play at this level. I want to play for my country."
Last night's captain, Steven Gerrard, said: "The idea was to start quick and let Croatia know they were in for a game. Then we left ourselves with a mountain to climb. The disappointing thing is we climbed it and were controlling the game, but then gave it away. We should have shut up shop."
John Terry, the injured, regular captain, said: "We take collective responsibility. We are hugely disappointed for ourselves, our families, the fans and everyone in England." He added, in what sounded a valedictory comment: "Full support to Steve McClaren – it's been great working with him, we've thoroughly enjoyed it."
The old professionals watching from the commentary box were withering in their criticism. Alan Hansen said: "England got what they deserved. They were technically inferior, out-thought and outplayed. Croatia could have won by six or seven. It was not just the defeat. it was the manner of the defeat."
Gary Lineker added: "England were so poor defensively. "
McClaren was still present when Slaven Biliic, Croatia's manager, came in to applause from his nation's press – not an experience an English manager has had in decades.
"I thought it was a great match and we deserved to win," Bilic said. "The early goals were easy but we deserved them. We showed great quality, team play and character."
He added: "I love your players, but there are good players in small countries as well that may not be known to you, but can also play good football."
England's next manager?
Russia's manager has a lofty reputation and is a renowned tactician, although he did come a cropper at Wembley before coolly outwitting England in Moscow.
Has succeeded with Leicester and with Celtic in European competition in getting his teams to play above themselves, but does he really want the baggage that comes with the job?
Luiz Felipe Scolari
First choice last time, the Brazilian has taken Portugal to another finals amid a deteriorating relationship with his employers.
The great survivor – and an Englishman. There is a dearth of home-grown candidates and even Venables is surely too tainted by his part in McClaren's failure. Remember Zagreb?
Why not? He's done what McClaren couldn't and taken his side to the finals.
Admirable in the last World Cup, but has it come to this? A German in charge of England...