Blades permit Pompey to approach Warnock

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Portsmouth were yesterday given verbal permission by Sheffield United to speak to their manager Neil Warnock. The Premiership club, who expect to receive official permission from the Bramall Lane board later today, were hoping to meet with Warnock to discuss personal terms as quickly as possible.

The Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric is also, after three days of consideration, prepared to make an official approach to Southampton to talk to their manager, Harry Redknapp. It is understood that Mandaric believes he owes it to the club's fans to pursue every avenue and although he has been loathe to re-employ the man who walked out on the club 12 months ago he will do so if he believes it is the best thing to do.

Nevertheless the return of Redknapp would amount to one of the most sensational appointments in football although his case has grown among the fans and Portsmouth's board where he is supported, in particular, by the managing director Peter Storrie.

At the same time talks have also progressed with the former Tottenham Hotspur manager David Pleat, who helped out at Fratton Park at the end of last season. He may be recruited as director of football to work alongside a younger coach such as Brentford's Martin Allen or Motherwell's Terry Butcher. Sir Bobby Robson has been ruled out of the running after discussions.

Portsmouth were yesterday refused permission by Rangers to speak to Alex McLeish even though it appears certain he will be sacked after next week's Champions' League match against Internazionale. "It's very disappointing but I can understand it," Mandaric said last night.

Portsmouth were told last Friday by Crystal Palace that they cannot speak to another of their targets, Iain Dowie, who has also said he is happy to stay at Selhurst Park.

However, despite Mandaric's interest in other candidates, he remains determined to recruit Warnock who has always been his No 1 choice. "Neil would be top choice and we are well in progress with him," Mandaric said.

Warnock, 56, was believed to be considering what to do last night, although despite Sheffield United's claim that they want to keep him, the Championship club have yet to make a counter-offer. Warnock's present contract runs out in June next year and he has been offered a three and a half year deal at Portsmouth, worth £3.5m including bonuses. He is also said to be keen to have a hefty compensation package built into his contract which is not unwise given Portsmouth's turnover of managers.

Terry Robinson, the United vice-chairman, said of Mandaric's approach: "We're mulling over an approach Portsmouth have made for our manager. Discussions are on-going on how we will respond to that approach and at this stage there is no more I can say." Warnock has so far refused to comment on his future.