Curbishley slips out of contention as spotlight is too strong

Steve McClaren and Martin O'Neill are front-runners for the England job but Charlton's manager appears to have run his race. Sam Wallace reports
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Alan Curbishley gave the clearest hint yet that he believes he is out of the running for the England manager's job when he confirmed that he had not yet been summoned for one of the Football Association's second-round interviews that Steve McClaren, Martin O'Neill, Sam Allardyce and Luiz Felipe Scolari have attended this week. Since being first shortlisted, the Charlton Athletic manager has found the spotlight uncomfortable, which has not gone unnoticed by those in the FA hierarchy.

Eliminated from the FA Cup quarter-finals by a resurgent Middlesbrough on Wednesday night, Curbishley has slipped far behind McClaren and O'Neill, the front-runners for the job, and looks set to become the first from the shortlist of five to be cut from contention. The attention that his inclusion in the shortlist has generated has not sat easy with the 48-year-old who was the first of the candidates to be pictured, on 12 March, meeting with the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, in the first round of meetings with potential candidates.

On that occasion, Curbishley reacted unusually, issuing a statement in which he said he might even "withdraw from the process" of his own volition. While permission had been obtained by the FA from Charlton to talk to him, the reaction of Curbishley - who has always urged the FA to settle the question of Sven Goran Eriksson's succession as soon as possible - did not go down well with his prospective employers. He has said that Charlton's season had been "hijacked" by the speculation.

"I have had no second meeting and no conversation to set one up either," Curbishley said. "I know I sat here and said [that before] to you - but I think we are all getting a bit weary of it. I should be here talking about Fulham [who Charlton play on Saturday] but every press conference and every match is getting hijacked, so perhaps I should put a line under it now and let's not talk about it because at the moment it is all speculation - Fulham is reality and so is Portsmouth on Monday."

Although Curbishley has enjoyed the patronage of Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, among the five men who will pick the new England manager, he has slipped out of contention in the last two weeks. The Charlton manager was also interviewed for the Liverpool job after Gérard Houllier was sacked in the summer of 2004 but, despite glowing references, failed to make sufficient impact in the interview process.

However, it would be crushing for the Charlton manager if the FA were not to call him for a second interview after a week of meetings at the Oxfordshire estate of the newspaper group chairman Sir Victor Blank. As Brooking's first pick, it seems unlikely that Curbishley would be so unceremoniously ditched from the process although from his comments over the last two days it would appear that he is readying himself for rejection.

The 4-2 victory over Charlton that took his side into the semi-finals of the FA Cup on Wednesday has done nothing to harm McClaren's new status as favourite to get the job. The 44-year-old has become the leading English candidate for the job - and with at least two of the five-man committee agitating for an Englishman to be selected, it would appear McClaren is very close to becoming, at the very least, the compromise choice for a group that still appears divided on who should get the job.

McClaren's role as a coach in the current England set-up, as well as his record at Middlesbrough of bringing on a generation of promising academy-produced players, has caught the imagination of those who see the new manager's job as very different to the role performed by Sven Goran Eriksson. Whoever is employed before the World Cup finals will be expected to "coach the coaches" in the junior England teams and ensure those teams' style of play is similar to that of the senior national side.

Like Allardyce, McClaren holds a Uefa Pro licence, the highest coaching qualification which is a requirement for all Premiership managers. O'Neill and Curbishley both have an FA coaching diploma which is an exemption that was offered to all serving Premiership managers without the Uefa Pro in the summer of 2003. In return for attending a summer refresher course, those managers will not have to complete the Uefa Pro licence until the summer of 2010.

Should O'Neill, the bookmakers' second favourite, be given the job and sign a contract that takes him to the 2010 World Cup finals, he would have to complete his Uefa Pro licence in the same summer that England - providing they qualify - play the tournament in South Africa. It is not known which coaching qualifications the Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari holds although he may wish to have pointed out in his interview that a World Cup winner's medal trumps all the other candidates' credentials for the job.

Kingmakers who will select next England manager

BRIAN BARWICK (Football Association chief executive)

Little more than one year in the job, and has not had time to build a powerbase at the FA. Supports O'Neill but will have to appease rival committee factions.

DAVE RICHARDS (Premier League chairman)

Shrewd political operator with one eye on a seat in the House of Lords. Wants an Englishman, probably McClaren, but also supports a senior figure overseeing a young coach.

NOEL WHITE (Chair of FA international committee)

Long-serving FA man, and Liverpool director. Another advocate of an Englishman for the job and likely to side with Richards - probably another McClaren vote.

SIR TREVOR BROOKING (FA director of football development)

Originally supported Curbishley but had few rallying to his cause. Behind drive to change England's youth teams from under-15s to under-20s and has brought in a new coach.

DAVID DEIN (Arsenal vicechairman)

Has championed Scolari's case from the start. Revels in being the man who picked out Arsène Wenger in 1996 but unlikely to pull off another coup with the Brazilian the big outsider.