Foreigners out of the running as FA homes in on O'Neill

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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill now looks certain to be offered the England manager's job after the man leading the search for Sven Goran Eriksson's successor said yesterday that "it's time for a British manager".

The Premier League chairman, Dave Richards, told The Independent he was adamant the new manager should be "British" rather than English in a clear indication that the Ulsterman is the Football Association's first choice.

Richards is part of the three-man committee, with the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, and Liverpool director Noel White, who have been appointed as the group which will decide the selection process for the new England manager. However, there is no doubt that it is Richards, as the voice of the nation's biggest and most powerful clubs, who will hold the casting vote when the FA come to make the decision.

O'Neill, 53, is understood to be meeting with the three-man FA committee before the end of the month. He left Celtic last summer to care for his wife Geraldine, who has had treatment for cancer, but it has emerged recently that he is keen to return to management and would welcome the relative flexibility that the England job would give him to be with his wife. In Richards, he has the most powerful ally.

As well as giving a clear indication of who he wanted to take the job, Richards was emphatic in his belief that the next England manager should not be a foreigner. In a thinly-veiled criticism of Eriksson, he said that this time the FA will appoint a man "who understands the passion and the belief and the commitment to the game.

"Everybody keeps telling me that there's all these people available," Richards said. "We'll sit down, we'll find out who is available. Obviously, I do believe it's time for a British manager. I do honestly believe that it's time to have somebody who understands the passion and the belief and the commitment to the game.

"Sven's been brilliant for what he's done, and his track record has been brilliant. This time we want someone who really can move us on. We'll go and win the World Cup and then try again."

Asked whether he would prefer an English manager rather than a British manager, Richards replied: "There's no distinction."

Speaking at a Football Foundation event in north-west London to open a £600,000 inner-city football facility built in partnership with Chelsea, Richards took the opportunity to make clear his position on the new England manager. His comments are aimed at those within the FA who favour a second successive foreign manager such as the Dutchman Guus Hiddink or Portugal's Brazilian manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

On 27 February, the three-man committee will report back to the FA's 13-man main board. By then, in reality, the decision will have been taken and O'Neill is widely expected to take the job on what is likely to be a two-year contract that will take him to the end of the Euro 2008 tournament. Asked whether those charged with making the appointment would get it right this time, Richards joked "we'll never be sure.

"You [press] guys spend a lifetime picking us up and then you'll spend three or four years bloody killing us," he said. "I think I am a very, very lucky man, to be chairman of the league, to be involved in the international scene and I think it's a fantastic thing. But I also take it very, very seriously."

The FA has also expressed an interest in speaking to Stuart Pearce, of Manchester City, and Alan Curbishley, of Charlton, although both remain options behind O'Neill, while Bolton's Sam Allardyce appears to have fallen out of the running. Another FA councillor said yesterday the governing body's main concern would be making sure it could appoint O'Neill before he was approached by a Premiership club.

Richards also hinted at his annoyance at Eriksson's part in allegations that the Premiership was rife with corruption and transfer bungs. He said: "We need to find out if they are real, some of it's not real.

"Everybody is talking about bungs, but can anybody actually show me if it's real or not? People say there's a lot of suspicion, but is it right?"