O'Neill the choice of compromise

Allardyce and Curbishley fade leaving Irishman holding key to a three-way contest
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The Independent Football

Suggestions that a new England head coach will be named in the next few days were yesterday discounted by FA sources. But the long list is growing shorter.

Remaining candidates to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson this summer appear to be have been summoned down the M4 for interrogation in an Oxfordshire safe house, where a news blackout was no more successful in hiding identities than the blacked-out windows of expensive Football Association cars. Next, at least two of the survivors ­ Sam Allardyce and Alan Curbishley ­ are expected to be voted out of the house by Big Brother Brian Barwick.

That will leave three men standing: the Englishman Steve McClaren, the Brazilian "Big Phil" Scolari, thrown into opposition again as they were in Shizuoka and Lisbon, plus Martin O'Neill, the Ulsterman who is being challenged by McClaren as the compromise candidate to unite a divided board.

After what will be almost six years of laid-back Swede, some of the selection panel, like the ubiquitous Premier League chairman, Dave Richards, want to revert to a home-grown manager; the FA vice-chairman, David Dein, a prime mover in recruiting Arsène Wenger for Arsenal and Eriksson for England, wants the best man regardless of nationality.

Barwick himself is believed to favour O'Neill, who combines the dynamism missing under Eriksson and his coach, McClaren, with experience of European and international football, plus unusual intelligence (he reluctantly truncated his law studies at Queen's University in order to join Nottingham Forest).

Of the two logistical question marks against O'Neill, one appears to have been resolved. Having given up his job as manager of Celtic after four successful seasons to care for his seriously ill wife ­ demonstrating a pleasing sense of football's place in the wider scheme of things ­ he has indicated that he is ready to resume work. Employment by the FA, as opposed to Newcastle United, would for most of the time be closer to the family home in High Wycombe and also be less relentlessly time-consuming.

What may prove trickier is his loyalty to two assistants, Steve Walford and John Robertson, who followed him from Leicester to Celtic, leaving their jobs at Parkhead when O'Neill did for the sake of his domestic circum-stances. His first instinct would certainly be to want them involved with England, which would once again ruin any idea of the continuity that the FA have vainly tried to foster since the Eighties days of Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson, with Don Howe as their coach.

The board would understandably be much keener on offering involvement in the set-up to potential England managers of the future such as Curbishley, Stuart Pearce or the Under-21 coach Peter Taylor, whether full-time or part-time.

Taylor and McClaren were initially brought in on that basis in the interregnum between Kevin Keegan's resignation and Eriksson's appointment. They have both been around for much of the time since, whereas the only possibility of wider experience for the likes of Curbishley and Allardyce was to take clubs of meagre resources into Europe. Both are likely to miss out on this week's short shortlist as a result.

Scolari himself muddied the waters further yesterday, telling Radio Globo in Portugal that he would be deciding on his future only after the World Cup. "I have talked with the Portuguese Football Association's president and we have decided that we will talk after the World Cup. I don't know where I will be after Germany."

Meanwhile, Newcastle remain keen to secure either O'Neill or McClaren, depending on which way the FA jump.

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