Souness new favourite for Scotland role

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Graeme Souness has become the odds-on favourite with the bookmakers to become the next Scotland coach, but an insider at the Scottish Football Association said last night the SFA was "bewildered" at a rush of money on the former Rangers, Liverpool and Newcastle manager "because as far we're concerned there is no favourite and all candidates will be given a fair hearing".

Motherwell's Mark McGhee, Southampton's George Burley and Celtic's youth coach, Tommy Burns, are the other three men on the SFA's shortlist. Motherwell and Southampton both made public yesterday the fact that they had given their managers permission to talk to the SFA. Burns will also be allowed to go to interview.

At 54, Souness is the oldest candidate with the widest managerial experience and the most silverware, having won trophies with Rangers, Liverpool, Blackburn and Galatasaray. As the only free agent, he would also be cheapest to hire, with no compensation payable. The Scotland manager will receive around £350,000 a year, whoever he is. On the downside, Souness has some less glittering spells on his CV, including at Newcastle, and he polarises opinion in Scotland, primarily because of his past allegiance to one side of the Old Firm, and animosity under his reign between Rangers and other clubs, Aberdeen specifically.

McGhee took over at Fir Park last summer, has guided Motherwell to third in the SPL, and has only increased his standing in the Scottish game by his exemplary handling of the crisis at Motherwell since the sudden death last month of Phil O'Donnell, the club's captain.

"Obviously, we are very keen to keep him as the Motherwell manager, and I have put a range of proposals to him," John Boyle, Motherwell's owner, said. "Understandably, he wants to hear what the SFA have to say... In fairness to him, Motherwell have reluctantly agreed to give permission to the SFA to speak to him."

McGhee has said he would not leave "without the consensus of everyone at the club" but the SFA retains the option, if it wants him, of allowing him to stay at Fir Park until the summer and then take over Scotland full-time ahead of the next competitive match, in September.

Burley has been at Southampton for two years ago, having previously spent a brief but successful spell at Heart of Midlothian. He was a success at Derby County and Ipswich before that.

"Taking charge of your country is the greatest honour any manager could have and if George Burley wants to speak to [the SFA], then we understand," the Southampton chairman, Leon Crouch, said.

"It would have been very difficult to say no in those circumstances and we would certainly not have given permission for him to speak to anyone else."

Burley said: "It is a great honour to be considered by your country and it is only right that I listen to what they have to say."