Capello the front-runner as Mourinho quits England race

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The Independent Football

Fabio Capello looks increasingly likely to be given the chance to turn the impossibe job into an Italian job after Jose Mourinho last night definitively ruled himself out of contention to succeed Steve McClaren as the England manager. The Football Association has turned its focus on to Capello as the leading possibility to take England towards the 2010 World Cup.

The FA is still considering "three or four genuine" candidates, and sources stress that nobody has been offered the post yet, and that Mourinho was not offered the job before announcing he did not want it. Those in the running are Capello, Marcello Lippi, Martin O'Neill and Jrgen Klinnsman, although The Independent understands that one or more FA executives were pursuing "movement in Italy" yesterday and that a firm offer to a candidate is drawing close.

Capello, 61, who has already made public his enthusiasm for the job, has been a serial winner at club level, leading three different teams to seven titles in Italy's Serie A as well as winning Spain's La Liga twice and the Champions League once. An informed source said last night that he was still waiting formal contact with the FA's hierarchy presumably the FA's chief executive, Brian Barwick in person although he has held talks about the job. He spent yesterday is Madrid helping his wife to move house.

Lippi, 59, has won the Serie A title five times, the Champions League once, and also, significantly, has lifted the World Cup as the coach of his national team, last year.

The FA is determined not to get itself into the kind of situation that transpired when it was looking for a replacement for Sven Goran Eriksson and farcically chased Luiz Felipe Scolari, who ultimately rejected the approach. Instead, options will remain open until Barwick is virtually certain that the man he wants will say "yes", and only then will a firm offer be put forward, and presumably be accepted.

"We've made it clear all along that we're talking to a variety of people, and that's still the case," a source said last night. "Nobody has been offered the job. We talked to Jose Mourinho but he was not offered the job. You're never going to find out whether someone wants the job without talking to them, and the process is ongoing."

Mourinho made a public declaration to rule himself out of contention on the website of his agent, Jorge Mendes. The former Chelsea manager said: "After Steve McClaren left the England football team, my representatives maintained contact with the FA.

"In that sense, I had myself useful discussions with Brian Barwick and Trevor [Brooking] where we exchanged ideas to evaluate the entire situation about the England squad and set the goals in case of a real invitation being addressed to me.

"After deep and serious thinking, I decided to exclude myself from being England manager despite it being a fantastic position for me. I'm sure the FA will hire a great manager, one able to place the team back where it belongs.

"I reiterate my respect for English football and, after three good years in England, I firmly believe that the England squad will soon be back to their usual great results." The FA was never certain whether Mourinho's interest in the job was genuine or whether the Portuguese maverick was merely using the vacancy as a platform on which to advertise his availability for a big club job.

His motives are no clearer this morning. Sources insist he was serious enough about England to prepare a detailed dossier for the FA about how he would take England forward. But equally they acknowledge the England job was an option for him, not a necessity. Where the 44-year-old ends up next remains to be seen but there have already been unconfirmed reports that he has signed an agreement to take over at a major European club.

Real Madrid was one name being bandied around last night, and Barcelona another, while other sources insisted he would prefer to work in Italy, perhaps at Milan or Juventus.

If Mourinho was indeed using the England job to stir interest, it seems to have worked, with one suggestion that he was veering towards Soho Square late last week but was then offered a bumper deal in excess of 5m a year to pledge his future elsewhere. Klinnsman is an intriguing candidate, not least as he hails from the country that has time and again played and usually beaten England at the sharp end of major tournaments.

The 43-year-old endeared himself to England's football public in his playing days with Tottenham, however, winning the Footballer of the Year award in 1995, and he has also indicated he would happily move back to London from America to take up the job.

He moved only reluctantly back to Germany when he became his country's international coach in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, where he led his charges to the semi-finals on home turf, above expectation.

More likely to get the nod is O'Neill, who was always believed to be Barwick's favoured successor to Eriksson. The Ulsterman has said he wants to stay at Aston Villa but also failed to say, explicitly, that he did not want to manage England. Until he makes that distinction clear to Barwick and he may already have done so the FA is unlikely to make a final decision.

Barwick wants to have a candidate ready for approval by the FA board meeting of 19 December.

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