Curbishley back in race but hope fades for O'Neill

Click to follow

Martin O'Neill is understood to be preparing himself for rejection in the race to be the next England manager, leaving Steve McClaren the favourite to get the job - although he faces one last challenge from Alan Curbishley. The Charlton manager has been told that he will get a second interview with the Football Association, scheduled for tomorrow.

As the FA's five-man committee comes to the end of its protracted search for a new manager, Curbishley will have to deliver a brilliant performance to persuade the committee he is the man to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson. No final decision has yet been reached by the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, and his four colleagues but McClaren remains the compromise candidate for a group which is still split on who should have the job.

O'Neill is understood to have told friends he no longer believes that the job is within his grasp. The 54-year-old has even been approached by the Middlesbrough chairman, Steve Gibson, with a view to replacing McClaren should he be appointed by the FA within the next two weeks, suggesting that the Teesside club are aware that they are about to lose their manager.

While it is unclear why O'Neill has now become so downbeat about his chances - given that he has the support of Barwick - he should not have any shortage of employers in the Premiership. The prodigiously talented Ulsterman has already been courted by Newcastle, who have long been aware that McClaren has risen in the FA's estimations sufficiently for him to beat O'Neill to the England job.

No official approach has yet been made to Middlesbrough for McClaren by the FA and there has been no suggestion that personal terms have been raised. The 44-year-old, like the other candidates, has not been told when an announcement will be made, although it is unlikely, according to sources, to be before Middlesbrough's FA Cup semi-final against West Ham United on Sunday.

The Middlesbrough manager appears to have moved ahead on the basis that he has no outright opponents on the FA's five-man committee and offers the governing body a manager who will be seen to be active and involved in international football at all levels. This time the FA is determined that the England manager should not, as Eriksson has done, confine himself to watching Premiership games but should also take a major role in overseeing standards of coaching.

McClaren was understood to have given a good account of himself in his interview with the committee this month and put sufficient distance between himself and the failings of the Eriksson regime. Despite having served two stints as Eriksson's No 2, the Middlesbrough manager made it clear that he would not simply follow the current England manager but had ideas of his own about how the team should play.

Within the FA there is acknowledgement that McClaren has often taken a more aggressive stance with the England players when they have performed poorly than Eriksson, especially after the disastrous defeat to Northern Ireland on 7 September. McClaren takes training with the England team and would be viewed as a reliable, rather than maverick, choice.

Should he be appointed, McClaren would first move to dispel the belief that he will continue to run the England camp like Eriksson, whose gentle style of management by consensus has lost the popularity it once had among the players.

The more traditionalist element on the committee, the Premier League chairman Dave Richards and the Liverpool director Noel White, have put up opposition to appointing another foreign manager and Portugal's Brazilian manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, appeared to rule himself out of the running by stating he had promised the Portuguese football federation that he would not be considering any job offers until after the World Cup finals.

It has been reported that the 2002 World Cup winner has told the Portuguese federation not to have any more contact with the FA.

The former England caretaker manager Howard Wilkinson yesterday criticised the FA's appointment process. "The list of future England managers should not be left until one day after the current manager has disappeared," Wilkinson said. "All of a sudden everyone's in panic, running round all over the place, sometimes not quite sure of what the credentials for the job are. It gets the next bloke off on a bad foot, and that is why the process should be more streamlined and easier than this - certainly it should be quicker."