Curbishley on front row of grid if Eriksson exits

Rise of the English manager: Pearce backs Allardyce for top job but would not rule out claims of foreign coaches
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The Independent Football

Not that anyone wants to be perceived as rapacious. Of course not. But with the England coach's tenure not entirely secure, the English contingent haven't entirely distanced themselves from those who would advance their claims. Even Alan Curbishley, who is positioned on the front row of the England grid, had remarked only recently, "I know some people have already got friends pushing their case, but I'm not one to do that", before adding, just a trifle mischievously: "Who knows, perhaps I should..."

It is not difficult to comprehend why the drums are beating, albeit softly for the moment, but with increasing persistence. Whether Sven Goran Eriksson succeeds in plucking the World Cup out of the current undergrowth of uncertainty, like some latter-day manifestation of Pickles the dog, then resigns in triumph, or he departs in ignominy after Germany 2006 - or something in between - the likelihood is that the Football Association will have confirmed a successor by this time next year.

There can't be a manager among the English contingent - maybe apart from Steve McClaren, who has been rather too close to recent crime scenes - who didn't view England's last three contests and speculate privately that he could have achieved considerably more with that élite group of players.

Certainly, Curbishley, whose undefeated Charlton were ultimately the victims of some peerless finishing from the champions here yesterday, would be a significant name in FA thinking. A senior source at the governing body briefed me back in 2000, before Eriksson began his tenure, that Curbishley was being lined up to become part of the England set-up - a kind of work experience, while continuing to manage Charlton. Though it did reveal the esteem with which he was held (and Curbishley has scarcely defaced his CV since then), nothing more was ever heard of that strategy, apparently because Eriksson did not like the idea.

Meanwhile, Curbishley's Middlesbrough counterpart, McClaren, Eriksson's assistant, has also spoken about "maybe getting the opportunity" with England, while the agent representing Bolton's Sam Allardyce has not left too much room for doubt with his reported claim that "Sam wants the job whenever Sven leaves". Other pretenders are Birmingham's Steve Bruce, West Bromwich Albion's Bryan Robson and, inevitably, Manchester City's Stuart Pearce, who possesses many qualities which would otherwise commend him, although longevity in the manager's seat wouldn't be one of them, as he readily accepts.

When it was put to him, after training on Friday, that the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, having demanded the head of Eriksson, had proceeded to suggest that Pearce should work in tandem with McClaren, he provoked some mirth when declaring drily: "I'm not sure Steve wouldn't want to work under me..." He added swiftly: "I think it's ridiculous, to be honest. No disrespect to Mr Whelan, but 14 games in charge in the Premiership [his record thus far]? Come on, gentlemen. Behave."

However, Pearce does believe that Allardyce, whose Wanderers his City team face at home today, cannot be discounted for the England seat. "Sam would certainly seriously consider himself, that's for sure," he said, with a smile. "I don't like speculating on a man's job, because England have a manager, but if for any reason Sven left, then Sam would have to be thrown into the equation and have to be interviewed, I would think, purely on what he'd done. So would Alan Curbishley and so would Arsène Wenger and Alex Ferguson, and all the managers in this country who have done extremely well, and probably quite a few from outside."

Curbishley has stressed that, in his view, "the next England manager should be English". Intriguingly for a defender who wore his England shirt with the pride of a knight of St George clad in his armour, that qualification doesn't trouble Pearce.

"When Sven took the job I was quite happy for a foreign manager, because I thought he was the best manager at the time to take it," he said. "If a foreign manager took the job, my only criteria would be that he's the best man, whatever nationality. It wouldn't overly matter as long as England were gaining results."

Pearce accepts that the records of English Premiership managers do suffer in comparison with many of their foreign counterparts. "That's true," he said. "I am an English manager, managing at present in the top flight, along with Sam, Curbs, whoever it may be, with the responsibility to try to address that and win something."

The knock-out competitions understandably feature among Curbishley's priorities. With Tuesday's home Carling Cup tie against Hartlepool on Tuesday in mind, the Charlton manager said: "I want to go out and do something in one of the cups this season."

After an excellent introduction to this Premiership season, Charlton never appeared likely to interrupt Chelsea's record of victories and "shut-outs" yesterday, but Curbishley has produced a team which is potentially capable of a top-half berth. Chelsea's manager, Jose Mourinho, speaking beforehand, generously (or patronisingly, depending upon your viewpoint) opined that yesterday's opponents could contest a Uefa Cup position.

Before the game, Mourinho presented Curbishley with a trophy to commemorate his 600th game (against Birmingham last week) in charge. It is a splendid record, both in what he has achieved at this club, and a measure of his steadfastness, but you just wonder how much longer he is prepared to accept his current lack of scope as a manager.

The thought passed through your mind more than once yesterday: will he be here when this fixture is next played? Or will he have been summoned to a higher calling?

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