Curbishley threatens to quit England race despite FA meeting

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Alan Curbishley was forced to admit yesterday that he is a serious contender in the race for the England manager's job after he was photographed meeting with the Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick - although he added that he may yet "withdraw from the process" of his own accord.

It was the start that the FA will have dreaded, pictures of Barwick taken through a window meeting with Curbishley just hours after the Charlton manager had told reporters that he had not been contacted over the job. Despite the embarrassment of the meeting being disclosed in the Sunday Mirror yesterday, the FA have promised to continue speaking to what they have described as a "long list" of candidates.

In the immediate aftermath of the disclosures, Charlton confirmed that they had given Curbishley permission to speak to the FA and the 49-year-old described himself as "totally committed" to his club, but he has only one year left to run on his contract - the lowest threshold it has reached since he took over in 1991 - and has delayed re-signing in order to find out the FA's intentions.

Curbishley said: "It seems after seeing the headlines this morning it was all a bit shady, a bit cloak and dagger. It was far from it. The FA asked permission to talk to me, [the Charlton chairman] Richard Murray gave me permission to talk to the FA. It was, and I stress, a very, very informal chat if you like, it was no interview. I was not the first person, and am definitely not going to be the last. I was just the one who got caught.

"For me, it was an opportunity to see the face behind the name, and for them to see me, but it was all very informal. I think they will be setting about speaking to some more people. We will have to see if it progresses, I do not think there was a shortlist; there may be a very long list."

Martin O'Neill remains the runaway favourite among the FA but there is a sense of duty from Barwick that he should do the other candidates the courtesy of speaking to them. It is understood that the Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce has already met with Barwick and that there are further meetings scheduled with O'Neill and Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce this month.

There is now a growing feeling that the FA should simply announce the dates they are due to meet with candidates to remove the clandestine element.

Curbishley had issued a terse statement before his side's defeat of Middlesbrough yesterday in which he began by saying that he was "disappointed" by the leak, and that he may decide to pull out of the running to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson. He said: "I will now be considering my position and any further statements will be made as and when appropriate whether they relate to further discussions or my withdrawal from the process." A statement from Charlton said that they had not disclosed details of the meeting at the request of the FA but that they would "not stand in his way" if Curbishley was offered the job.

The FA spokesman Adrian Bevington said that they would continue the hunt for the new England manager regardless of the latest set-back. "We make no secret of the fact that once the Uruguay game was out of the way Brian would commence the process of meeting people within the game, including various potential candidates," he said.

"This is part of the process. Unfortunately, the pictures have dropped when Charlton have a game and we certainly would have preferred that not to have been the case."