O'Neill is next in line on FA's interview list

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The Independent Online

The beauty contest being conducted by the Football Association appears to be nearing an end. Felipe Scolari is the latest to tell Brian Barwick, the chief executive, that he wants to win the World Cup. Next up is understood to be Martin O'Neill with Gérard Houllier a surprise new contender.

Barwick, David Richards, the chief executive of the Premier League, and Noel White, the chairman of the FA's international committee, are now a long way towards sounding out every reasonable, interested contender to replace Sven Goran Eriksson as the England head coach. The FA is quietly pleased at how few of their meetings have been leaked. The next stage is for the leading candidates to be formally interviewed.

Whether Scolari makes the short list remains to be seen. Once the current World Cup-winning coach professed an interest it would have been perverse, not to say very bad PR, not to speak to him. So when Scolari came to London last Friday to lecture the Institute of Directors, and in the process showcase his improving English, he also met Barwick.

Scolari, 57, knocked England out of the 2002 World Cup, which he won with Brazil, and the 2004 European Championship, in which he reached the final with Portugal. His enthusiasm for the English game stems, he claims, from being inspired by the Nottingham Forest teams of Brian Clough. There is certainly something of Clough in his mix of pragmatism, idealism and single-mindedness.

His club career, notably with Palmeiras, was marked by a win-at-all-costs ethic but as manager of Brazil he developed an attractive team, albeit one which preferred Kleberson to Juninho. He also dropped the popular Romario, a bold act which was echoed at Euro 2004 when he substituted Luis Figo. Under Scolari David Beckham's England place would not be a given.

He does not, however, have any experience of working with English players, or even those of a northern Europe background. This is relevant because Latin players often have a different approach, based on the ease with which they retain possession.

Houllier was once approached to be technical director of the FA. After his pioneering work in France, which laid the foundations for their 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship successes, he was seen as the ideal candidate. But he wished to return to hands-on management.

This he did at Liverpool, initially to considerable acclaim, and he has been successful with Lyon. His appointment would not, however, be warmly welcomed by the media or the wider public.

Another whose star is rising is Steve McClaren. To underline the superficial nature of the process so far - or, at least, the coverage of it - Middlesbrough's progress in the Uefa and FA Cups, and improvement in the Premiership, means he is again a contender.

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