The Celtic chairman, Brian Quinn, announced yesterday that circumstances in O'Neill's private life had changed to the degree that he believed the 53-year-old was now considering the possibility of returning to management. While it has been understood for some time that the recovery of O'Neill's wife, Geraldine, after cancer treatment has been positive, Quinn is the first to suggest publicly that the news was sufficiently good to allow the former Celtic manager to consider a new job.
The FA will only officially make approaches to candidates, it reiterated yesterday, once the three-man sub-committee charged with devising the selection procedure have presented their plan to the governing body on 27 February. By then, Quinn's comments suggested, O'Neill, who is clearly the front-runner for the job, will know whether he is in a position to take it.
"I believe there has been somewhat better news in recent times [on his wife's health]. I think he [O'Neill] is certainly a very strong candidate," Quinn said. "He's comfortable in dealing with the press. He'll defend himself. He takes a close interest in what the press says and I know if he were a candidate and being considered for the job he would think quite hard about that aspect of it, because I think outside the city of Glasgow the England manager is pretty much top of the pile."
Reports in the Italian press yesterday said that Capello, the Juventus manager, had been approached for the England job, prompting the FA's most recent denials. Claims that Capello had been offered a £4.7m salary appear wide of the mark, given that there is resistance to another foreign coach, and that the figure is even more than Sven Goran Eriksson earns.
Among the other candidates, Sam Allardyce, Stuart Pearce and Alan Curbishley are understood to be near certainties to at least have an opportunity to speak to the FA. The governing body will have to make sure it has sufficient cover should O'Neill turn down the job and it does not want any alternative candidate to appear to be its second choice.
The most influential voice on the three-man committee is the Premier League chairman, Dave Richards, who has already stated that he feels Eriksson's successor after the World Cup should be "British". The FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, is also understood to favour O'Neill while the chairman of the international committee, Noel White, also advocates a British manager for the England team.
The FA statement said: "It is important we clarify that nobody has been authorised to lead any formal approaches. This meeting is expected to agree the process, not identify a list of candidates. We should be clear that the FA remains committed to appointing the best man for the job. To achieve this it is important that we take the necessary time to identify this person.
"In doing so we are determined that this recruitment process does not disrupt or interfere with Sven-Goran Eriksson's preparation for the World Cup."
The decision will not be Eriksson's but England's Swedish manager, who departs after the World Cup finals, has said he believes Wayne Rooney's development has been so rapid he considers him to be a potential future England captain. "When he came into the team he was 17 years old and hardly said a word. When he did say something I did not understand because of his accent," Eriksson said. "Now he has not only grown on the pitch, but as a person. I can see him having a future as a leader. He has those qualities."Reuse content