The unofficial contest to join Sam Allardyce as the leading English contender to replace Sven Goran Eriksson went the way of Stuart Pearce yesterday, his Manchester City team defeating Charlton Athletic 3-2, though it was Alan Curbishley who led calls for the Football Association to end the uncertainty surrounding the appointment of the next England manager.
All three prospective candidates were at the City of Manchester Stadium on a day when speculation about the Swede's successor intensified, with Pearce finally confirming he would be interested in the position after the World Cup and Allardyce insisting the chosen one should be British.
Afterwards Curbishley's annoyance at his inconsistent side was matched only by his irritation at the lack of clarity currently emanating from English football's governing body. "We are all trying to manage our clubs and the FA should perhaps say yes or no to the names that are being mentioned or say they are leaving it until May, then it will allow everyone to get on with what they have to do," said the Charlton manager; "The situation should be clarified."
Pearce echoed his opponent's sentiments, if not the timescale, having softened his stance on his self-proclaimed unsuitability for the post by earlier conceding: "It would be absolute folly to rule myself out of any job. I'd certainly go for an interview. I am not encouraging the FA to do anything ut, in my eyes, I would have thought to end all the speculation and get it done and out of the way, they need to make a decision a month before the World Cup starts. Then, everyone knows what is going on."
It was reported yesterday that the FA's search had been compromised by Newcastle United's intention to offer Martin O'Neill the vacant managerial position at St James' Park this week and Guus Hiddink's reluctance to break his contract with PSV Eindhoven before it expires in 2007. Neither development, however, will alter the present strategy of the three-man selection committee that will determine Eriksson's replacement: Brian Barwick, the chief executive of the FA, Dave Richards, the Premier League chairman, and Noel White, the FA international committee chairman and Liverpool director.
The FA hierarchy is divided over its choice of leading candidate, with Richards and White said to favour an Englishman, Barwick a firm admirer of O'Neill and other members of the association's ruling board pressing the claims of Hiddink plus the Brazilian World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari. Several contenders will be put to the board on 27 February with interviews to commence shortly afterwards.
By then, the Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd is expected to have made a formal approach to O'Neill, but the Ulsterman will continue to consider his options as he cares for his ill wife Geraldine. And last night it emerged that he was likely to turn down Newcastle in favour of the England post.
Though Shepherd was keen to find a swift and popular successor to Graeme Souness and O'Neill tops the wanted list by some distance, the pressure on the St James' chairman has been alleviated by the early success of the Glenn Roeder and Alan Shearer caretaker partnership.
Thus far the only man believed to have been approached by Newcastle is Ottmar Hitzfeld, the former Bayern Munich coach who has asked to be kept informed of developments. The 57-year-old has fared well in polls among the Newcastle support and, though impressed by his credentials, Shepherd believes O'Neill's charisma makes him a more favoured choice than the two-time European Cup winner.
The current PSV and Australia coach Hiddink appeared to hinder his prospects with the FA this weekend by stating that he would consider the England job on a part-time basis. "I will not break my contract with PSV but it is possible to take on the England duties as well for the first 12 months," he said.
However, as there would be less than 12 months on his deal with PSV after the World Cup and the offer of a lucrative England salary could test that stance, his comments will not deter the selection committee, provided he gains enough support for an approach.
Unsurprisingly, Allardyce, who has made no secret of his desire to manage his country, believes the FA should follow popular opinion and appoint a homegrown talent.
The Bolton manager, who was present at the City of Manchester Stadium as a television summariser, said: "If the FA are talking about him being British, then that is good news for everyone in this country. The public seem to want that, so from my point of view I'd want to go that way not just from the point of being in contention but also because I am an Englishman anyway. It is very important for this country and for the FA to go down that route because we are all taught through their system."
How the two contenders measure up
Alan Curbishley (Charlton Athletic)
Tactical awareness Came second best to Pearce yesterday but was not afraid to chase game. Struggled in midseason to pinpoint why Charlton could not get a point. Yet to qualify for Europe - or produce a trophy
Man-management Fair, but he has fallen out with a few players, including Danny Murphy and Jason Euell
Rapport with fans Well-liked and trusted for his loyalty to Charlton
Passion factor. Sven or Keegan? More Sven than Keegan Rarely gets animated on the touchline.
Potential embarrassment factor to FA Low
Premiership games in charge 252. Points per game 1.24
Stuart Pearce (Manchester City)
Tactical awareness Showed willingness to gamble yesterday by changing formation to 4-3-3 at half-time. Took lead and reverted to his preferred 4-4-2. Yet to test himself in European football, although plenty of experience as player
Man-management Good. Has clearly learnt a few tricks from Brian Clough. Handled the Joey Barton situation well
Rapport with fans Has been booed but generally excellent
Passion factor. Sven or Keegan? More Keegan than Sven. Loves game and is a bundle of energy on the touchline
Potential embarrassment factor to FA Low, although willingness to talk to press might have to be tempered
Premiership games in charge 34 Points per game 1.47Reuse content