Scolari in denial over FA meeting

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The Independent Online

The Football Association obtained permission from its Portuguese counterpart to interview Luiz Felipe Scolari in Oxfordshire this month and, despite the Brazilian's bizarre protestations yesterday that he had had no contact with it, is still considering the Portugal coach as one of two front runners for the England manager's job.

The saga of the search for Sven Goran Eriksson's replacement took another strange twist yesterday when Scolari gave an interview to BBC Radio Five to insist that he would delay any decision on his future until after the World Cup finals and had not been interviewed for the job. Yet he visited Oxfordshire this month to meet FA officials with the full permission of the Portuguese football federation.

Scolari was responding to the disclosure that he and the Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, are the two candidates the FA's five-man committee is considering for the job - with a decision that could come this week. With Scolari's case being pushed hard by the Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, the 2002 World Cup winner is concerned how that will affect his position as coach of Portugal.

Scolari struck a very public deal with Gilberto Madail, the president of Portugal's football federation, that he would not discuss his future until after the World Cup finals. He is acutely aware of the pressure he would come under should England face Portugal in the World Cup finals and has privately warned the FA that he will not be pushed into making a decision.

His supporters at the FA have tried to push Scolari to change his position with the Portuguese football federation, but they are likely to find him a difficult character to pressurise. Before the Euro 2004 finals, Benfica made a well-publicised play for his services and asked him to break out of his deal with Portugal, but after leaking the story to up the ante they were met with a flat refusal from Scolari.

However, FA sources have indicated that the association had acted completely above board in approaching Scolari by gaining the permission of the Portuguese football federation, to whom he is still contracted. The FA has not been encouraged by Scolari's denials but understands the pressure that will be placed on him to keep to his word with his Portuguese employers.

Alfonso de Melo, a Portuguese federation spokesman, said that his organisation was confident that Scolari would not break his contract to join England. "He is going to decide after the World Cup, he won't decide anything until then," De Melo said. "He had a meeting with the president of the Portuguese federation and they have an agreement. If he says something, he will keep to it until the end of the world."

While Scolari has now edged ahead of McClaren, there is serious disquiet among those on the five-man committee who wish to encourage English coaches by appointing an Englishman. Sir Trevor Brooking, the director of football, development, has been charged with revamping the coaching structure and he is known to support a British appointment at the very least.

With the committee divided, it is delegates previously opposed to an Englishman who are understood to have been turned in Scolari's favour. The Premier League chairman, Dave Richards, and the FA councillor Noel White will be crucial to any decision that will have to be rubber-stamped by the main FA board before made public.

The FA director of communications, Adrian Bevington, insisted there had been no last-minute change of heart from the selection panel. He said: "Because of the nature of the role, there are huge levels of interest, which have led to incredible levels of speculation. I am sure by the end of the process, when we make an announcement, every newspaper will be able to say they have said who the next manager will be.

"We are almost there but until we approach someone to take the job - which we haven't - we can't say anything."

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