Newcastle fans sign up to back reluctant Hitzfeld

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The Independent Football

The support for Ottmar Hitzfeld among some Newcastle United fans has seen more than 1400 signatories to an online petition urging the club to appoint him as their new manager. However, persuading the man himself may prove more difficult. The 57-year-old is understood to be unconvinced that a German would ever be accepted in English football management and does not feel that Newcastle would be right for him.

Hitzfeld has been out of management since 2004 when he left Bayern Munich and is understood to have told friends recently that, with the possible exception of Manchester United, he does not feel that a German in charge of an English club would be a viable option. Reports yesterday that he and Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, were to have talks about the job appeared to be wide of the mark.

Hitzfeld has privately indicated that he is in no hurry to return to football management although he still believes that he has one major job left in him. There are those in the Newcastle hierarchy who believe that despite Hitzfeld's record as a manager - he won the Champions' League in 2001 and the Bundesliga title four times - he would still be a difficult candidate to sell to the Newcastle public.

While Martin O'Neill is thought to prefer to wait until the Football Association's procedure for selecting the new England manager begins in earnest on 27 February, it would appear that if Shepherd wants to make a swift appointment, then he will have to look elsewhere. Another name that has not been dismissed at Newcastle is the former Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier who is currently at Lyon.

The 58-year-old has enjoyed great success at Lyon, who he joined at the start of the season after a year's rest from football following his departure from Anfield in the summer of 2004. The French champions are seven points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with a game in hand over Bordeaux and face PSV Eindhoven in the first knockout round of the Champions' League later this month.

Houllier is understood to still be keen on a move back to English football where, sources have said, he believes he still has "unfinished business". While the Liverpool board were convinced he had taken their club as far as he could when he left, the Frenchman still believes he could transform a difficult side like Newcastle in much the same way as he did at Anfield.

While Houllier remains an outsider for the Newcastle job, he will be taken much more seriously should O'Neill and Hitzfeld rule themselves out of the running. Houllier is in a position where he would be able to leave Lyon without too much difficulty although the French side would demand some compensation.

Another German manager, the former Schalke 04 coach Ralf Rangnick, who was sacked in December, has also been linked with the Newcastle post although he is not yet being considered as a serious option.

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