Venables unpopular choice to be Newcastle's saviour

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The Independent Football

Terry Venables held talks yesterday with Newcastle United about becoming their new manager. However one stumbling block over the deal appears to be the length of the contract that Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, is prepared to offer the former England coach.

Shepherd wants the 61-year-old to take charge for the rest of this season while Alan Shearer is groomed to take over next summer. However Venables would want to stay in charge for longer, possibly two years, and with the guarantee that he is retained in some capacity after that. Shepherd is unwilling to commit but has told Venables that if things worked out he would be offered another post.

The fact that Shepherd wants Venables confirms that he is confident he can persuade Shearer to move into a coaching role sooner than expected. The Newcastle captain, 34, is keen to go into management but has insisted that he wants to solely remain a player until he retires next year. Venables has a good relationship with Shearer which was forged during Euro '96 and is prepared to act as a mentor if the terms are right.

Venables' agent, Leon Angel, travelled north yesterday. Ironically talks are understood to have taken place in Leeds - the venue of Venables' last management job which ended in acrimony when he left Leeds United in March 2003 after just eight traumatic months in charge. Nevertheless Venables has successfully carried out a role at Middlesbrough similar to the one he is being considered for at St James' Park. It is that experience - and not his failures at Leeds, and before that Crystal Palace - which is influencing the Newcastle board.

Venables would not be a popular choice with Newcastle fans with two local polls having swung - with misguided hope - behind Celtic's Martin O'Neill who would not move during a season. In the fans' approval ratings, Venables trails virtually every other name linked with the job. That may affect Shepherd's decision as he is acutely aware that, following the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson, and his failure in finding a replacement for the defender Jonathan Woodgate, that his stock is low with the fans. He also has to make an appointment quickly - despite his insistence that he will "not panic" - to appease fans, and would want his man in place by Monday.

The likelihood is that Venables would be appointed in tandem with Shearer. However if talks break down Newcastle may turn to Gordon Strachan. There is a paucity of other candidates, despite the north-east club's insistence that it has been inundated with applications with several coming from high-profile foreign coaches. Shepherd, however, has let it be known he wants to appoint a British manager and immediately ruled out Gérard Houllier.

Aston Villa's David O'Leary is interested but the club moved yesterday to quash speculation. Villa's chief executive Bruce Langham claimed: "The simple fact is that David O'Leary is under contract to this club. We haven't had any approach, but one from Newcastle - or anyone else for that matter - would not be welcomed and would be rejected." O'Leary has two years left on his contract but, sources believe, would want to move if approached by Newcastle.

A host of other clubs have also claimed their managers are untouchable with Birmingham City yesterday releasing a second denial that Steve Bruce wants to go. "It is categorically denied that our manager, Steve Bruce, is poised to quit his role at Birmingham City to join Newcastle, or that this board would consider any offer of compensation to release the manager from his recently signed five-year contract," the club said. Bolton have issued a similar rebuttal regarding their manager, Sam Allardyce, while Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren has ruled himself out.

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