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By ESPN Staff

Discussions continue over next England manager

The Football Association maintain the race to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson remains wide open despite speculation that Steve McClaren has assumed pole position.

Until now, Martin O'Neill has been regarded as the front-runner to become the next England manager but rumours swept through the north-east the Middlesbrough manager McClaren was now the favourite.

The FA's nominations group have whittled the original list of contenders down to three or four people which are being kept so secret that not even today's board meeting was told the names of the candidates.

Both O'Neill and McClaren are understood to be on the shortlist, but the FA are insistent there is a level playing field for all the remaining candidates.

In fact, despite the McClaren rumours, the smart money would still be on Ulsterman O'Neill, even though Bryan Robson, one of England's most distinguished captains, today called for an Englishman to get the job.

FA chief executive Brian Barwick believes that in terms of the appointment O'Neill should be regarded as a domestic rather than foreign candidate.

Barwick outlined to the board today the stage the process has now reached, with interviews to be held over the next couple of weeks and an appointment announced before the World Cup.

There were no questions from any of the board members to Barwick regarding the likely candidates and the FA said in a statement afterwards: 'The FA wishes to clarify that the process of identifying and recruiting the next England manager continues.

'Chief executive Brian Barwick presented an update to the board on behalf of the nominations group mandated to manage the recruitment. The names of potential candidates were not discussed at today's meeting.

'The FA can confirm that we remain on target to make an appointment before the World Cup.

'At this time, no decision has been taken on who the next England manager will be.

'Due to the magnitude of the England team, this process understandably continues to attract a huge level of interest, which leads to intense media speculation.

'However, out of courtesy to all parties involved in this process, the FA has a responsibility to ensure a level of confidentiality is maintained until we are in a position to make an appointment.'

Robson's comments will arouse controversy in that it is the first time such a senior figure in English football has questioned O'Neill's candidacy in relation to the former Celtic and Leicester manager coming from Northern Ireland.

Robson, manager of West Brom, claimed the job should go to Sam Allardyce or Alan Curbishley.

He said: 'I have nothing against foreign coaches and Mr Eriksson has done a great job for England but I would like to see an Englishman back in the job.

'Bobby Robson took England to the semi-finals of the World Cup and Terry Venables took them to the semi-finals of the European Championships so English managers have proved they can do the job and do it very well.'

Asked whether that would rule out Ulsterman O'Neill, Robson said it did in his eyes.

He added: 'Only the FA can rule anyone out but it would do as far as I'm concerned because I would like it to be an English manager.

'It doesn't mean that if Martin O'Neill got it he wouldn't do a great job - just look at what Jack Charlton achieved with the Republic of Ireland.

'I would sooner see someone like a Sam Allardyce or Curbishley being given a chance in the job.'