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The Toe Poke
By ESPN Staff

Big Phil Scolari offered England post

LONDON, April 27 (Reuters) - FA chief executive Brian Barwick returned from Lisbon on Thursday, saying he had been interviewing Portugal's Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari about the job of next England manager.

Barwick told reporters at Heathrow Airport: 'I think it is well evidenced now that we were in Lisbon speaking to Luiz Felipe Scolari as part of the process of recruiting the next coach and that process continues.'

When he arrived later at FA headquarters in London he said the process was continuing 'apace.'

Barwick had flown out on Wednesday for the talks, having got permission from the Portuguese soccer federation to talk to Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning coach.

England are looking to replace their first foreign manager, Sweden's Sven-Goran Eriksson, who will step down after the World Cup. Scolari's contract with Portugal expires after the finals in Germany.

The 57-year-old coach, who led Brazil to their 2002 World Cup triumph and took Portugal to the final of Euro 2004, knocking out England on both occasions, has become a surprise front-runner.

Englishmen Steve McClaren, Alan Curbishley and Sam Allardyce, along with Martin O'Neill of Northern Ireland, were early favourites.

Should the talks in Lisbon bear fruit, a decision to appoint Scolari would still need to be rubber-stamped by the FA Board, who are due to meet next Thursday.

A proven winner with a wealth of international experience, and reported to be offered an annual salary of 3.0 million pounds ($5.35 million), saving the FA two million pounds a year on Eriksson's estimated wages, Scolari's appointment would still cause some controversy.

The man known back in Brazil as 'Big Phil' would not be welcomed by those who want a home-grown candidate to take over from Eriksson.

The tone was already being struck on Thursday by Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers Association and a former caretaker England manager.

'Everybody talks well of him but I think in the long term it sends out the wrong messages from the Football Association to English coaches and I think the ramifications of that will be seen in the years ahead,' Wilkinson told Sky Sports.

'The Football Association has a responsibility to do what it thinks is in the best interests of English football... It's my opinion that this is not or would not be.'

Scolari has no doubts about his ability or his interest in the job.

In a recent interview with the BBC, the Brazilian said: 'I am a good coach and I am doing a very good job in Portugal.

'The national team in Portugal is maybe better than before. I know I am a good coach. I am a man of the world. I have worked in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Brazil and now I work in Portugal. I am happy in any country.'

Asked if he would like the England job, Scolari said: 'I (would) like the job, yes. But I know if I want to coach the English national team I need to learn the language more and I need to know more about the national team job.'

Scolari had been 16-1 in betting on who would succeed Eriksson but the odds were slashed to 5-2 on Monday after weekend media reports strongly linking him with the job.

A poll running on the BBC website with over 73,500 votes cast on Thursday asking whether Scolari was the right man for the job showed 65 percent in favour.

In Portugal, Carlos Godinho, technical secretary of the Portuguese Football Federation, said: 'Officially, I have no knowledge of the presence in Portugal of an English soccer representative to talk with Mr Scolari.'

He added that federation chairman Gilberto Madail had repeatedly said there was a 'gentleman's agreement' between the federation and Scolari that the issue of whether he stayed on in Portugal would only be dealt with after the World Cup finals.