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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

McClaren in the spotlight as Scolari says 'No'

LONDON, April 29 (Reuters) - Steve McClaren's name is likely to loom large in the thinking of FA officials contemplating the devastation surrounding their plans for Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Portugal's coach and Brazil's 2002 World Cup winner dropped a bombshell on the English ruling body by deciding on Friday not to take his interest in becoming England manager any further.

Citing media intrusion that comes with the job, and which by his standards was already in full swing, Scolari pulled out of a deal that could have earned him several million pounds year.

It leaves the FA with a problem that is only just beginning and is may overshadow the tenure of the next man to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson in the hot seat after the World Cup.

The new boss will start the job knowing he was second best to Scolari and is only there by virtue of the media pressure that led to the Brazilians' withdrawal and Eriksson's departure.

The Swede, exposed in two affairs of the heart and one flirtation with Chelsea before Jose Mourinho's arrival, was finally undone by some ill-judged comments about England players to a reporter posing as an Arab businessman in January.

Scolari's rebuff has robbed England of one of the world's most respected coaches and given the FA the uphill task of convincing people their eventual choice will be the right one.

Middlesbrough manager McClaren's stock had risen sharply before Scolari's name suddenly burst to the fore last week and it should now recover all of that lost ground.

Scolari's decision to beat a hasty retreat came a day after McClaren's team booked their place in the UEFA Cup final against Sevilla on the finest night in the club's history.

He is also the only one of a trio of English candidates, along with Charlton Athletic's Alan Curbishley and Bolton Wanderers' Sam Allardyce, to have actually won a trophy -- when Boro beat Bolton in the 2004 League Cup final.

More importantly, he has spent several years as Eriksson's assistant and was supposedly being groomed as his successor.

His promotion to the top job would ensure a smoother transition within the FA and the England coaching set-up and he has nothing to learn about the vagaries of the British media.

However, he is not universally popular among fans or the FA and the original stumbling block -- his lack of Champions League experience and success in big competitions - remains in place.

It is also the impediment facing the more charismatic Allardyce and softer-spoken Curbishley.

These shortcomings were already there to be hurled at the FA at the first sign of an England failure over the next year. The added barb of being a Scolari substitute adds to the problem.

Northern Irishman Martin O'Neill, another former front-runner, should also come back into the reckoning after his success as a player and in management.

A European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest as a player, O'Neill went on to become a trophy winner as a manager north and south of the border with Celtic and Leicester City.

Popular with the fans for his infectious enthusiasm, O'Neill could keep a lot of people happy. His current spell out of football to care for his ill wife is unlikely to be a barrier.

The FA may try again with another foreign coach although early favourites, such as Dutchman Guus Hiddink, have since put themselves out of the running.

It clearly paves the way for a home-grown candidate, with McClaren offering the safer option, O'Neill having possibly the greater potential and canny Allardyce providing the passion.

The one certainty is that the future incumbent's credibility has already been undermined by Friday's events and it will take a lot of work to repair the damage.