Aston Villa are hoping to appoint Roberto Martinez as their next boss after being given permission to speak to the Wigan Athletic manager.
It is believed that Martinez, who has just 12 months left on his deal with Wigan, has already held talks with Villa owner Randy Lerner after arriving back from holiday. But Wigan chief Dave Whelan expects Martinez to reject the chance to move to Villa.
Villa cancelled Steve McClaren's interview, originally scheduled for Thursday, and told Rafael Benitez and Mark Hughes that they are not in the running to replace Gerard Houllier. McClaren had been told he would be ''wasting his time'' by meeting with Lerner.
Villa are thought to have just two names left on their shortlist, Martinez and Bolton's Owen Coyle, but are believed to favour the man who kept Wigan in the Premier League against the odds.
The Daily Telegraph believes Martinez's move to Villa Park is far from a formality, though Whelan never likely to stand in the way of his close friend if a bigger club came calling. If Martinez goes then once again Whelan will have to find a manager to mastermind another Premier League escape plan as the vultures circle for their best players, such as Charles N'Zogbia and Hugo Rodallega.
Martinez, though, has strong emotional ties to Wigan. But the temptation to take another step on the managerial ladder may still prove too strong. Whelan will try to persuade him to stay at the DW by offering him a new deal.
''Aston Villa have acted above board and in a totally professional manner,'' he said. ''They wrote to me asking for permission to speak to Roberto. He was on holiday at the time and I granted Villa permission. He arrived back yesterday and I presume he has spoken to Villa. I have made it clear to him I will be extending his contract.
''I have never let him down on anything and he has never let me down. I know I can never say never in football, but I would be very surprised if he is Aston Villa's new manager.''
Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner released a statement which read: ''The club is conscious of the keen interest in developments over the appointment of our new manager. When the process has reached an appropriate point we can assure our fans that we will be clear and forthright.
''We are focused right now on trying to secure the best candidate who will complement the club's commitment to being true to our heritage, competitiveness and passionate fan base.
''Until such time as the process is more advanced, there will be no further official comment.''