Martin O'Neill has delivered a serious blow to West Ham United by indicating that he does not want to become the club's next manager.
Sources close to O'Neill have informed the Premier League's bottom club that, after lengthy deliberations, he has finally ruled himself out of the running to replace Avram Grant.
Astonishingly, it raises the prospect that Grant may even remain in place at Upton Park for the rest of the season despite all indications being that he would eventually be sacked this week.
That scenario would appear almost unbelievable given how seriously West Ham have discussed replacing Grant and the tensions that exist between him and the club's vice-chairman Karren Brady.
It remains to be seen whether their relationship can be repaired and whether Grant can salvage his own beleaguered reputation.
O'Neill is believed to have been angered by the way in which his possible move to Upton Park leaked out and, in particular, the reports on Saturday that he was definitely replacing Grant after the match against Arsenal.
It is understood that West Ham believed they had an agreement with O'Neill at the end of last week but that he has now changed his mind. That agreement even, it is believed, went as far as detailing the make-up of his back-room staff, salaries and transfer targets such as Spurs striker Robbie Keane. Whether O'Neill can be persuaded to change his mind again remains to be seen, but hopes have dwindled dramatically at the club in the last 24 hours.
O'Neill has been highly sensitive to the way his potential appointment would be announced and the timing of it and how much time he would have to bed himself in. It is also believed that he still harboured serious reservations as to whether he could save West Ham from relegation.
The former Aston Villa manager was always West Ham's first choice to replace Grant but, having now apparently turned down the job, the club will discuss other candidates and also give serious consideration as to whether they should stick with the Israeli, who had appeared resigned to the fact that he was leaving ahead of next Saturday's match away to Everton.
A decision on the manager's future -- in the form of a club announcement -- has to be made this week by West Ham to end the damaging uncertainty that has enveloped the club.
The apparent failure to lure O'Neill will shock West Ham supporters, who have grown increasingly frustrated with the delay in making a decision over Grant.
West Ham's 5-0 loss to Newcastle had triggered representatives to make contact with O'Neill and a second-choice candidate, thought to be Sam Allardyce, although he has publicly stated he has not been in discussions.
West Ham are also thought to have considered making a move for former Spurs manager Martin Jol, although sources in Holland indicated yesterday that he may already have a job lined up for the summer after leaving Ajax earlier this season.
Other possible candidates have included Cardiff City's Dave Jones and Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish, who has been under growing pressure at St Andrew's and who was hired by the West Ham co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold when they were in charge of the English midlands club.
It is unlikely that West Ham will turn to a less experienced or lower-league manager and it may well be that the club now keeps Grant -- who they have always been reluctant to sack -- and concentrate on trying to improve the squad in the final two weeks of the transfer window.
Yesterday the former West Ham defender Julian Dicks accused the club of becoming a "laughing stock" because of the uncertainty over Grant's future.
"They (Gold and Sullivan) have the best interests of the club and the supporters at heart, I'm sure," Dicks said, "but they need to come out and end all this speculation and say, 'we support you', or they should sack him." (© Daily Telegraph, London)