Aston Villa must undertake a substantial charm offensive to persuade Mark Hughes to get them out of the hole created by Roberto Martinez rejecting overtures to become their next manager -- but the Welshman does not seem to have entirely dismissed the idea of joining the club.
Villa sources suggested last night that they would approach managers who had not already been on their list after Martinez's decision to stay at Wigan. But Hughes, who was considered, can by no means be ruled out, with Villa's options rapidly diminishing and Bolton's Owen Coyle -- the other remaining prime option -- understood to feel affronted that the Birmingham club put Martinez ahead of him.
Villa may soon be left with candidates such as Chris Hughton and Alan Curbishley, who are both out of work, and whose appointment would not be well received by Villa fans.
Hughes is taking time to weigh his options having left a situation at Fulham which had become a source of increasing frustration and anxiety to him, with no decisions forthcoming about investment for next season.
The Turkey national job may be one option for the 47-year-old if Guus Hiddink vacates it for Chelsea -- Hughes had contact with the Turkish football federation about the post last summer.
But a move away is not likely to be one he would cherish. The Villa role is certainly one he would have taken if Martin O'Neill had resigned before Hughes took the Fulham job, and the midlands certainly suits him on a practical level, with his family still in Cheshire.
Villa have some explaining to do, however. Hughes was astonished to learn that they had passed him over as manager because of the manner of his departure from Craven Cottage -- apparently without any meaningful investigation into the circumstances of his exit.
Hughes' desperation for answers from his immediate superiors at Fulham about owner Mohammed Al Fayed's willingness to invest in an ageing squad formed an important part of the background to him leaving. His indignation was compounded when Al Fayed made light of Hughes' requests when he finally got to see him face-to-face. These factors have been overlooked and Hughes' departure portrayed in some quarters as the actions of an individual desperate to move up another notch.
Coyle is believed to have been interested in the Villa job before Martinez entered the frame. Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has not been approached by Villa but is understood to be confident of not holding on to his manager if such a request does come in. Villa have not made contact with Coyle. They will not go back to Steve McClaren, who believed he had the job before he was turned down, and there is no prospect of Everton's David Moyes taking up the job.
No decision is likely this weekend, with chairman Randy Lerner back in the United States and not expected back until early next week. There is no suggestion that the club will approach an eminently suitable character for the role who has reasons to leave his current club: Birmingham City's Alex McLeish.
The financial uncertainty at St Andrews and the difficult time McLeish has had under Carson Yeung suggest he might welcome a move. That would take some selling to Villa fans, though.
A brief Villa statement yesterday pointedly said they had not spoken with Martinez directly. The Spaniard has been offered a new deal by his chairman Dave Whelan, and his first task as he seeks to preserve his club's Premier League status is to keep Charles N'Zogbia. Everton are interested in trying to tempt him away. (© Independent News Service)