WITH Sunderland's board insisting they will not be rushed into appointing a permanent successor to Mick McCarthy, Rangers boss Alex McLeish has distanced himself from speculation linking him to the vacant managerial position at the Stadium of Light.

McLeish was in Spain last night, leading his Rangers side into the second leg of their Champions League clash with Villarreal.

But, while the former Motherwell and Hibernian boss will be leaving Ibrox in the summer, he has told friends he would need some serious persuading before he considered a move to Wearside.

And with his role at Rangers guaranteed to the end of the season, he has repeated his desire to put off questions over his long-term future until his current job is complete.

Sources in Scotland suggest McLeish is keen to remain in football despite a traumatic 12 months at Ibrox. But after guiding Rangers to victory over Porto this season, they have also claimed he is reluctant to trade the Champions League for the Championship.

Sunderland's current lack of finance is another understandable concern, although the Scotsman's position could alter if alternative opportunities fail to present themselves in the summer.

The Black Cats' board are not expected to make a formal approach to their preferred candidate until the season is finished, although they will meet before then to draw up a shortlist of candidates.

Caretaker boss Kevin Ball is almost certain to figure on that list and, having expressed his desire for the post yesterday, the fans' favourite will begin an extended trial when Wigan visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

As Glenn Roeder has proved at Newcastle, caretaker managers are perfectly positioned to build up a head of steam and Ball's temporary position at the helm makes him a worthy favourite in most bookmakers' lists.

The 41-year-old has won the instant support of the fans and, crucially, will also boast the requisite coaching qualifications when the new season begins in August.

Niall Quinn, another former player, was the best backed contender yesterday, with his odds of 33-1 having been trimmed to 10s by the close of business.

FA Cup hero Ian Porterfield came in to 14-1 after he put himself forward for the job earlier in the day. Porterfield, who is currently coaching Busan Icons in South Korea, said: "I've coached all over the world but there's nowhere quite like Sunderland."

Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell had been mentioned as another possible contender, but he has penned a new three-year deal at Elland Road.

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