LONDON -- Steve McClaren was hired as the next coach of England's national soccer coach team on Thursday and shrugged off suggestions that he was far from the first choice.
While The Football Association dismissed reports it offered Luiz Felipe Scolari the job a week ago, McClaren declared himself the proudest man in England as he started preparing to take over from Sven-Goran Eriksson on Aug. 1.
"The FA had to pick the best man for the job and I believe they have," he told reporters after signing a four-year contract which takes him through the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup. "That's all that matters."
McClaren only became the favorite in the recent days following three months of speculation that the FA had been chasing more prominent candidates, a group that was thought to include Scolari, Australia and PSV Eindhoven coach Guus Hiddink and former Glasgow Celtic manager Martin O'Neill.
"I always felt I was in the process, and that's how it turned out," McClaren said. "I've been very comfortable with the process and very comfortable, as you can imagine, with the outcome."
FA chief executive Brian Barwick told skeptical reporters that McClaren had been his No. 1 choice all along and had been the unanimous selection of the three-man search panel and the FA Board.
Barwick said he met three times with Scolari.
"There were potential developments," he said. "He then declared he had no interest in the job. We never offered him the job. My first choice was always Steve McClaren. That might be difficult for people to get their heads across."
McClaren, currently Middlesbrough's manager, had been Eriksson's assistant for five years. England's first game after he takes over is an exhibition against European champion Greece on Aug. 16.
"This is the biggest honor that any coach can have, and is obviously the highlight of my career," he said. "It's a massive challenge and one that I welcome."
Eriksson, a Swede who is the first foreigner to coach England, announced this year he would leave after the World Cup, two years before the end of his contract.
"I'm obviously very pleased for Steve, but also for the England team," Eriksson said. "I have worked closely with Steve ever since I came to England and know how good a coach he is. He is well-liked and well-respected by the players and staff. I have no doubt that he has all the credentials to be very successful in the job and wish him all the best."
McClaren, who also served as Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United for two years, guided Middlesbrough to next Wednesday's UEFA Cup final against Sevilla. It's the first European final for the club.
"I have hugely enjoyed my time at Middlesbrough and am very grateful to the club," McClaren said. "However, this was an opportunity I couldn't refuse."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press