RPT-Italy's UniCredit to narrow down search for new CEO - sources

(Repeats from Monday)

* Closing in on CEO choice

* Aims to pick Mustier’s successor by Feb. 10

* Orcel, Gallia strong contenders but issues remain

* Mediobanca CEO fits profile but unavailable

By Valentina Za, Gianluca Semeraro and Claudia Cristoferi

MILAN, Jan 18 (Reuters) - UniCredit is narrowing down a field of candidates to replace departing Chief Executive Jean Pierre Mustier, three people familiar with the matter said, as Italy’s second biggest bank tries to find a new boss by early February.

The French banker said on Nov. 30 he would step down by mid-April due to disagreements with the board over strategy.

Mustier had been discussing with Rome a potential takeover of state-owned Monte dei Paschi. He prioritised returning cash to shareholders over M&A and had set strict terms to consider an acquisition.

The choice of his successor will have implications for UniCredit’s stance on any potential Monte dei Paschi deal.

The bank is yet to decide whether to access confidential data Monte dei Paschi is opening up to potential suitors this week, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

UniCredit declined to comment.

The Milanese bank has hired consultant Spencer Stuart to screen candidates and sources have said the bank wanted to have a decision for when its board meets on Feb. 10 at the latest.

The people said UniCredit was poised to reduce the list of names to just a handful in the coming days, and they added Andrea Orcel and Fabio Gallia had both emerged so far as strong contenders.

Orcel, 57, is the former head of investment banking at UBS which he left in 2018 to take the helm at Santander before the Spanish bank withdrew its offer, prompting the Italian to file a 112 million euro ($135 million) lawsuit.

Gallia, also 57, led the Italian arm of French bank BNP Paribas until 2015 when he took the reins of Italy’s state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. He is now general manager at state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri.

Orcel, previously also at Bank of America Merrill Lynch , is backed by some of UniCredit’s large institutional investors as well as leading Italian shareholders including eyewear magnate Leonardo Del Vecchio, one of the people said.

Del Vecchio leads a domestic shareholder group that opposes the Monte dei Paschi deal.

UniCredit’s international investors are concerned about the new CEO pick after Mustier’s sudden exit during Monte dei Paschi talks fuelled speculation about political interference.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a top-30 UniCredit investor told Reuters that after clashing with Mustier the board could “lean towards a more malleable candidate so the most likely outcome is that we get a relatively unknown Italian at the helm.”

While international recognition works in Orcel’s favour, another source said his Santander lawsuit was a major issue, alongside his track record in investment as opposed to commercial banking.

The source said Gallia, in this respect, had a more rounded profile as a banker, but had been less exposed internationally and was not well known outside of Italy.

After Mustier, whose background was in investment banking, UniCredit wants a new boss with a similarly strong international profile but also 360-degree banking skills and a more inclusive leadership style, Chairman-elect Pier Carlo Padoan has said.

Mediobanca CEO Alberto Nagel may also have been a good fit for the UniCredit job but two people familiar with the matter said he had not made himself available when contacted by Spencer Stuart. ($1 = 0.8282 euros) (Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia and Simon Jessop in London. Editing by Jane Merriman)