Sunday, February 29, 2004

Times Online - Sunday Times

Prodigy Milner grows up fast under Elland Road spotlight
The 18-year-old feels recent performances have seen a revival in team that which will stand Leeds in good stead against Liverpool today, writes Joe Lovejoy
AT LIVERPOOL they have taken to adorning the ground with sick graffiti about the manager. At Leeds United the writing has been on the wall much longer.
These famous old clubs used to contest cup finals and championships. Today they meet at Elland Road in circumstances that must have Bill Shankly and Don Revie grimacing in their graves. Liverpool, who monopolised the League title in the 1980s, are reduced to scuffling for fourth place and a backdoor entry to the European Cup they won four times between 1977 and 1984.
Hard times at Anfield then, but their rivals across the Pennines would swap them any day. Champions and Champions League contenders only three years ago, Leeds have fallen far and fast, and with talk of bankruptcy and relegation they need not so much a lift as a dredger.
There was snow on the ground and gallows humour in the air at their Thorp Arch training complex on Friday when, on reporting to the usual building, I found it deserted and, like just about everything else, up for sale.
If morale could get any lower, it must have done so last week, when the iconic Alan Smith spoke of “sticking it out” to the end of the season before leaving. Management and fans alike are desperate to keep the England striker, seeing him as the foundation stone for a renascent future. The carpetbaggers, they know, will leave town now that the money has run out, and good riddance, but heaven and earth will be moved in the attempt to persuade the bedrock boys to stay.
Smith is one, James Milner another. Milner eclipsed another prodigy, Wayne Rooney, as the Premiership’s youngest goalscorer on Boxing Day 2002, and has been tipped for a stellar career ever since. Leeds fans (Milner has been one of them since the age of six will be encouraged to learn that this son of the West Riding has no intention of deserting, come what may. “Once a White, always a White” was the catechism drummed into him by his father — a season ticket-holder since the Revie era.
Nobody could have been more proud than Peter Milner when his boy was accepted by, and then graduated with honours from, the celebrated Leeds academy. The decision to pursue a career in football rather than cricket — Milner was a wicketkeeper as a schoolboy — has been handsomely vindicated. He is often likened to Rooney, which is misleading, for they are chalk and cheese.
Everton’s favourite son is a striker prone to laddism, with a build that reflects his enjoyment of a night out. Milner is a midfielder whose lean frame is the product of a dedicated lifestyle, where relaxation means nothing more hedonistic than a round of golf. In terms of character, the teetotal Smith is a more valid comparison, both players coming from similar backgrounds and following an identical path to the Leeds first team. Both were playing for the club when they were still in short trousers, and both were fast-tracked from the under-11s to the academy, where Smith, older by five years, was Milner’s role model. “Everybody at the academy looks up to Smithy because he’s done what all the young players want to do,” says Milner. “He was one of my heroes when I used to watch the team. When he scored at Liverpool on his debut, it showed me what was possible. He was only 17, and I looked at him and thought, ‘I want to do that’.”
Milner did even better. In November 2002, Terry Venables made him the second-youngest debutant in Premiership history after Coventry’s Gary McSheffrey, and the following month, at 16 years and 357 days, he became the competition’s youngest scorer, in a 2-1 win at Sunderland. “Terry always had faith in me, which did me a lot of good,” he says.
It speaks volumes about what has gone wrong at Leeds that Milner, 18, has already played for three managers, and says just as much for his ability that all three have placed their trust in him. After the departure of Venables, Peter Reid loaned Milner to Swindon in order to toughen him up before bringing him back as an integral part of the team, which he remains under Eddie Gray.
Gray believes Milner could eventually be the answer to England’s problem on the left. “He is as good as any young player in the country, with the exception of Wayne Rooney, who is a bit special,” says Gray. “He is a key player for us, even though he is so young. He can play either side or up the middle. He’s versatile, extremely quick, he’s got two good feet and he’s intelligent. If he has a bad day, he readily admits it, and that’s refreshing. He’s very much his own man.”
Milner’s versatility is such that Leeds had used him all across the midfield, and as a striker. Was he not worried about becoming a jack of all trades? “Not at the moment,” he says. “I’ve been playing mostly on the left because we don’t have a left-winger. Jason Wilcox has been injured for a long time, and I’ve covered for him. I was brought up on the right, but Penno (Jermaine Pennant, on loan from Arsenal has come in there and done well, and I really don’t mind playing on the left.
“When you’ve got the big man (Mark Viduka inside you, he makes it easy to link up, and I can always go outside (that ought to be music to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s ears). Eventually I’ll need to settle in one position, but for the moment I’m happy to be in the team anywhere”.
Milner admits it has been “difficult” being a young player in a struggling side, but adds that it is not all doom and gloom. “You’ve just got to use it as a learning process,” he says. “You’ve got to learn, and grow up quickly. There are positives. I’ve experienced more in the past two seasons than some players do in six, and that should stand me in good stead for the future.” That said, he admits that not having had a settled manager has been disadvantageous. “It doesn’t help that every time the gaffer changes, I feel I have to start from scratch and prove myself all over again”, he says. “We could definitely do with a period of stability.”
For a young man with Leeds United in the blood, the decline has been depressing. Three years ago, David O’Leary’s team were Champions League semi-finalists. “I was playing for the under-16s then,” says Milner. “The game I remember best was Milan, when Lee Bowyer scored in the last minute. It was a great result (1-0 to Leeds). We had a great side.
“Obviously we’ve gone downhill fast ever since, but it’s no good looking back. Recent performances have shown that everyone is prepared to work hard. The big man (Viduka has come back after a break and is looking really sharp. He’s got everybody going, and there has been an improvement lately. Against Liverpool we’re looking to explode from the first whistle and get on top of them quickly.”
Can Leeds get out of trouble? “Definitely,” he says. “I’m sure we can after the way we’ve been playing lately. Once you think you might not get out of it, you’ll go down.” Alan Smith, you have been told.
Times Online - Sunday Times

14-day race to rescue Leeds
The crisis at Elland Road has deepened with club shares suspended, but that could focus minds on a deal. By David Bond
THE group of Yorkshire businessmen behind a rescue package for Leeds United has been given two weeks to complete the £20m deal, or the club will go into administration.
After another traumatic 48 hours at Elland Road, the financially stricken club has been left on the brink after its major creditors failed to agree on Friday to a two-week extension to a critical repayment freeze.
Leeds are battling debts of more than £100m, with £60m of that a long-term securitisation bond owed to three large finance houses: American firms Met Life and Teachers and the British company M&G. A further £20m is owed to Registered European Football Finance Ltd (Reff) under a leaseback deal in which Leeds borrowed money to buy players.
With no formal protection from these creditors, there is now nothing to stop the club sliding into the hands of administrators.
Until Friday morning Leeds chief executive and acting chairman Trevor Birch had believed a sixth extension to the standstill agreement, which has become the club’s lifeline since the start of the year, was a formality.
Sources close to the club say that although the bond- holders were prepared to back another two-week extension, leaseback financiers Reff and the German insurance company behind the deal, Gerling, ran out of patience.
By the time the opposition became clear, it was too late for Birch to try to extend the deadline, and trading in the club’s shares was suspended at 2pm on Friday.
Although the move has pushed Leeds, who face Liverpool at Elland Road in the Premiership this afternoon, closer to insolvency, the club hopes it will focus minds to get a rescue deal finalised.
Creditors will be opposed to any moves to bring in the administrators, as it will mean they receive even less than they might get if the club is taken over by the Yorkshire consortium. But that will encourage more potential buyers to come forward.
The former Leeds vice- chairman Allan Leighton is believed to be ready with a rescue deal if the club goes into administration.
Last week a consortium led by Terry Fisher, the former Huddersfield Town chairman, withdrew, leaving just one interested group of Yorkshire businessmen. Gerald Krasner, the group’s spokesman, said last night that they were still keen and were further forward now than last weekend.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Sport

Crisis at Leeds deepens as creditors step up pressure
By Nick Harris
28 February 2004
The crisis at Leeds United deepened yesterday after the club's major creditors refused to extend their "standstill agreement" on £80m of debts and Leeds plc asked the stock exchange to suspend trading in its shares.
While the creditors stopped short of forcing Leeds to the wall immediately, the developments increase the chances that Leeds could go into administration in the near future, perhaps next week.
As recently as Thursday evening, senior figures at Leeds were still hoping the club would be granted a fortnight's further extension to the standstill agreement, which expired at 2pm yesterday. But it now seems that the hand of Trevor Birch, Leeds's chief executive, has been forced, and he may not be given as much time as he would like to find a buyer.
One of two consortiums that had been investigating the possibility of a takeover withdrew its interest on Thursday. The other consortium, also made of up local businessmen, said in a statement that it was "the only realistic bidder for the club that has the credentials and the finances to save it from administration and possibly liquidation.
"We also see this acquisition as a long-term investment that will establish the club as a viable business, going forward, regardless of whether it remains in the Premiership or the Nationwide League. Our business plan is not dependent on Premiership survival.
"Any suggestion that the consortium is looking at this acquisition as an asset-stripping exercise is completely untrue, so much so we can make a commitment now that, if we are successful in buying the club, Leeds United's future is and always will be at Elland Road. Anyone suggesting otherwise is simply scaremongering."
It seems there are only three ways forward for Leeds now. One is that Leeds will go into administration soon and the administrators will do a quick deal with the remaining consortium that will satisfy the major creditors. This could possibly involve the major creditors accepting a cash payment plus ownership of Elland Road to settle Leeds's debts. All unsecured creditors would lose most of their money but the new owners - who may or not have links to the former Bradford chairman, Geoffrey Richmond - would take the club forward. The club would become tenants of the creditors at Elland Road.
The second scenario is that Leeds will go into administration but no deal is done quickly with a buyer. The administrator's priority would be to slash costs quickly by selling players and cutting wages. This would almost inevitably lead to huge instability in the run-in to the end of the season and undermine the fight to stay in the Premiership.
The third scenario is that Leeds stay out of administration and Birch is given up to two more months to find the right buyers once Leeds's fate in the Premiership has become certain, one way or the other. This would seem the most sensible way forward but yesterday's denial of an extension to the standstill agreement suggests the creditors might want a quicker solution.
In the statement to the stock exchange, Leeds said that "the existing standstill arrangements ... have not been formally renewed".
Leeds had already persuaded a variety of bondholders and finance firms to extend their deadlines five times in the past two months. The statement continued: "However, the board confirms that it continues to retain the support of these major finance creditors whilst it seeks to finalise its negotiations with interested parties relating to a long term financial restructuring of the group."
Sport

Leeds creditors halt standstill agreement
By Ian Parkes, PA Sport
27 February 2004
Leeds United's major creditors have not renewed the 'standstill agreement', which ran out today, but have backed the club in its bid to finalise a takeover deal.
Leeds first announced the formal standstill arrangement on December 4 last year, now nearly three months ago.
A statement to the Stock Exchange read: "The board of Leeds United plc announces that following discussions with its major finance creditors, the existing standstill arrangements that expired at 2pm today have not been formally renewed.
"However, the board confirms that it continues to retain the support of these major finance creditors whilst it seeks to finalise its negotiations with interested parties relating to a long term financial restructuring of the group.
"In view of the fact that the group no longer has a formal standstill arrangement, the board has concluded that it is inappropriate for trading in the company's shares to continue and accordingly has requested that trading in its shares be suspended."
It had been hoped a second Yorkshire-based consortium would yesterday enter the race to buy the cash-strapped club, whose gross debts exceed more than £100million.
But, despite stating earlier this week they were hopeful of making an offer, the group - which included former Huddersfield chairman Terry Fisher - instead "reluctantly concluded" they would not be doing so.
It means the consortium represented by insolvency expert Gerald Krasner are now the only currently viable option for Leeds chief executive Trevor Birch and the creditors.
Talks have now been ongoing for more than five weeks between the club, consortium and creditors - bondholders M&G, MetLife and Teachers, player-leasing agents Registered European Football Finance Ltd, the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise.
Krasner yesterday confirmed talks "are progressing" and that his group "are still optimistic" a deal will be concluded in due course, although it has since been made clear any takeover will not realise any value for shareholders.
And today the consortium represented by Krasner issued a statement of their own in which they insisted they have the club's best interests at heart and dismissing fears that they were looking to acquire Leeds as an asset stripping exercise.
Sport

Relegation fears scare off potential Leeds bid
By Nick Harris
27 February 2004
One of the two Yorkshire-based consortiums hoping to save Leeds United yesterday announced it had scrapped its plans for a bid. With Leeds facing the expiry of their latest "standstill agreement" with their major creditors at 2pm this afternoon, that leaves only one consortium in the running. But following doubts about the credibility of that group - and what role, if any, is being played by the former Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond - Leeds' future looks shakier by the minute.
Despite yesterday's setback, the Leeds chief executive, Trevor Birch, remains hopeful he will find a solution to the club's financial crisis. A senior source at Elland Road said that Birch hopes to secure another fortnight's extension to their standstill agreement, and further extensions as necessary through March and April.
Leeds' major creditors - bondholders and a financing firm owed £80m between them - are not intent on forcing Birch to choose between selling the club or applying for administration just yet. That decision will have to be made before the end of the season but all parties realise that Birch has a better chance of finding the right buyer once Leeds' status next season has been confirmed.
If they manage to avoid relegation and can guarantee Premiership football next season, Leeds will be immediately more attractive to a range of potential investors. Birch is understood to feel that an early sale at a knock-down price on the assumption of relegation risks the club being sold too cheaply and not necessarily to the right buyers.
The group that withdrew its interest yesterday was the so-called "second Yorkshire consortium", comprised of wealthy local businessmen and advised by Zeus Capital Limited, a corporate finance firm.
"Following our financial investigations we have reluctantly concluded that the consortium will not be making a proposal regarding Leeds," Richard Hughes, a Zeus director, said. It is thought the group had access to the £25m needed to satisfy the creditors straightaway but had reservations about the impact of relegation.
Gerald Krasner, a spokesman for the other consortium, which tabled a bid of around £20m three weeks ago and is involved in ongoing talks with Leeds, said: "Things are progressing and we're further on than we were last week. If we weren't progressing then we would be pulling out, so we are still optimistic." No deal with Krasner's group is believed to be imminent.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Sport

The Gentle Giant, legend in two lands
John Charles: Born: 27 December 1931. Died: 21 February 2004
By Ronald Atkin
22 February 2004
Of all the trophies and mementoes he won or owned, the one John Charles prized most of all was a mounted set of model footballers on his dining-room sideboard, the 11 most talented men ever to play in the English League. The sadness was that, after a lifetime in which his triumphs and modesty brought the inevitable nickname "The Gentle Giant", Charles could not remember the names of some of the other 10 who stood beside him on that plinth.
By then, 16 months ago, when we talked at his modest semi-detached home in the Leeds suburb of Birkenshaw, Charles was battling the onset of Alzheimer's with the same quiet cheerfulness he had dealt with the earlier news of cancer of the bladder. Yesterday, The Gentle Giant died in Yorkshire aged 72 as a result of complications following a heart attack suffered in an Italian TV studio on 7 January while preparing to promote his autobiography.
Though some of the records set in a monumental career with Wales, Leeds and Juventus still stand, Charles should have seen greater reward. But he was content with the hand life had dealt him.
Born at Cwmdu, near Swansea, Charles began his life in football on the ground staff at Swansea, but was snapped up at 16 by Leeds on a starting wage of £8 a week. When a scout named Pickard turned up at his home to formalise the signing, John's mother, who had never travelled outside Wales, protested, "He can't go, Mr Pickard. He hasn't got a passport yet". And when, in 1950, Charles made his debut for Wales (against Northern Ireland at Wrexham) at 18 years 71 days, which remains a Welsh record, his parents were not there. They considered Wrexham too far to travel to from Swan-sea. Charles went on to win 38 Welsh caps and was a member of the last Wales team to qualify for the World Cup, in 1958.
At Elland Road, Charles came under the eagle eye and protective wing of one of the greats of English managership, Major Frank Buckley, who converted him from a wing-half, reasoning that the youngster's commanding stature would prove handy in the centre of defence and, as it turned out, at centre-forward. In 10 seasons with Leeds he made 318 appear-ances and scored 154 goals. His 42 in the 1953-54 season remain a club record.
In 1957, reportedly because they needed cash to rebuild their uninsured West Stand which had burned down, Leeds sold Charles to Juventus for the then staggering, and record, sum of £65,000. Unlike many from the Football League who subsequently trod what would become a well-travelled path, Charles settled well, played brilliantly and was adored by the club's supporters, though he admitted: "It was a challenge and I was scared. I wondered what I had put myself in for."
What he put himself in for was a wage rise, up to £20 a week, and handsome bonuses if Juventus did well. Bonuses were accordingly plentiful in his five seasons there as Juve won three titles and the Italian Cup twice. Charles played 178 times, mostly up front, and scored 105 goals. He is the only foreigner in Italian football's Hall of Fame and has been voted by Juventus fans their best-ever foreign player, better even than Michel Platini.
Jack Scott, a goalkeeper with him at Leeds, considers Charles the best footballer ever. Terry Medwin, who played alongside him in that 1958 World Cup team which lost 1-0 in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Brazil, said, "John always looked like a Greek god. He could have become a boxer, a rugby player. He could have been anything. He was probably one of the greatest players in the world at that time, even though Pele was around." Jack Charlton, who succeeded Charles in the Leeds defence, said: "While everybody else just played the game, he went out and won matches on his own."
In 1962 Charles was transferred back to Leeds for just £12,000 less than Juventus had paid for him. The return was a disaster. He missed Italy's lifestyle. So two months later Leeds sold him to Roma for £70,000, a move which also failed, because life in southern Italy did not compare, in his view, with that of Turin. After one season there, Charles was transferred to Cardiff City for £25,000 and finished his League career there.
He had stints as manager of Hereford and Merthyr but was never in charge of a League club. "I don't think I was good enough," he said in 2002. "Maybe I wasn't nasty enough either." He drifted into ownership of a pub in Leeds, was manager of a hotel, then a shop, and coached for a spell in Canada before retiring.
After collapsing in Italy last month, Charles underwent surgery for a blood clot in his leg and had part of his foot amputated. When it was decided he should spend his remaining time at home, Il Buon Gigante was flown back to England in the Juventus club private jet.
Life and times: John Charles
Born: 27 December 1931 in Swansea.
Died: 21 February 2004 in Wakefield.
Family: Leaves his second wife, Glenda, and four sons from his first marriage.
As a player (club): 1949-57 Leeds United (318 appearances, 154 goals); 1957-1962 Juventus (178, 105); 1962 Leeds United (11, 3); 1962-63 Roma (10, 4); 1963-66 Cardiff City (66, 19).
As a player (international): Wales (38 matches, 15 goals).
Honours: 1958, 1960 and 1961 Serie A championship; 1959 and 1960 Italian Cup winner; 1958 Serie A player of the year.
Also: Never booked or sent off. Top scorer in Serie A in his first season with Juventus. Top scorer in the Football League for Leeds in 1953-54 with 42 goals, still a club record. Youngest-ever Welsh full cap at 18 years and 71 days in 1950.
Times Online - Sunday Times

Juve give Il Gigante Buono pride of place
He lived like a lord in Turin, but although he spent his twilight years in far less opulent surroundings, John Charles never became bitter. Frank Malley reports
THEIR pictures adorn the walls of the Stadio delle Alpi and their deeds live for generations. Players such as Sivori, Boniperti, Zoff, Causio, Gentile, Tardelli, Platini, Bettega and Zidane have all worn the black-and-white stripes of Juventus with distinction.
And yet 41 years after he last pulled on the revered No 9 shirt of Juventus, pride of place among such an esteemed group of soccer’s elite goes to John Charles.
Charles once lived in a sprawling 17th-century villa, perched on a hillside above the River Po. He kept a vintage wine cellar, part-owned a restaurant, drove sleek sports cars and socialised with film stars.
But he lived out his last years in a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Leeds, with his second wife Glenda, leading a life far removed from the millionaire world of even averagely talented Premiership professionals. He had battled courageously against cancer and when I last spoke to him some 18 months ago the onset of Alzheimer’s disease was evident, but there was not a trace of envy or bitterness in his demeanour when he delivered his verdict on today ’s pampered generation of soccer millionaires.
“There is not as much fun in the game today,” he once said in the lilting vowels of his native Cwmdu, near Swansea, still as rich as on the day he left his homeland at the age of 14. “It is all about money. Players these days are holding clubs to ransom and it has got to end or one or two clubs, and big ones at that, are going to go bankrupt.
“Players deserve to be well paid but the system has gone out of all proportion. The money these days is unbelievable.
“When I played I earned £20 a week, though the bonuses were good in Italy. I once earned a £500 bonus at Juventus, which was big money in those days.
“But really we played just because we wanted to play. If you are grumbling about money all the time it has got to distract a player, it has got to affect his form.”
Of his days in Italy, he said: “The ground was always packed. Whenever I went out I couldn’t move for people wanting to talk to me as I went down the street. Everything was just one big party.”
The £65,000 Juventus paid Leeds was a record for British football but Charles didn’t let it affect his chivalrous nature. There was an early example of this which left a strong impression on the Turin fans, not only those of Juventus but also those of their fierce city rivals, Torino.
In a local derby, Charles thundered past the Torino centre-half, leaving him on the ground and himself with a clear run on goal. But he stopped, turned back, and went to commiserate with his opponent.
As centre-forward, Charles operated between the pugnacious Sivori on his left, and the blond captain of Italy, Giampiero Boniperti, on his right. Both men were well capable of taking care of themselves. Once, in a match in which he was being persistently fouled, Charles turned to Boniperti, saying: “You do something to them, Boni — I can’t!” As a player Charles was never sent off, nor cautioned, throughout his career — testimony to his honest and kindly temperament, though he received official recognition shamefully late with a CBE two years ago.
He leaves four sons — the eldest of whom, Terry, is a selector with Cardiff Rugby Club and another, Melvyn, played rugby league.
Until recently he attended every Leeds home game and was a member of the Leeds United ex-Players’ Association for which he toured the after-dinner circuit raising money to buy kidney machines for local hospitals.
“It’s nice to be able to help others,” Charles used to say.
There could be no more fitting epitaph for the Gentle Giant — a genuine footballing hero.
Times Online - Sunday Times

A footballing god with the common touch
STEPHEN JONES
I had the autograph of every Welsh footballer of note, yet none presumed to share a page with John Charles
MY UNCLE was a friend of the family of Mal Charles, brother of the great John, and when I was around eight or nine years old, he gave me a Christmas present of a red autograph book.
It already contained the signatures of the Wales rugby and football teams of that period, together with those of the Cardiff rugby and football teams. I still treasure the book to this day.
Best of all, it had obviously been passed around the changing room itself to be signed and so it smelled of embrocation — perhaps it is a trick of the nose but I swear that I can still smell the embrocation to this day, around 40 years on.
Each of the first 10 pages was packed with autographs, yet that of John Charles was the only one on its own particular page. It was as if all the great players in two types of football simply could not bring themselves to sign on the same page as the great man and allowed him the deference of space.
Yet in Wales we all want our sporting heroes to show humility. In one way it is not an attractive trait because we distrust elitism in many walks of life and start complaining about people getting above themselves.
But it is true that the most revered of all Welsh sportsmen are those who could perform their wondrous brilliance on the field and yet become normal people away from the field. Howard Winstone, the wonderful boxer and World champion, became just another bloke in the pub between bouts and Gareth Edwards was always renowned for his approachability away from the field of play.
The reverence for John Charles springs from the same idea that you must at the one time be of supreme brilliance but must still relate to the population as a whole.
Charles was always magnificently approachable no matter the sheer number of inebriated bar-room tacticians and other experts who wanted to buttonhole him.
God alone knows how he managed to keep his legendary patience in the streets of Turin during his God-like period with Juventus and how he managed to keep the quiet smile on his face during his later and less successful sojourn in Rome with the Roma club. Even when he came back from Italy to play out his time with Cardiff City, he seemed largely unchanged. In his Juventus years, he had become famous for being so talented that he would put Juventus ahead from the centre forward position and then revert to centre half to protect the lead.
When he came back to Ninian Park at the end of his career they even stuck him at sweeper and it was odd to see this regal figure calmly clearing up the mess caused by others in front of him, others with far more mundane talents.
Unquestionably to those of us brought up in the contact sport of rugby union, the most amazing thing about our hero from football was that he was never cautioned or sent off. That was amazing in his careers with Leeds and Cardiff and Wales, because he would always be fiercely marked. But considering that he came up on a weekly basis against some of the maniac defenders in Serie A, then the fact that not once did he retaliate in any measure becomes staggering.
In a rather painful way he returned to the rank and file of life with his business travails late in life Close friends of his were rather dismayed that it took the legions of his admirers some time to come through with the sustenance that he deserved.
Eventually enough people did come through and allow Charles in adversity to retain the supreme dignity he had always shown in triumph.
Times Online - Sunday Times

Welsh mourn football legend
Brian Glanville
FOOTBALL is in mourning today following the death of John Charles, the trailblazing Welshman who carved his place in Leeds United folklore before going on to take Italy by storm.
Charles had been in hospital since last month after falling ill while preparing for an appearance on Italian television. He underwent surgery in Italy before being flown home, and passed away yesterday at a hospital in Wakefield, aged 72.
His death was marked by a minute’s silence before yesterday’s Premiership match between Manchester United and Leeds — he was one of the most popular, and successful, players ever to grace the field at Elland Road. But it was in Italy that he really made his mark, scoring 93 goals in 155 matches for Juventus.
Charles, known as the Gentle Giant, was never sent off or booked during his glittering career, which also took in Cardiff and Roma.
A much-loved man, he was probably even more popular in Italy than he was in Wales. Juventus will wear black armbands in their Serie A match against Bologna today as a mark of respect for the man who cost them £65,000 in 1957. Roberto Bettega, the club’s vice-president, led the tributes to Charles. “We are crying for the loss of a great champion and a great man,” he said. “He was a person who represented in the best way the Juve spirit and who personified the sport in the purest and most beautiful manner. The thoughts of everyone at Juventus are with his wife Glenda and the children of the unforgettable Gentle Giant.”
Giampiero Boniperti, a former teammate of Charles at Juventus and now the club’s honorary president, said he was “an extraordinary person, a great friend and a remarkable teammate”.
“Charles was one of the most loyal men I ever met, as well as being a great footballer. He kept the whole squad together; whenever there was a row things calmed down as soon as he was present on the field or in the dressing room,” said Boniperti. “I remember him with enormous affection. There is no longer the man who always did things for the best, a man who offered so much.”
Times Online - Sunday Times

Man Utd 1 Leeds 1: Smith punishes slack United
Jonathan Northcroft at Old Trafford
“ONE Peter Ridsdale!” sang the Manchester United fans. “Face like a donkey!” replied the Leeds support as Ruud van Nistelrooy chased a ball. There was cross-Pennine rivalry at Old Trafford yesterday but for once it seemed more vaudeville than visceral — less War of the Roses, in character, than flower show. In these muted surroundings, not with a bang but a whimper, the title was all but surrendered to Arsenal.
Comebacks can never be entirely ruled out with Manchester United, but as well as the seven-point gap between the reigning champions and their Highbury challengers, there appears increasingly to be a gulf in resolve. United overhauled Arsenal when facing a six-point deficit last year, but then they were gathering momentum as Arsenal were losing nerve. Now, the situation is reversed.
United’s uncertainties have coincided with the loss of Rio Ferdinand. Just four games ago, when he began his drugs ban, his club led Arsenal by a point. “The defensive part worries me a little bit because we are short on numbers,” said Sir Alex Ferguson on Friday, and that was before he watched Mikael Silvestre limp off after 24 minutes here with twisted ankle and knee. To compound matters, Gary Neville was booked again, accru ing enough disciplinary points to ensure he will miss a further game on top of the three he was already banned for, starting from Saturday.
Once again, cracks at the back undid United, who have conceded 11 goals in their last five games. Given the lead by Paul Scholes in the 64th minute they held firm for all of 180 seconds. “That’s not good enough,” as Ferguson said. From out on the left, Didier Domi shaped a cross into the six-yard box where Alan Smith, more alert than the static Wes Brown and John O’Shea, got up to bury a header.
“It’s a big mountain to climb now, as big as we have ever had to climb, but it’s achievable,” Ferguson said. “It’s amazing what this team can do when they get into their stride. We just need to get into our stride.”
Easier said than done. A further worry for Ferguson was how unable he was to alter a performance he described variously, but accurately, as “disappointing”, “off-colour” and “not sharp and bright”.
This was despite playing two trump cards when he introduced both Roy Keane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the second half. Solskjaer made his first appearance since sustaining a knee injury in August, but his impact, for once, was minimal. Keane had a little more influence but ended up seeing his criticisms of certain colleagues’ mental approach vindicated.
United were not helped, however, by their manager’s team selection. As well as leaving Keane on the bench, Ferguson elected to play Kleberson behind Van Nistelrooy, so Scholes was shunted out of position on to the right flank. Not until the insipid Kleberson was removed did Scholes come into the centre and, with that, the game. He scored, throwing the Leeds defence by shaping to shoot but instead finding Gary Neville, whose low cross was spilled by 18-year-old Scott Carson, who made an otherwise creditable full debut in goal. Scholes pounced as the ball ran free and knocked it home.
“The most pleasing thing was we went a goal down here but didn’t cave in,” said Leeds manager Eddie Gray. “Coming on the back of beating Wolves, hopefully that will give the boys the belief that I’ve got — we can get out of trouble.” However, Wolves’ victory over Fulham still ensured the point gained was not enough to prevent Leeds sliding back to the foot of the table this morning.
Smith was redoubtable and Gray’s defenders were inspirational, but United’s poor finishing made an equal contribution to the result. The first page of their catalogue of missed chances featured Silvestre shooting against Carson’s legs in the seventh minute and ended with Van Nistelrooy ballooning a volley from five yards out after Keane had nodded on Nicky Butt’s cross. Van Nistelrooy also missed with two headers just before half-time and Scholes, apart from his goal, was profligate. The heat on Arsenal? Ferguson should worry about how his own team is responding under pressure right now.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Sky Sports - The Best Sport Coverage From Around The World

Wales legend Charles dies
by Alex Livie
Wales and Leeds United legend John Charles has died at the age of 72.
The former Juventus centre forward passed away following a long battle against illness.
Charles was admitted to hospital in January after feeling unwell prior to a scheduled appearance on Italian television.
He was taken to Milan's San Carlo hospital where he needed an emergency two-hour operation on his heart, after suffering a burst blood vessel in his leg.
A private jet owned by Juventus brought Charles back to England, where he was transferred to Wakefield's Pinderfields hospital.
Charles, who also played for Swansea, Roma and Cardiff, scored 93 goals in 155 matches for Juventus and achieved the notable feat of never being booked or sent off throughout his career.
He was equally at home operating in the centre of defence, but found fame with his prowess in front of goal.
Awarded the CBE in 2001, he won 38 caps for Wales and scored 15 goals.
The sad news will hit all football fans hard, due to Charles being so revered throughout the world.
FAW secretary general David Collins was glowing in his tribute of Charles.
"We would like to convey our deepest sympathies to the family and Mrs Charles," Collins told Sky Sports News. "He was one of our greatest players and will be a great loss. John was one of the greatest of all Welsh players, if not one of the world's great players. His career over many years will be remembered with great fondness by many, many people. I met him only a few weeks back and could well remember as a teenager seeing John play at the World Cup in 1958. It is a sad day for all of Wales and those who were fortunate enough to see him. He was a huge man, but a gentle giant was a very apt name for him. To have witnessed him play was a tremendous honour."
Charles was a hero in Italy, and Collins added: "I remember a few years ago Wales were playing in Bologna and everybody who was there was coming up to us saying `How's John?' It was incredible, here we were some decades later and the Italian fans still remembered this great man."
BBC SPORT | Football | Premiership | Man Utd 1-1 Leeds


Manchester United lost ground in the title race after drawing with Leeds.
Ryan Giggs hit the post, Paul Scholes, Kleberson and Nicky Butt all went close with long distance strikes and Ruud van Nistelrooy missed from close range.
Leeds' 18-year-old keeper Scott Carson made several saves but could not hold Gary Neville's second-half shot and Paul Scholes converted the rebound.
Alan Smith immediately equalised when he superbly headed Didier Domi's cross past keeper Tim Howard.
With Arsenal winning at Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson's team are now seven points adrift of the leaders.
But his side have more immediate priorities with their Champions League tie against Porto on Wednesday.
And Ferguson could be without Mikael Silvestre, who limped out of the match in the first half to be replaced by Wes Brown.
Leeds remain in the bottom three but will take encouragement from a draw at the home of their greatest rivals.
Manchester United went into the match without Roy Keane, Cristiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha, with Butt starting after his impressive display for England in midweek and Kleberson returning to the team.
Smith started up front for Leeds with Mark Viduka missing and Carson made his full debut in the absence of the suspended Paul Robinson.
And predictably, given their respective league positions, Manchester United made all the early running.
Carson made a comfortable early save to deny the excellent Scholes, while Silvestre should have converted a Giggs corner.
But the French defender made poor contact with his shot and Carson parried.
More industrious approach work from Scholes created space for Giggs, whose subsequent shot grazed the post with Carson beaten.
Kleberson went close with a left-foot strike from the edge of the penalty area after a neat cutback from Scholes.
Scholes narrowly missed from 25 yards and van Nistelrooy twice headed over but Carson held firm in the Leeds goal until the break.
And for all the home team's endeavour, most of their opportunities were from long range and they lacked a real cutting edge up front.
Leeds rarely threatened the opposition goal, looking most likely to score from a set piece.
Tim Howard was fortunate to see the ball drop out for a corner when he dropped Stephen McPhail's deep free-kick close to his own goal.
The visitors started the second half well, striving to create an opening while continuing to stifle their opponents whenever they had the ball.
However, Butt forced Carson into action after 56 minutes, with the young Leeds keeper parrying the midfielder's volley.
The home side's inability to force an opening prompted Ferguson to swap Kleberson for Roy Keane, and the influential Irishman's introduction paid almost immediate dividends.
Carson failed to hold Gary Neville's drive and the alert Scholes was on hand to smash home the loose ball.
But Leeds refused to be cave in, and restored parity through the irrepressible Smith, whose superb header left Howard floundering.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on for his first appearance in five months after 71 minutes, but made little impact.
Van Nistelrooy missed the target late on after another good cross from Scholes, and a frustrating afternoon for the home team ended with them losing further ground on Arsenal in the race for the title.
Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, O'Shea, Silvestre, Fortune, Kleberson, Butt, Phil Neville, Scholes, van Nistelrooy, Giggs. Subs: Brown, Ronaldo, Carroll, Keane, Solskjaer.
Leeds: Carson, Kelly, Caldwell, Matteo, Domi, McPhail, Seth Johnson, Bakke, Pennant, Milner, Smith. Subs: Allaway, Harte, Radebe, Sakho, Olembe.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
BBC SPORT | Football | My Club | Leeds United | Gray happy with point


Leeds boss Eddie Gray praised his players after the 1-1 draw at Manchester United.
Alan Smith was on target to cancel out Paul Scholes' opener.
"The players showed great character to respond after going a goal down because they could easily have caved in at that point," said Gray. "They stood up to the challenge and came back into the game. Hopefully it has provided us with a platform to move forward," said Gray.
Gray believes goalscorer Smith could yet make England's Euro 2004 side.
"Alan has definitely got a chance," said Gray. "I believe he is capable of scoring more often than he does and now he has got goals in his last two games. It was a typical forward's goal and I was delighted with his overall contribution."
Gray also paid tribute to former Leeds legend John Charles, who died on Saturday. "Of all the stars Leeds have had, John Charles' name sits right at the top," he said. "It is a very sad day for everyone connected with this club. As well as being a truly great player, he was a wonderful man. He will be badly missed."
Guardian Unlimited Football | News | Manchester United 1 - 1 Leeds united

Alan Smith gave the Leeds United faithful a rare reason to smile at Old Trafford, scoring the goal that secured an unexpected 1-1 draw.
With Leeds missing Paul Robinson and Mark Viduka, Smith emerged a hero, nodding home the second half equaliser that gives Leeds realistic hope of avoiding the drop and delivered a potentially fatal blow to thei local rivals' Premiership aspirations.
The draw means United have fallen seven points behind league leaders Arsenal and, in a further blow, Mikael Silvestre was injured in a 50-50 challenge with Smith and could be sidelined for a lengthy period.
United have come back from similar positions before but, with Rio Ferdinand likely to miss the rest of the season and Gary Neville now out for the next four domestic games after picking up another booking, it is difficult to see them doing it again.
With Wednesday's return to Champions League action in mind, Roy Keane's absence from the United starting line-up could have been predicted.
Louis Saha's failure to make Sir Alex Ferguson's side was far more of a surprise and probably came as a result of a training ground knock yesterday.
At least it went some way towards evening up the imbalance in squad strength as Leeds had been forced into the game without goalkeeper Paul Robinson and top scorer Mark Viduka, the Yorkshire side still furious at the Australian authorities for requesting the striker's suspension from the game.
After the home fans had set aside their antipathy for their Roses rivals for 60 moving, completely silent seconds in memory of John Charles, hostilities instantly recommenced and, initially at least, it seemed as though United would have plenty to cheer.
Carson was called into action inside the first minute to prevent a deflected Paul Scholes effort looping into his net and the teenager's magnificent reaction save to deny Silvestre's far post effort from Ryan Giggs' corner suggested a torrid afternoon.
Instead, the sloppiness Keane that complains has been creeping into the training ground began to emerge.
Quinton Fortune was guilty of giving the ball away needlessly on three occasions, John O'Shea's struggles continued and Kleberson looked anything but a Brazilian World Cup winner as his first touch continually let him down.
Amid all this, the United boss watched on helplessly as Silvestre was first helped to the sideline, then down the tunnel in obvious discomfort, unable to put any weight on his left leg, a legacy of a 50-50 crunch with Smith that had been contested fairly by both parties.
Leeds, who had travelled across the M62 with no real hope of recording their first Old Trafford win for 23 years, visibly gained in confidence, even though Tim Howard remained largely untested.
Giggs did hit a post with a shot on the turn but what followed was a series of missed opportunities from Scholes, Kleberson and even Van Nistelrooy.
In his prolific United career, Leeds are one of the few sides the Dutchman has never scored against and somehow he failed to find the target from about four yards as he got underneath Giggs' far post cross and headed over.
It got no better after the interval either as Scholes wasted a couple of chances and Carson palmed away an acrobatic Nicky Butt volley.
Under those circumstances, it was no surprise that Keane was called on to rescue his team and within six minutes of the Irishman's arrival, United had made the breakthrough.
The goal owed everything to Scholes' willingness to continue his run into the area after feeding Gary Neville down the right.
When Carson could only push the England full-back's low cross back into the danger zone, Scholes was on hand to rifle home the rebound.
The relief that swept across the ground could almost be touched, yet it lasted just a couple of minutes as Didier Domi appeared on the left to flight a cross onto Alan Smith's head that the England striker, unmarked, glided into the corner past Howard's despairing dive.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was thrown on for his first appearance since September as United desperation increased.
But it all proved to be in vain as Van Nistelrooy lifted the final chance over the bar from inside the six-yard area.
Times Online - Newspaper Edition

Leeds suffer Viduka backlash
By Rick Broadbent
IT MIGHT sound like a scene from a cheap soap opera, with the protagonist being accused of wooden acting and allegations of a Mickey Mouse storyline, but Leeds United were taking legal advice last night after blaming the Australian Soccer Association (ASA) for making a crisis out of a melodrama.
A club-versus-country dispute may be nothing new, but the twist in the curious tale of Mark Viduka resulted in Trevor Birch, the Leeds chief executive, using emotive words such as “outrage”, “disgrace” and “justice”. He also questioned whether the ASA was in breach of employment law by invoking a rule that means Leeds will take on Manchester United at Old Trafford tomorrow without their top striker.
The ASA stoked the fire when it announced that Viduka and Scott Chipperfield, the FC Basle midfield player, would be banned from playing for their clubs for five days after their failure to report for Wednesday’s friendly against Venezuela in Caracas.
By utilising Article 40 of the Fifa Regulations — used in the past by African nations — the ASA effectively called Leeds and Viduka liars for inventing a phantom hamstring injury.
Leeds are incensed by the arbitrary enforcement of the rule that means Viduka is banned while Harry Kewell, Josip Skoko, John Aloisi and Brett Emerton are free to play for their clubs, despite pulling out of the same friendly. Birch says that Leeds “played it by the book” and that documents were faxed to Australia, but their pleas for compassion fell on deaf ears.
“The survival of Leeds United is in jeopardy and we have this, all for the sake of a Mickey Mouse game that took place at the other side of the world,” Birch said. “Where is the justice in that? They have made a decision on a whim and we all have to suffer.
We’re powerless to do anything. This match was a money-spinning exercise for them and they wanted one of our assets. Well, let them buy into his contract then.
“If it’s a rule, it’s a rule. You are either banned for five days or not. So let’s see what action is taken when Harry Kewell plays (for Liverpool) this weekend.”
For the ASA to sacrifice the last vestiges of a relationship with Leeds on the altar of national pride was a surprise, given Viduka’s personal situation. He recently spent three weeks in Australia while his father lay in a coma. Leeds granted the player indefinite leave at a vital time for the club and Viduka said that he wanted to repay their support. In such circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that Leeds were unwilling to let him take a 26-hour return trip for a meaningless game.
The hamstring alibi may have smacked of opportunism, but Leeds are not alone in that respect and greater understanding from the ASA might have rendered it unnecessary. Sven-Göran Eriksson, the England head coach, could confidently cast aspersions on Sol Campbell’s habit of missing non-competitive games, but he appreciates the need to build bridges rather than burn them regarding friendlies. Viduka said that he would not quit international football but admitted to being “extremely disappointed” with the ASA.
“Leeds officials requested that I be withdrawn over an injury picked up against Wolves,” he said. “At that time I also had an open and honest dialogue with the ASA expressing my thoughts that this game had come at the wrong time for me due to my recent personal circumstances; a time when I feel I need to be with and available to my family.”
It has often been hard to sympathise with a club that has lurched between the frying pan and the fire with a myopic zeal, but the latest debacle appears an unwarranted burden. “I’d understand it if Mark told them where to stick international football now,” Birch said. “They don’t deserve someone like him.”
Leeds have been here before when, coincidentally, Kewell was the player subjected to the five-day rule. Having missed an international against Brazil in 1999, Kewell was prevented from playing in a Premiership match against Bradford City.The ASA said that it accepted the difficulties involved in travelling and that it planned to establish a European base, but Frank Lowry, the chairman, was in bullish mood. “We are not punishing Viduka but we are making a statement to the world,” he said.
An ASA statement, issued after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw in Caracas, said that the association empathised with Viduka’s personal situation, but noted that he had played twice since returning to Leeds. “Furthermore, the ASA is not satisfied that Mark has sustained an injury which would have prevented him taking the field in Caracas,” it read.
For Birch, being caught in “friendly fire” is the latest plot twist at a club that just cannot contrive a happy ending. Tomorrow, at the home of their most bitter rivals, the depression is likely to deepen.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Times Online - Newspaper Edition

The big interview: Mark Viduka
Leeds won’t be relegated — not if their top striker has anything to do with it, he tells Jonathan Northcroft
February 2, 2004. The transfer window is slamming shut. It is deadline day, and, in the northeast, a day of deals and wheels. On the A1, Mark Viduka is speeding towards the turnoff for Teesside in a desperate attempt to reach the Riverside and complete a medical for Middlesbrough before close of business at 5pm. If ever haste is indecent, it is now. Leeds United are out of hope, yet the Australian’ s only worry is that he will be out of time. There he goes. Tara, teammates, g’day signing-on fee. A rat racing away from a sinking ship in a silver Mercedes-Benz.
Nice story, except for one detail. None of it happened. Although Viduka’s dash was reported in newspapers and radio bulletins, the truth was different. The only travelling he did was on an aircraft returning to the UK from Melbourne, where he had just left his father strapped to a life-support machine, recovering from a brain haemorrhage. He spent three weeks at his dad’s bedside, and only left to help save Leeds from relegation.
“Middlesbrough made a late bid, but to be honest, I wasn’t in a position to give them a decision. I had a lot to think about with my dad, and I want to see if I can put things right with Leeds,” he says. “I don’t want to see Leeds go down and I didn’t want to just leave them like that.”
Viduka is more resigned to the press coverage than hurt. “I hope Leeds fans know me, but a lot of people get led by the press. They influence people.”
We have been here before, me and Mark. Or rather me and Marko, as he was called in December 1998, when Celtic signed him from Croatia Zagreb. He lasted two days in Glasgow before disappearing back to Melbourne via Zagreb. His old and new clubs rowed about the transfer, and having bottled up the pressures of three years playing in what was still a warzone in Croatia, he suddenly found it all too much.
Three months later, having finally returned to Celtic, Viduka explained himself to The Sunday Times. Then, as now, there was a record to put straight. The stories were wild. Some papers claimed he left Scotland because of a drug test, others that the issue was money, others that he had been sent to a mental institution. There were even hints about Aids. Viduka can laugh now, but at the time it caused him great distress.
“Do you remember that other story? When I ‘walked out’ before a game when Kenny Dalglish was manager?” he says with a shake of the head. “I was sent home by the Celtic doctor with a high temperature and a virus, but they wrote that I’d chucked in a transfer request.”
Viduka has found that, like a virus, misinformation spreads. To this day, the media give him a rough deal.
“Mark’s more shy and sensitive than he looks, but he’s basically a down-to-earth, straightforward guy,” confided one of his friends. “So why the bad rep?”
JANUARY 1, 2002. Viduka scores twice as Leeds defeat West Ham 3-0. As the team knocks passes about, the crowd at Elland Road shout: “Ole!” With this victory, Leeds move top of the Premiership. Five days later, they go out of the FA Cup to Cardiff. Five months later, David O’Leary is out of work. Since then, the crises have not stopped. “If I could explain exactly when things started to go wrong,” Viduka says with a smile, “I’d be doing your job, mate.”
We are on a balcony overlooking an indoor pitch at Leeds’s training ground at Thorp Arch. Viduka, in shorts and club top, is relaxed and open to any questions. But although he joins in politely as I trawl through the glories that have gone (“three seasons ago we were in the Champions League semi-final and on cloud nine — amazing”) and the colleagues who have departed (“I could understand selling Rio because of the money, but letting Ollie (Olivier Dacourt) go so cheaply was a disgrace”) he is not really interested in looking back. “What’s the point?” he asks. “You can’t change the past. What this team needs to change is the future.”
In midweek, Viduka, playing for the second time since returning from Australia, spearheaded a 4-1 victory over Wolves. Leeds leapt off the bottom of the table and suddenly are just four points away from escaping the relegation zone.
“If we’d lost to Wolves we’d have been six points adrift at the bottom and would have found it very difficult to come back. But the win’s given us confidence again. As we came off, I thought, ‘We haven’t played a game like that all season’. We went one up, they pulled one back, but we didn’t stop going. It was like the old Leeds was back. All week, you felt a change. Training ’s been very, very fiery. Everybody’s up for it. The situation we’ve been in is difficult, but the key now is to shut all that out. Ultimately what happens between now and the end of the season is up to the players — us. If you look at the whole picture, how are we going to get out of this shit? It’s us.”
Viduka’s belief could be pivotal for the club. When Leeds scrambled to safety last season from a similarly dire position, their big man was their big player, scoring 14 times in their final 10 games, including the goal that ultimately secured their survival, a gorgeous strike in the 88th minute of a 3-2 win at Highbury. He looked particularly pleased against Wolves to be back in tandem with Alan Smith, who has spent so long stranded in midfield. “I like Smithy. He’s a good lad and a great partner to have. He’s Leeds through and through, and he doesn’t want to go down either. If key players here start promoting a different attitude, the whole thing can change, and people like me and Smithy have to take a lead. It starts at every training session, you know.”
In training, Viduka’s recent fierceness has surprised some colleagues, and he has confronted one teammate for not taking things seriously. “When I was at home I had a lot of time to think. Basically, I reckon, what are my options? Either I sit on my backside and go down, or I do everything I can to turn this around.”
Cynics might ask: why the determination now? Viduka’s response would be that his desire to battle is not new, it just has renewed focus. Commitment to Leeds? It’s worth remembering the circumstances in which he left to fly home to his father, Joseph.
It was a Friday night, January 9, when the call came from Melbourne to say Joseph was in intensive care. He had come home with a headache, gone to hospital and was found to have bleeding in the brain. Within half-an-hour he was operated on and put on a life-support machine. “The people at the hospital were particularly good, and I’d like to thank them,” Viduka says. “Their speed saved my father’s life.”
He had the permission of manager Eddie Gray to go home immediately, yet stayed to play against Spurs the next day. “They weren’t going to wake Dad for a couple of days, so I thought, ‘If I’m here, I should play. We’ve got a chance of beating Tottenham’. So I played. But in the first half I was so full of emotions, I couldn’t carry on. I was thinking, ‘What am I doing chasing this bloody ball around when my dad’s lying there halfway across the world?’ Some things are more important than this game. I’d give up football tomorrow if it meant my dad was going to be okay.”
Substituted at half-time, Viduka went straight to the airport. “The flight was a nightmare. Australia’s so far, and you’re sitting on the plane thinking, ‘What’s going to happen? Is Dad going to wake up?’ He was in a coma for 15 days. He’s awake now, but can’t speak. The doctors think he can make a full recovery. Let’s hope so. My dad’s my hero. He’s a self-made man, a builder, who came to Melbourne from Croatia with nothing and raised five kids. He was under stress all the time with loans, and a couple of times we could have been bankrupt. But he always worked harder and pulled us through. He loves his football, and he’d drop everything so I could play. I had my Holy Communion, you know. They made us wear this bloody robe . . . when it was finished, I got straight out of it, and me and my old man went off, because I had a tournament that night.”
JULY 5, 2001. Viduka signs a new five-year contract. Peter Risdale and two other Leeds directors fly to Dubrovnik, where the striker is holidaying with Ivana, his wife. The day is spent on Viduka’s boat. The group talk until sundown about Croatian history and the pleasures of sailing. When the directors leave, Viduka gives them presents. In a money-driven game, the actual contract is agreed in just 20 minutes.
So why the bad rep? One answer might be that, from the era of cigarette cards to this age of Premiership poster boys, we prefer our football heroes to come in just two dimensions. Viduka is more complicated. What you see is not always what you get. Take his playing style. He is a huge man, with ox-like shoulders and great hams for limbs, yet he does not crash about like a target man. His gait is casual. He is not a striker who chases balls to the corner flags when there is little chance of keeping them in. A section of the Leeds support has barracked him for being “lazy”. An old chestnut. In a recent Prozone test, Viduka was found to have done the third most running of his team in a game. “Maybe I look that way (lazy), but that’s my style, know what I mean? Some players run around and it might look like they’re doing something but they’re not doing very much. I’m not out for cheers. I’m out to win games. How can I say this . . . I give 100% in every game I play. Last year I scored 20 League goals. I must be doing something right.”
There are other preconceptions that he differs from. Australians are expected to be sunny and laid-back. And Mark Viduka is. But there is also Marko Viduka. By parentage he is Croatian, with all the passion and pepper that implies. “Where my father’s from, Dalmatia, the people have a reputation for being laid-back. So that, combined with being an Aussie, probably explains my timekeeping. But Dalmatians have also got spirit. I’m very stubborn, and if my mind’s set on something, I won’t budge. That could be the Croatian in me.”
Stubbornness does not always go down well in a regimented game. At Celtic, Fergus McCann, then chairman, allegedly reneged on a promise to improve Viduka’s terms if he succeeded in his first season. The pair fell out. After scoring 37 goals in 41 starts, suddenly Viduka did not score again. Earlier this season there was a dispute with the equally stubborn Peter Reid that led to a nasty confrontation in training. Viduka had arrived in the dressing room late before a game with Arsenal. “I was signing autographs out at the back of Elland Road. I’d arrived early, but everybody wanted my autograph. You don’t want to let them down,” he says.
Now detached from Leeds, Reid has softened towards the player, and Viduka regrets the extent of their spat. “It was a misunderstanding. He was under a lot of pressure. I’m sure he doesn’t hold any grudges against me, and I don’t hold any against him. I quite liked Peter.”
If there is one thing Viduka would like to get straight about himself, it is the question of loyalty. When he left Celtic, it was for just £6m, but McCann was gleeful at the generous sell-on clause agreed with Leeds. Viduka would not stick around long at Elland Road, McCann reckoned, before angling for another move. Nearly four years later, Celtic are still waiting for their money.
“People can have their opinions about me, but at the end of the day I’m still here, aren’t I? For the last three years they’ve been saying, ‘He wants to leave, he wants to leave’. Well, I had the chance to go to one of the biggest clubs in the world (AC Milan in 2001) and I didn’t, because I thought we could win things at Leeds — the Premiership and even the Champions League.
“I like this club. I like living in Yorkshire. My wife likes it here. My feelings for Leeds are underestimated. It’s the press. They send over the wrong vibe. People have forgotten very easily things I’ve done. I scored 22 goals last season, and as soon as I came back this season, people were having a go at me.”
A nice story told about Viduka is how, after scoring four times against Liverpool, he stayed after the man-of-the-match presentation to sign autographs for 300 people. Last year he invited fans to e-mail him at his website, run with the help of one of his four sisters. He replied to hundreds of messages, until unable to cope with the sheer volume.
He has also been loyal to Croatia. In 1995, when by 19 he was already a two-time Australian Footballer of the Year, he rebuffed Borussia Dortmund to join Croatia Zagreb. Franjo Tudjman, then president of Croatia, travelled to Melbourne to secure his signature. Now Viduka is planning to use some of his money to help the country’s children. “It might be building an orphanage or something else. I want to get it 100% right before committing, because sometimes you get involved and you don’t know where the money ends up, especially in places like Croatia. But I want to do something. The country’s still paying for the war and needs to get organised, having been communist for 50 years, then having the war, then moving to democracy. But it’s a beautiful place. Ivana’s Croatian, and we return every year for our holidays.
“I was watching a programme on Croatian television about how a lot of hospitals don’t have money for medicine. I’d like to do something to help with that. A friend of mine is a doctor who works in a kids’ unit out there, and he’s asking me if I could get some hospitals here to donate the medicines they need in Croatia for cancer treatment for kids. He reckons hospitals in England might throw out medicines that are past their use-by date, but which he could still use in Croatia. I’ve tried to organise getting medicines sent over, but it’s difficult with customs and all that stuff. I’m a footballer, I don’t really know about these things, but if anybody reading this knows a way round it, or can think of other ways to help, I’d love them to let me know.”
When Croatia fought for independence, Viduka’s four cousins all served in the country’s special forces. Other relatives became refugees. Zadar, his family village, was devastated. “It’s a three-hour drive from Zagreb, and as soon as they opened up the roads after occupation, my dad came over and we went to see what was left. We drove through without even realising. It was rubble, and there was grass growing as high as this roof where buildings used to be.”
OCTOBER 9, eternity. Viduka’s infinity-eth birthday. Up in heaven, he is throwing his ideal dinner party. The guests are Jesus Christ, Franjo Tudjman, Diego Maradona and Ozzy Osbourne. Ivana and Anna Rose, his mother, are cooking, Croatian-style. He might play Osbourne some of the guitar chords he has been learning. How would the conversation go? “Well, I’d like to maybe ask Jesus a few questions. Get some things clear. I mean, people have been arguing about these things for a long time, you know. Diego — what a legend — I’d want to talk soccer with him. Tudjman has my greatest respect: Croatia, as a country, never had freedom for 1,000 years, and he led us there. Ozzy? He’d be there for laughs.” So, what sort of career would Viduka be looking back on, from up there? “I’m 28. In the next couple of years I’d like to be playing at the highest level. I’d like to be in the Champions League again. I want to win things. Is it possible here? Maybe. Football’s a strange game. A guy could suddenly turn up, like at Chelsea, and say, ‘We’re going to buy the best players in the world’. I’d love that to happen to this club.
“At the end of this season we’ll have to see what happens. If it comes to the situation that I have to leave because of the financial situation, then it will have to be done. It’s happened with other players. But I don’t want to leave Leeds just for the sake of leaving Leeds.” And how would Mark Viduka like to be remembered? “As a good player, mate. I don’t want to wear any dresses, I don ’t want to be a fashion icon or have a fancy hairdo. I just want to be a good player.”
Now what is so complicated about that?
people.co.uk - FOOTBALL: INTERVIEW ALAN BIGGS - I'D ONLY BEEN HERE A FEW WEEKS WHEN MCKENZIE ASKED ME IF REIDY WAS THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

FOOTBALL: INTERVIEW ALAN BIGGS - I'D ONLY BEEN HERE A FEW WEEKS WHEN MCKENZIE ASKED ME IF REIDY WAS THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB
KEVIN BLACKWELL on the chaos and charisma of life at Leeds
THE 40-mile trip from Bramall Lane to Elland Road isn't the most taxing of journeys, but for Kevin Blackwell it has proved something of a white knuckle ride into the unknown.
Having spent most of his career working for one man - his mentor at Sheffield United, Neil Warnock - Blackwell was plunged headlong out of his comfort zone when he accepted a role in the soap opera that is Leeds United.
But strangely enough, the former Blades coach is loving every minute of it. In fact, he claims he would even make the same choice again.
"Yes, with hindsight, I would,'' he admits.
"I have no regrets because when Leeds came calling, they were too big a club with too much charisma to turn down. I believed in them then and I still do.
"I honestly think that they will always be a major force in football. Surely no one will allow them to die?''
Former goalkeeper Blackwell has already served under two bosses in his brief career at crisis-torn Elland Road.
He could even have been the gaffer himself had Leeds not persuaded the Premier League to let them keep the under-qualified Eddie Gray, recruited as caretaker when Peter Reid was sacked.
Remarkably, Blackwell, 44, did not know either man before they worked together, but nothing could have prepared him for the whacky world of Elland Road.
He recalled: "On the first day in training we had only 15 players and I said to Peter, who'd headhunted me, that we wouldn't be good enough. He said he was expecting some money to be available in August.
"It didn't materialise and we had to put in youngsters too soon. Then we had to sign loan players who couldn't be integrated because they'd all missed pre-season. Basically, the financial situation dictated everything.
"It was a strange scenario. I'd only been here a few weeks when The Professor (chairman John McKenzie) called me in and asked me if I thought Peter was the right man for the job!
"Of course, I said he was. I was still getting to know Peter and the club. It was a very strange thing for a chairman to ask an assistant about his boss - slightly bizarre, to say the least.
"It made me think things might not be right. Then Peter was called to a meeting and told his future would be decided overnight.
"When Peter did leave in November, he apologised for bringing me here. He said that he had no idea the situation was so grave. I said I couldn't thank him enough.
"I believe that what can't kill you, you can learn from so this will stand me in good stead.
"Whatever happens, I've been given the opportunity to work with great players like Alan Smith, Mark Viduka, Dominic Matteo, Eirik Bakke and Paul Robinson, plus youngsters like James Milner and Jermaine Pennant."
The salvation of the club depends on these players - and Blackwell believes it would have been impossible for players not to be affected by the circus surrounding them. He said: "For people to come in every day wondering if they are going to be sacked or get paid, it's bound to have a debilitating effect.
"The players are human beings and day after day this club's affairs are exploded in the newspapers. It's been a real eye-opener for me.
"Please God, nothing like this happens to another club. I hope everyone in this great industry of ours learns a lesson from what's happened here."
Blackwell is diplomatic when it comes to discussing the excesses of former chairman Peter Ridsdale.
He only says: "We've lived the dream but it wasn't attainable. You've got to have realistic dreams.
"We jumped too far too quickly - but there's no doubt in my mind that Leeds will be a force to be reckoned with again.
"All clubs need stability. Instability can be horrific. It's unthinkable anything could happen to Leeds."
Blackwell is adamant that Tuesday's 4-1 win over Wolves can kick-start a climb from the bottom of the Premiership and that Gray is the right man for the job.
"Eddie has steadied the ship. I didn't know him before but I had major respect for him as a player and he comes across as a thoughtful man,'' said Blackwell.
"I don't think about my future. Heaven forbid we go down but if that does happen, then I couldn't think of a greater thing than Sheffield United coming up.
"I know that I'm held in high esteem there but let's just hope promotion for United is not at the expense of Leeds.
"What I'd really love is to be playing them in the Premier League next season."
Now that's a journey that shouldn't prove as stressful as the last one.
Leeds United Football Club - Batty Wishes United Well

Leeds midfielder David Batty has revealed he bears no grudge against Eddie Gray or Leeds United despite being told he would not have a part to play for the rest of this season.
Gray acknowledged that Batty, 35, has been a magnificent servant in his two spells with the club, but was not able to offer him further games after changing the formation and style of United's play.
Although disappointed, David went on fans websites to explain that he accepted Eddie Gray's decision graciously and wished the club all the best.
He wrote:"As you're probably aware, I've been told I no longer have a role to play at Leeds, which I accept totally because football is all about opinions. Contrary to a lot of reports, myself and Eddie Gray get on well and have no problem with each other. Eddie thought, rather than have me hanging around the training ground with no prospect of ever playing again, he has given and shown me a lot of respect by being honest enough to tell me the truth. I wouldn't expect to be treated in any other way, because I'm straight-talking, upfront and honest - although I am deeply disappointed as I feel I've got a lot left to offer. May I take this opportunity to thanks all the fans for their support and wish them and the Club all the best for the future."
David is likely to continue training at the club until the end of the season, after which he is out of contract and a free agent, although a move to another club looks unlikely with his agent suggesting he will retire instead.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Sport

Leeds buy time as mystery backers continue guessing game
By Nick Harris
14 February 2004
Miracle Man or Walter Mitty? Leeds United still do not know which label best suits Michael Ezra, 30, the Ugandan businessman who has claimed to have £90m to save the club.
As Leeds were yesterday granted a fifth extension to their standstill agreement with their major creditors, and a Yorkshire-based consortium claimed to be "going in the right direction" towards their own £20m buyout, new details emerged about Ezra.
None of them throws any light into how the self-styled "property tycoon" made his "fortune", the size of which is unknown. He is not listed as the owner of any major assets in Uganda, nor has the £600,000 Lamborghini he reportedly imported ever been seen in public. Harvard University, where he says he studied, has no record of any graduation.
Two facts have been confirmed. As a teenager in 1987, he was indeed a winner at the "All Africa Disco Dance Championships", held in Kampala. And he has represented Uganda at athletics. As Mike Ezra, he entered the 400 metres at the 1997 World Indoor Athletics Championships, clocking a time of 53.74sec in the heats. He was eight seconds slower than the eventual gold medallist and more than two seconds slower than any of the other 33 entrants.
Leeds's standstill agreement has been extended to 27 February. Trevor Birch, the club's chief executive, continues to seek options beyond Ezra and the Yorkshire consortium.
BBC SPORT | Football | My Club | Leeds United | Leeds extend deadline

Leeds United have agreed a new deadline for staying out of administration.
The crisis-hit club have now prolonged their 'standstill agreement' with creditors for five successive weeks.
This time the deadline has been put back two weeks, rather than seven days as in previous extensions, with 27 February the new D-Day.
Leeds' latest extension means chief executive Trevor Birch has not reached agreement with the Yorkshire-based consortium hoping to buy the club.
The consortium - still thought to be in pole position despite claims from Ugandan tycoon Michael Ezra that he is interested - is discussing a £20m takeover.
Leeds owe creditors debts totalling as much as £100m, with their financial plight not helped by several transfer window deals falling through in January.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson was due to join Tottenham for £2m and Danny Mills, out on loan at Middlesbrough, looked likely to complete his switch to the Riverside for a fee of £1.5m.
Both deals fell through but the Leeds players did agree to defer a "significant" portion of their wages and former managers David O'Leary, Terry Venables and Peter Reid also delayed payments owed to them.
Now the Elland Road club - second from bottom in the Premiership table - must concentrate on staying in the top flight which would provide a major financial shot-in-the-arm for next term.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Sport

Leeds play down £90m bid as Ugandan issues ultimatum
By Nick Harris
11 February 2004
Michael Ezra, the Ugandan property tycoon who claims he has £90m of funding ready to save Leeds United, said yesterday that a takeover is being hampered over his proposals for an all-foreign board. But as he issued an apparent ultimatum to Leeds to accept or reject his offer within 48 hours, a senior source at Elland Road played down reports of Ezra's approach, saying negotiations were "in the very earliest stages at best".
Ezra, 30, was reportedly given a guided tour of Leeds's Thorp Arch training ground on Monday. He then told the New Vision newspaper in Uganda that he had made a firm offer for the financially stricken club but that Leeds's chief executive, Trevor Birch, found some aspects of his takeover problematic.
"The six-man board that I had presented [in my plan] doesn't have any Britons and Leeds don't find that acceptable," Ezra said. "They also feel that my board lacks the technical expertise to bolster the club, but money is no longer the issue, that has been sorted.
"Leeds know that I have £60m, while my board would also spend an extra £30m to strengthen the team."
The Leeds source said that it was inaccurate to say that they had definitive proof of Ezra's resources, just as they still had no confirmation that a £20m offer from a consortium of Yorkshire-based businessman was any closer to fruition.
Leeds are likely to continue talking to Ezra, about whom they know very little, if only because they have to explore every option to save the club. Leeds's latest "standstill agreement" with their major creditors ends on Friday and although another extension is probable, time is running out. The club have gross debts of more than £100m and need to find a buyer to survive beyond the end of this season or else enter administration.
"The two main problems with any potential buyer is whether they have the money and whether Leeds are happy about their credentials," said a source.
Even in Uganda, few people know much about Ezra's business affairs. He has no major visible business assets within the country and little is known about his overseas real estate dealings, which have apparently made him rich. He has no long-term interest in football and his philanthropic work within Ugandan sport - he sponsors athletes and boxers - has been relatively recent. Though the billion Ugandan shillings he has invested in grass-roots sport at home makes him a major benefactor there, it is not, in itself, proof of vast wealth. A billion shillings is worth around £300,000.
While Birch was awaiting developments concerning Ezra, a new problem was surfacing in the wake of Eddie Gray's decision to inform David Batty he would not play any part in the Leeds team for the rest of the season.
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said Gray's treatment of Batty had been "disgraceful" and said the player has been humiliated and made "an outcast".
Gray claims his decision was made for "footballing reasons" and insists the 35-year-old "has not been shunned". But Taylor said Batty would have the PFA's full support if he decided to fight his club on the issue.
"To say David will not be considered for the first team is bad enough, but to say he will not be considered for the second team either is not on," Taylor said.
There is a suspicion among those close to Batty that he has been made a scapegoat for his leading role in the recent impasse about a wage deferral. Taylor said the PFA will support Batty if he decides to withdraw from the deferral agreement.
Times Online - Newspaper Edition

More trouble for Leeds as Batty refuses to go quietly
By Jeremy Cross
LEEDS UNITED’S decision to terminate the services of David Batty is in danger of backfiring after it sparked a furore that threatens to undermine the club’s battle to avoid relegation from the Barclaycard Premiership. Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has joined the debate over Eddie Gray’s decision to omit Batty from his Leeds squad for the rest of the season by branding the club’s treatment of the player as “disgraceful”.
To make matters worse for Leeds it emerged last night that Batty is not willing to depart quietly after rejecting an offer to negotiate a settlement for the remaining five months of his contract. Trevor Birch, the Leeds chief executive, has told Batty not to report for training and wants to discuss a payoff.
Batty, who is contracted until June and will earn a staggering £500,000 from the stricken club for sitting at home, is said to be devastated by the entire episode but determined to claim what he is entitled to. Hayden Evans, his agent, said: “What he does is up to him, but I would hope that David acts with more dignity than the club has done.
“To think he will end his Leeds United career sat at home hurts. The fans should not think for a minute that he doesn’t care about Leeds United because this has really set him back — he’s devastated. But if Leeds think they can negotiate a payoff they are being foolish. After the way he’s been treated I’m sure David will want all his wages.”
Taylor suggested yesterday that Leeds were in breach of contract and encouraged the 35-year-old former England midfield player to renege on his decision to accept a 27 per cent wage deferral to help the club’s financial crisis.
“The way that Eddie Gray has treated David Batty is absolutely disgraceful,” Taylor said. “Eddie is well within his rights to make a decision on David on merit ahead of each match and he can decide not to pick him for whatever reason, but this isn’t what he’s done.
“For whatever reason, he’s made David an outcast and that’s a disgraceful way to treat anybody, but especially someone who’s given so much for Leeds United. This is a shocking piece of man-management. He’s made the announcement in a press conference environment and that can only have been done with one thing in mind — the humiliation of the player. Eddie Gray has set out to humiliate David Batty and that’s no way to manage a football club.
“I could fully understand David going back to the club and telling them that he’s no longer willing to accept a deferral of wages and we would be 100 per cent behind him if he did that.”
BOARD DENIES TAKEOVER CLAIM
LEEDS UNITED have denied claims that Michael Ezra, a Ugandan businessman, is close to finalising a £60 million bid to take over the club. Ezra has claimed that he has the money in place to come to Leeds’s rescue, with the club only three days away from the latest “standstill” agreement deadline imposed by principal creditors.
Ezra, who helps to fund the Uganda boxing team, is quoted as saying that his “board would also spend an extra £30 million to strengthen the team”. However, he also states that it is the make-up of the board that is proving difficult, adding that it “doesn’t have any Britons and Leeds don’t find that acceptable”, while it also “lacks the technical expertise to bolster the club”.
Officials at Elland Road insist that Ezra’s comments are inaccurate but it is believed initial talks have taken place between the two parties.
Times Online - Newspaper Edition

Viduka's flourish crowns night for resurgent Leeds
By Matt Dickinson, Chief Football Correspondent
Leeds United 4 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
IF LEEDS UNITED are to escape relegation from the Barclaycard Premiership, Alan Smith and Mark Viduka will have to lead them to safety as they did by overwhelming weak Wolverhampton Wanderers last night. The Yorkshire club had not won since 11 days before Christmas but this almost became a rout.
The fourth goal, a wonderful turn and shot from Viduka in added time, was enough to lift Eddie Gray’s team above Wolves on goal difference at the bottom of the table. Morale will have taken an even greater leap although, with Manchester United and Liverpool to follow, it may soon be back in the dirt.
At least Leeds have ten days before the trip to Old Trafford to savour an emphatic and uplifting end to a run of six league defeats. Steven Caldwell, on loan from Newcastle United, is an improvement on recent centre backs and, if Viduka and Smith remain fit and on form, Leeds have a far more potent attack than the teams around them. There is a flicker of hope with Portsmouth only three points ahead and the two strikers looking sharp.
“The two boys up front are big players for us,” Gray said. “If they keep playing like that and we keep supplying them, we could turn the corner.” Smith and Viduka are good enough to have been on Sir Alex Ferguson’s shopping list before he opted for Louis Saha, and the latter’s return from nursing his sick father in Australia is a huge boost, provided that he shows the same vigour against better defences.
“The two lads up front bullied us,” Dave Jones, the Wolves manager, said.
After a heady night at Elland Road, in the midst of a desperate season, it is back to earth on Friday with another deadline to satisfy the creditors. Whatever becomes of Leeds’s finances over the next six months, and the possibilities are terrifying, the board is not getting carried away by talk of a Ugandan takeover. Michael Ezra, a property tycoon, has yet to prove that he is any more serious than the Bahraini sheikh who offered everything but enough money. More empty promises are not what Leeds fans require.
There have been enough of those from a team that has talked of fighting for survival but, too often, has moped when things have turned against them, although they were were full of defiance last night. In banishing David Batty from the squad for the rest of the season, Gray had removed one malcontent and he will have been reassured by the commitment of the rest.
The opening goal for Smith in the fourteenth minute was his first in the league for three months, so the England forward will not have minded that it was one of his scrappiest. From a looping cross, Caldwell nodded the ball goalwards and, after a scramble, Smith prodded it home with his shin from a yard out.
Wolves had begun cautiously but, forced to respond, they quickly exposed some frailties in the home defence. Paul Robinson looked uncertain and the goalkeeper was slow to get down when Carl Cort chested the ball down for Ioan Ganea to shoot from just outside the area. A familiar foreboding quietened Elland Road as the ball evaded Robinson’s dive.
Almost embarrassed when his weak punch was returned goalwards by Colin Cameron, Robinson will have been grateful to see Smith, Viduka and the two wingers, James Milner and Jermaine Pennant, striving to keep the ball at the other end. Four minutes before the interval, Leeds regained the lead when, from Smith’s flick-on, Jones punched the ball to Dominic Matteo. A swing of the Leeds captain’s left leg and a small deflection put his side back in front, but it was going to take a three-goal victory to lift Leeds from the bottom of the table.
They scored the third in the 62nd minute when Smith’s miscued shot flew across the goalmouth to the far post, where Milner slid in for his second Premiership goal of the season. Soon afterwards, Smith shot wide under pressure, Viduka headed against the crossbar and Pennant blazed over before Viduka’s late flourish.
“We have been on a good run but we didn’t turn up in the second half,” Jones said. “This was an opportunity to open a gap and we didn’t take it. It’s still wide open.”
LEEDS UNITED (4-4-2): P Robinson — G Kelly, D Matteo, S Caldwell, D Domi (sub: I Harte, 46min) — J Pennant, E Bakke, Seth Johnson, J Milner — A Smith, M Viduka. Substitutes not used: S Carson, S McPhail, A Lennon, F Richardson. Booked: Bakke.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): P Jones — D Irwin, J Craddock, P Butler, L Naylor — K Miller (sub: J Silas, 62), A Rae, C Cameron, M Kennedy — I Ganea, C Cort (sub: S Iversen, 77). Substitutes not used: M Oakes, M Clyde, J Gudjonsson. Booked: Cameron, Irwin.
Referee: M Dean.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Leeds United Football Club - Gray Drops Batty Bombshell

Eddie Gray today revealed that David Batty will not feature in his first team plans for the remainder of the season.
Batty, whose United contract lapses this summer, has made 12 starts this season for the first team after being frozen out during Terry Venables' tenure at the helm, and given a chance again by Peter Reid when he took over as manager.
Eddie told Leedsunited.com, "I've made the decision that I won't play David for the rest of this season, purely from a footballing point of view.
"I had a chat to David, he knows how I feel, and I think it's been a little frustrating for him as well, especially in the last three or four weeks, so I just told David what I feel, and we'll leave it at that.
"He's been a great player at this club, and for his other clubs, but I had to make a decision I felt was the right one."
Batty started his career with Leeds after joining from local side Tingley Athletic, signing apprentice forms in July 1985, and after a fractured ankle delayed his debut, he finally played in his first game for United against Swindon Town in November 21, 1987. He went on to win the old First Division title under Howard Wilkinson and was a huge influence on that side.
There were some protests when Batty was sold to Blackburn in 1993, he won the Premiership with them and later moved on to Newcastle before going full circle and signing for United again when he became David O'Leary's first signing as Leeds manager in December 1998 for £4.4million.
The midfielder was dropped by O'Leary's successor, Terry Venables and did not feature at all last season. He missed out on a recall to the team when Peter Reid took over due to injury.
This season he has been limited to 12 starts and has not featured in the first team since the 1-0 Premiership defeat by Newcastle United on January 7.
Meanwhile, Jamie McMaster has extended his loan spell at Chesterfield. The young striker has scored twice in his last two league games for the Spireites.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Times Online - Newspaper Edition

Aston Villa 2 Leeds 0: Angel makes most of Villa’s luck
Brian Doogan at Villa Park
FOR all the fight that remains in Leeds, and there certainly is some, the team now lacks conviction. Six successive Premiership defeats tell their own truth and the truth of this one was that Aston Villa won comfortably.
Juan Pablo Angel was the most influential player on the pitch. The Colombian international’s power and pace, his heading ability and innovative flicks, soon had the Premiership’s most porous defence on the back foot.
He combined well with his strike partner, Darius Vassell, while Gareth Barry and Nolberto Solano hurt Leeds consistently from the flanks. Leeds could rightly question the penalty won by Vassell for the challenge by Didier Domi that put them behind, but any notion that the outcome was determined by Uriah Rennie’s dubious decision lacks validity.
“If we keep playing like we did then I still believe we can scrape out of trouble,” said Eddie Gray, the Leeds manager. “But it’s getting to the stage where it’s critical that we win matches, especially Tuesday night’s game against Wolves.”
Mark Viduka struck the bar in the second half with a half-volley from 25 yards and was Leeds’s most threatening player, but if they are to arrest their wretched run they will need to galvanise more support for Viduka and Alan Smith. Villa’s higher energy and quality of passing gave them control of midfield, where David Batty was missing for Leeds, dropped by Gray after pulling out of the match against Middlesbrough, perhaps for good.
For all Villa’s possession it seemed that Leeds would manage to hold Villa at bay until half-time, but as injury time began Barry released Vassell, whose pace proved too much for Matteo. Domi was forced to come across and make a challenge. At the precise moment he did, Vassell seemed to have lost control of the ball with a heavy touch but the referee, a little behind play, pointed without hesitation to the spot. Angel’s conversion into the bottom left corner was precise, however fortuitous the award of the kick had been.
“From where I was standing it was dubious,” said David O’Leary, the Villa manager.
Dion Dublin came off with a groin injury early in the second half and his replacement, Ronnie Johnsen, effectively sealed the result, his glancing header off Solano’s free kick finding the far corner. Viduka came closest to mounting a fightback with that half-volley and then with a near-post header from a corner by Seth Johnson with which he should have hit the target. Thomas Sorensen also produced a tremendous late save from substitute Aaron Lennon’s deflected shot.
“I can’t believe where they are and I’d be very sorry if they go down,” said O’Leary, Leeds’s former manager. “The players they have and the attitude they showed at times today I just can’t understand it.”
Aston Villa: Sorensen, De La Cruz, Mellberg, Dublin (Johnsen 49), Samuel, Solano, Hendrie (Ridgewell 85), Hitzlsperger, Barry, Vassell (Crouch 85), Angel
Leeds: Robinson, Kelly, Caldwell, Matteo, Domi, Pennant (Lennon 63), Bakke (Richardson 86), Johnson, Milner, Viduka, Smith
Scorers: Aston Villa: Angel 45 pen, Johnsen 59
Referee: U Rennie
Attendance: 39,171