Bates denies crisis at Chelsea

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Fears that Chelsea might plunge into a financial crisis as a result of the death last week of their vice-chairman, Matthew Harding, were discounted last night by Ken Bates, the Stamford Bridge chairman.

"The club is well financed, the development is continuing and we have no financial problems," Bates said, after hitting out at "ill-informed, somewhat ghoulish, press speculation.''

Harding, who was killed in a helicopter crash last Tuesday, reportedly left his shares in the club to his insurance company, the Benfield Group. However, Bates said: "I am aware of the contents of Matthew's will. It is totally supportive of Chelsea and it asks his executors to do all that they may need to do to help us. We do have other shareholders and we are continuing to talk to other people who want to be part of the Chelsea story."

Bates also insisted that Chelsea are still able to compete in the transfer market. "We have the money, but that is not the problem," he said. "We are now looking only for world-class players and their clubs are reluctant to let them go."

Gary Pallister and Nicky Butt look likely to miss Manchester United's Champions' League game against Fenerbahce tomorrow. They will continue to have treatment on knee injuries, but Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said both were "very doubtful.''

Pallister pulled out of Saturday's 6-3 defeat at Southampton at half- time, while Butt got a kick on the knee which saw him limp out of the game after 17 minutes. "Pallister's injury will just not go away. He has probably twisted his knee and tweaked the ligaments," Ferguson said. "We need to give him a couple of weeks off to let it clear up completely but, with an important game like this, we also need to get him fit."

The United midfielder, David Beckham, is the subject of a police inquiry following complaints that he made an obscene gesture at Southampton on Saturday. Beckham is alleged to have pulled up his shorts and exposed the cheeks of his backside just before the end of the match.

Also under investigation is Leicester's Neil Lennon, who is alleged to have made gestures to Newcastle fans during Saturday's game at Filbert Street, and the Bury goalkeeper, Dean Kiely, who was reported to have incited the crowd during Saturday's home match against Bristol Rovers.

David Sullivan, the Birmingham City owner, yesterday pledged his future to the First Division side. He had previously made threats to leave St Andrew's after the club's managing director, Karren Brady, was charged with allegedly publicising misleading ticket prices.

Marco Gabbiadini has cut short his loan period at Birmingham after he picked up a cartilage injury. Gabbiadini, who was on a month's loan at St Andrew's with a view to a permanent move from Derby, could be out for up to two months.

The Aston Villa striker, Savo Milosevic, is set to join the Italian side, Perugia, today for around pounds 4.5m. The Celtic striker, Pierre van Hooijdonk, and Leicester's Emile Heskey have emerged as Villa's major targets to replace Milosevic - despite the Serbian forward stating publicly that Brian Little, the Villa manager, should go for Liverpool's Stan Collymore.

Van Hooijdonk has patched up his recent differences with Celtic, but it is believed he would welcome the chance to play in the top flight in England. Celtic are prepared to offer him a new deal, reported to be worth pounds 11,000 a week, in a quest to keep him at Parkhead.

The Villa goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, has suffered a recurrence of the knee ligament damage which has kept him out of action for much of this season. He will be out for a month.

Alvin Martin, the former West Ham defender, is the favourite to take over as the manager of the struggling Third Division side Leyton Orient, after Pat Holland was sacked yesterday. Martin joined Orient as a player this summer.

NORTHERN IRELAND SQUAD (World Cup Group Nine v Germany, Nuremberg, 9 November): Fettis (Nottingham Forest), Wright (Reading); Worthington (Stoke), Gillespie (Newcastle), Hughes, Dowie, Rowland (all West Ham), Lennon (Leicester), Lomas (Manchester City), Hill (Leicester), Taggart (Bolton), Hunter (Reading), Gray (Nancy), Horlock (Swindon), McMahon (Stoke), Griffin (St Johnstone), Morrow (Arsenal), Nolan (Sheffield Wednesday).