Football: Barmby poses a national problem

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . . 4

Leeds United. . . . . .0

CLUB or country? The debate has been with us for more seasons than we care to remember though never has the question mark borne quite so youthful a complexion as it does now.

In the middle of the latest controversy stands Nick Barmby, a 19-year-old of precocious talent and impressive maturity, wanted reasonably enough by Tottenham for their FA Cup quarter-final and also, quite understandably, by England for the World Youth Cup in Australia.

While Teddy Sheringham scored three - for the first time for Spurs - and Leeds leaked four - for the fifth time in their season of accelerating misery and despair - it was Barmby and his immediate destination over the next month who occupied much of the attention afterwards.

The Under-19 squad is announced tomorrow and flies out at the end of the week. Ironically, the chairman of the Football Association's international committee is Peter Swales, who is also the chairman of Manchester City, Spurs' opponents in the Cup, and it is said there was an angry exchange between him and the Tottenham chief executive, Terry Venables, on Friday.

Spurs have considered the possibility of a court injunction but will fall short of anything that might prove damaging to Barmby and his blossoming career. They have lodged a protest and hope for a sympathetic hearing from the FA yet if they are successful what of Chris Bart-Williams who has been pressed, through injuries, into Sheffield Wednesday's pursuit of Wembley on two fronts and Ian Selley, currently first choice in Arsenal's midfield?

The club's disquiet is understandable. Blame Fifa for organising the tournament at this time. And blame Barmby for proving so influential in Spurs' improvement that he is now considered essential to their Cup progress.

'We don't want to lose him because he's an important part of our jigsaw,' said their chief coach, Doug Livermore. Unquestionably he is, as his fluent partnership with Sheringham, with its constant interchanging of positions, showed by bamboozling Leeds.

Four months ago, when Barmby was hardly known outside White Hart Lane, Leeds still harboured ambitions in Europe and at home. Now, away from Elland Road, they are without any kind of direction.

Leeds left Sheringham unattended for his first and again for his second although you could only marvel at its manufacture and execution, a glorious diagonal ball from Neil Ruddock guided cleverly over John Lukic by Sheringham's subtle header.

His hat-trick came via the penalty spot after Barmby was fouled by David Rocastle while Ruddock gained a goalscoring reward for his 90 minutes of domination and illustrated again the folly of Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson, in not strengthening his own rearguard last summer.

The Leeds skipper, Gary McAllister, has agreed a new three-year contract to stay with the club and is set to sign today.

Goals: Sheringham (10) 1-0; Sheringham (39)

2-0; Ruddock (49) 3-0; Sheringham pen (69) 4-0.

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Edinburgh, Samways, Mabbutt, Ruddock, Howells (Gray, 7), Barmby (Van Den Hauwe, 73), Anderton, Sheringham, Allen. Substitute not used: Walker (gk).

Leeds United: Lukic; Bowman, Dorigo, Batty, Newsome, Whyte, Hodge, Rod Wallace (Rocastle, 64), Chapman (Strandli, 85), McAllister, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcestershire).