Football: Batty seeks European retribution

Ian Whittell talks to a Newcastle man on a mission in the Champions' Cup
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The Independent Online
High farce and David Batty have not strayed far from each other's company in the context of the European Cup. But, as the Newcastle midfielder embarks on another such campaign this week, he senses that is about to change.

One of British football's most consistent and reliable performers deserves better than the hand that has been dealt him in European club competition. His first foray into the continent's most prestigious club event, with Leeds, was memorable only for Stuttgart's bizarre failure to recognise they had too many foreigners on the field.

His second will be remembered for an explosive incident with his Blackburn team-mate Graeme Le Saux which would have been more in keeping with Madison Square Garden than Moscow.

Admittedly it has only been Uefa's decision to expand the competition that has afforded Batty a third taste of the Champions' Cup - Newcastle play Zagreb in the qualifying round first leg at St James' Park on Wednesday - but he is desperate to grasp the opportunity.

"Its not ideal going into the European Cup as a runner-up," Batty said. "But you can't complain about it either. If an opportunity is there you take it. If we get through to the next round people will probably say it's by default, but we feel we would be equipped to do well in the group stages.

"I think this is the best chance I have had personally at doing well in this competition; this team is better equipped than the other two I've been with. I know we only finished second in the Premiership last season but we felt we didn't play well generally. If you look at the players here, the shape and pattern of the team, if we can improve that 10 per cent then I feel we can make an impression."

Batty, one of the most driven individuals in our game, can barely disguise his yearning to exorcise the memories of his previous European club encounters. The recollection of Leeds' tame surrender to Rangers after Stuttgart had handed them a reprieve they scarcely deserved, allied to Blackburn's embarrassing efforts two seasons ago, are powerful motivational tools. Then, too, there is that lasting vision of Batty and Le Saux on a freezing cold Moscow afternoon trading blows.

"It was a pretty embarrassing experience for everyone concerned," Batty said. "For me, for Graeme, for the club. It was something that I have seen happen hundreds of times on a training field but the funny thing is I have never been involved in anything like that on a training field myself.

"The only incident I've been involved in had to come in a game, and such a high-profile game at that. But these things happen in football and as soon as we came off the pitch it was forgotten as far as I was concerned. I'm a totally different person off the pitch to how I am on it and I don't take any grudges away with me.

"The whole campaign was a total nightmare for us that season, and not just because of that. When you think that if it had not been for Stuttgart fielding an ineligible player I would have gone out in the first round with Leeds, you can see why I want to do well.

"British teams, with the exception of Manchester United last year, haven't done at all well in this competition and I think it is obvious that Heysel set us back a long way. It is time that teams like Manchester United and ourselves started bridging that gap again and pulling us closer. We did pretty well in the Uefa Cup last season, now we have to build on that."

Batty's chances of doing that have not been helped by the pre-season loss to injury of his team-mate Alan Shearer, another survivor of Blackburn's disastrous efforts in the Champions' League. But Batty believes that even that negative can be turned into a positive: "One thing we have all told Alan is that we are hoping that by the time he comes back we still have an interest in all the competitions - and that includes the Champions' League."

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