Football: Desailly plans to join Lazio next summer

AS IF the furore over Frank Leboeuf's dismissal was not enough, the problems that the Chelsea manager, Gianluca Vialli, is having with French centre-backs do not end there. He is facing the prospect of Marcel Desailly leaving the west London club at the end of the season to join Lazio.

Desailly has always had a career plan and his next step - after two seasons in England - is a pounds 6m move back to Italy.

The powerful Desailly, who suffered a dislocated shoulder during Sunday's calamitous home defeat against Leeds United, has performed well for Chelsea in Europe this season, but neither the physical demands nor the style of the Premier League have been to his liking since he arrived for pounds 4.6m from Milan.

Chelsea could be glad of the money, but Vialli must be wondering what is happening to his dream squad. Leboeuf has apologised to his team-mates for the moment of madness that looks to have ended Chelsea's Premiership challenge. But that apology will probably cut little ice with Vialli as he contemplates a central defensive crisis at Christmas that threatens even his now limited league ambitions.

The Football Association is equally unlikely to be impressed his words of regret once the match report from the referee, Jeff Winter, has arrived with the details of Leboeuf's second-half dismissal.

The Frenchman was dismissed for a second bookable offence on Harry Kewell in the space of seven minutes before stamping on the Australian. He then argued with Leeds players and officials on the bench before belatedly accepting his inevitable punishment.

Already facing a two-match ban for his second red card of the season - he will miss the FA Cup fourth round and the Premiership visit to Coventry City - Leboeuf can now expect further punishment after Winter confirmed he had noticed the stamp on Kewell, although Leboeuf had already been dismissed for the second yellow card.

The dismissal was the last thing Vialli needed after losing his other two main central defenders to injury during the 2-0 defeat that left the Blues 17 points behind Leeds, the Premiership leaders.

Desailly's replacement, Jes Hogh, pulled up with a torn hamstring midway through the second half, forcing Chris Sutton to be pressed into service as an emergency centre-half. Vialli now has only Bernard Lambourde as experienced defensive cover for a vital run of Premiership games over Christmas and into the new year against Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry. Those games could have a bearing on whether Chelsea can finish in the top three and make sure of a Champions' League place next season.

"Frank knows he should not have done that and he has apologised to everyone," Chelsea's full-back Jon Harley said. "Luca thought we played well, he was reasonably happy with the performance but it's the result that counts and we are all gutted. For the first 60 minutes everyone was really enjoying it and then we just went. Down to 10 men and 2-0 down, you don't know what to do."

The FA will wait for a report from another referee, Graham Barber, before considering taking any disciplinary action against Emmanuel Petit, the Arsenal midfielder. The French international is alleged to have spat towards the Wimbledon striker John Hartson during Saturday's game at Highbury .

An FA spokesman, Adrian Bevington, said: "Clearly, if any evidence of this is brought to our attention, we will look very closely at it because anything of this nature is a serious offence. However, at this stage, we have had no reports to suggest anything has taken place."

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