Football: Gullit goes on the attack

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THE NEWCASTLE United manager, Ruud Gullit, has countered speculation over his future as he seeks to end his side's disastrous start to the season.

Gullit's position in the wake of three successive Premiership defeats has been a topic of constant discussion locally and nationally. His professional competence as well as his commuter status have been called into question.

As reports of new job offers and an imminent sacking continued to circulate on the eve of today's meeting with Wimbledon, the Dutchman went on the counter-attack.

"I haven't resigned, my mother hasn't got chicken pox, I haven't bought a house, I haven't been offered a job with the [Dutch] national team, I haven't been offered a job in America. I'm still here, my wife is OK, my daughter is OK, the groundsman is OK, everybody at Newcastle is OK," was Gullit's sarcastic response to the rumours yesterday.

"There have been so many things written about me, I think everybody has forgotten the issue that we have lost three games," he added.

"That's a very bad start for me and the club and we are trying to do everything to turn it around. That's the only issue I want to talk about," he said. "The rest has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with football, and I want to be judged on my ability as a coach, not on the other things. That's fair.

"It's a bad scenario and I realise that. But I've had worse in my life. I've lost three games and I want to be criticised about that, and of course I'm unhappy about that.

"I take all the blame. That's my position. That's why I say criticise me for the defeats I've had. I can take that because I'm disappointed myself and I'm going to work and do everything within my power to put it right."

While the pressure has been mounting, Gullit insists that the support of the fans is as strong as ever. "I'd like to thank people on the street that have been very, very supportive to me," he said. "It looks like I have even become more popular than I was before."

One man Gullit will not be able to turn to today is Alan Shearer. The England striker will sit out the Wimbledon game as he serves out the one- match ban he picked up for his opening day sending-off against Aston Villa. His place will be taken by either Duncan Ferguson, who is back in the squad for the first time since last season's FA Cup final, or the 20-year-old Paul Robinson.

Manchester United's new midfielder Quinton Fortune had his work permit rushed through without consultation with the Professional Footballers' Association.

Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, revealed last night that the players' union, normally watchful about recommending work permits, had been kept in the dark over the South African's signing.

Fortune has been granted a work permit by the Department for Employment and Education on the basis of a reference from the South African Football Association that he has played in 14 of the last 15 internationals. However, the Government department was hurriedly checking for proof yesterday after revelations that Fortune has played in just 17 out of 33 games in the past two years.

Taylor said: "We were not consulted. On the face of it Fortune does not meet the requirements. The Government promised to speak to all the football authorities if it is a borderline case. If there is some doubt it should come to us."

The DEE admitted last night that it was taking a second look at Fortune's record but a spokesman said: "The South African FA are the first source of information. If there is a relevant discrepancy we will check it out."

Derby County have abandoned their attempts to sign the Argentinian striker Esteban Fuertes. The pounds 2.3m deal was called off after international clearance failed to come through yesterday.

Derby's chief executive, Keith Loring, said: "The problem has been with the three parties [two clubs and a firm of agents] who own his registration. There's been no problem with the player himself."

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's pounds 12m transfer from Leeds United to Atletico Madrid went through with hours to spare. The full fee for the Dutch international striker arrived in Leeds' bank account just before the Spanish transfer deadline.