Football: Harford return places Pleat's role in doubt

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CHELSEA and Luton Town agreed to swap their leading scorers last night, with Mick Harford moving back to Kenilworth Road in part exchange for Phil Gray.

The deal, which has Gray valued at pounds 500,000, with Luton getting Harford plus pounds 200,000, will go down as the first of the David Webb era at Chelsea, but may have deeper implications for the First Division side. David Pleat, the Luton manager, opposed trading a 24-year-old striker with his career before him for a player 10 years his senior, but was overruled because of the club's financial predicament.

Pleat and his employer, David Kohler, are known to be at odds, and the exchange will exacerbate their differences. If Pleat was to deem it a resignation issue, which is possible, the likelihood is that Harford, who has a home and business interests in Luton, would replace him, as player-manager.

Harford joined Chelsea from Luton for pounds 300,000 in August. Gray began his career at Tottenham, and Luton favoured selling him on an exchange basis because the terms of the transfer which took him to Kenilworth Road entitled Spurs to 30 per cent of any sell-on fee in excess of pounds 275,000. The deal agreed with Chelsea would leave them with just pounds 132,500.

Gray is expected to make his Premier League debut at home to Arsenal on Monday.

Tottenham yesterday backed down in their club v country dispute with the Football Association by agreeing that Nick Barmby, their teenage striker, should travel to Australia this weekend with England for the World Youth Championship. In the light of Bobby Moore's death, Terry Venables, the Spurs chief executive, decided it would be inappropriate to withdraw him.

So ended a prolonged protest by the club, who nevertheless remain furious that their request to withdraw Barmby - so he could play in the FA Cup quarter-final tie at Manchester City on Sunday week - was ignored.

Other Premier League clubs - Arsenal, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough - were also unhappy about losing players for a month at a key stage of the season but Spurs alone were prepared to test England's determination to field their strongest squad.

Venables considered all the legal implications and was also sensitive to the possible harmful effects on the player himself; the FA for its part was prepared to threaten the ultimate sanction of booting Spurs out of their Cup competition.

However, the passing away on Wednesday of Moore, England's World Cup-winning captain and a close friend of Venables, overshadowed all the deliberations.

Spurs cancelled the press conference they had called yesterday to announce their decision and instead issued this statement: 'The boy (Barmby) will go to Australia. It's not appropriate to expand on the matter in the light of the sad news relating to Bobby Moore.'

Moore, the personification of sportsmanship and grace, would have had no truck with a video depicting the violent side of the game. Vinnie Jones did and yesterday he lost his appeal to the FA against a pounds 20,000 fine and six- month ban (suspended for three years) imposed on the Wimbledon midfielder for bringing the game into disrepute.

In fact, Jones must forfeit another pounds 250, the cost of the hearing. Afterwards he said: 'I will pay up in the morning. No doubt I shall be shaking as I write the cheque but I am strong enough to put this behind me. I have learned a harsh lesson.'

Jones was represented by Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the players' union, the PFA, who claimed the punishment was out of all proportion to the offence.

'If we are to penalise people more severely for talking about something rather than the doers, then we are looking at justice the wrong way round,' he said.

'We have had instances where jaws have been broken and serious injury inflicted on the pitch and the fines have been a fraction of this. Managers have abused referees and been fined only pounds 500. We have to be fair and we feel that because of his reputation Jones is paying a heavy price.'