Football: Kick-Off '92-93: Chapman relishing a fresh campaign: Phil Shaw on a key player in attack as Leeds prepare their defence

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ALL who watched the richly entertaining Charity Shield match live on satellite television will be aware of the notion, pressed with predictable regularity by the presenter and pundits, that the seven- goal feast was somehow a 'great advert for the Premier League'. Pie in the Sky, warns the man who led the Leeds United attack at Wembley, Lee Chapman.

As one who has laid the foundations for a media career - with television and radio work, an unghosted column in a heavyweight Sunday paper and an autobiography, More Than A Match, due in November - Chapman is loath to bite the hand which may one day feed him. However, he believes that behind the hype, a chance to implement genuine change has been passed up.

'From the players' point of view nothing has changed - it's the same competition,' he says. 'The FA Blueprint contained some admirable proposals which haven't been implemented. It's not TV's fault, or Graham Kelly's, but the fear factor among club chairmen worried about losing their status and the revenue it entails.

'It's essential that we get down from 22 clubs to 18 as soon as possible. That would give our top players fewer matches, break the cycle of play-recover, play-recover, and allow them time to practise properly.'

Old chestnuts: but what of last Saturday's supposed new dawn, the champions' 4-3 defeat of Liverpool, in which his French colleague Eric Cantona scored a hat- trick? Chapman suggests that it was unlikely to be any kind of pointer to the Premier League, because while the players wanted to win, the fear of losing was for once absent.

'It would be great if our football could always be so open,' he says, 'but life isn't like that. When we play Liverpool at home later this month I think you'll find it's a totally different game. The pressure will make things that much tighter.'

This is realism, borne of 14 years as a professional, rather than the cynicism with which past Leeds teams were associated. Chapman believes that image had been rendered redundant even before last season's title success, and despite his reservations about the split in the English game he 'relishes' the start of a fresh campaign.

'I've never excelled in friendlies. I need a competitive match to motivate me, so in many ways I'll be more psyched up when Wimbledon come to Elland Road on Saturday than I was for Wembley. This is my 15th season and I still love the performing aspect, though the travelling and hanging around in hotels have lost their appeal as I've got older.'

Age, or other people's preconceptions about it, is a bit of a bugbear with Chapman. He is 32, and insists that he has never been fitter, yet he opened up the Charity Shield programme to find it had added a year. His record - he averages more than a goal every two games since joining Leeds from Nottingham Forest two and a half years ago - certainly does not indicate waning powers.

'Once you're past 30 people are continually trying to write you off. No one can go on for ever, but these days players are much more enlightened about exercise and diet. We don't eat big rare steaks before a match like we did when I started with Stoke.'

During a summer taken up by the arrival of a second son and work on his book, Chapman learned from an agent that there had been enquiries about him from Italian clubs. 'As soon as they heard I was in my 30s,' he recalls, 'they lost interest.' Not that he has any desire to leave Leeds, where he has a year remaining on his contract, although with six moves behind him he is aware there is no room for sentiment.

Rather than selling, manager Howard Wilkinson has added Scott Sellars (Blackburn) and David Rocastle (Arsenal) to a squad preparing to challenge for the European Cup. That makes seven midfielders, six of them internationals: a little excessive, perhaps?

'You need cover,' Chapman explains. 'You're always going to get injuries, like Gordon Strachan last season, and fatigue, because our season is too long. Plus suspensions. That's when you need adaptable players and strength in depth.'

Cantona, too, will effectively be a new player, having appeared mostly as a late substitute until now. 'Eric found the later stages more to his liking because the pace resembled the way French football is played. He is adapting all the time, getting better and better, but he knows it'll get a lot tighter than last Saturday, starting with Wimbledon.'

Chapman is sure the Leeds team as a whole will find it tougher. The pressure was off them last time - skilfully deflected by Wilkinson - but everyone wants the 'turn-on' of beating the champions. 'Having said that, we've got a bigger squad, with very honest players. It's between ourselves, United, Arsenal and Liverpool, with Sheffield Wednesday the dark horses.'

Thirty-three years have passed since any club other than Liverpool successfully defended the title, and Wilkinson has joked that it is 'downhill all the way' unless Leeds win the European Cup. 'That's true,' Chapman says with a grin, 'but the manager has told us that we can improve the quality of our performances. Even if we do, it won't guarantee we win anything. That's football.'

And if it all goes horribly wrong, as it did when Leeds were thumped 4-0 by Manchester City in April, Chapman knows just the place to put matters in perspective. The Tannin Level, a wine bar-bistro in nearby Harrogate, could almost claim to be where the final Football League championship was won and lost.

He relates a story that proves the power of positive drinking. 'Myself and Gary McAllister were going to introduce Eric to the culinary delights of North Yorkshire. A quiet meal for three became lunch for 12, with most of the team turning up. We'd been pretty despondent after the City match, and it seemed we'd blown our chance. But as the afternoon wore on we thought: 'Let's get it out of our systems'.

'That evening, City drew at United after being behind and having a man sent off. All of sudden we thought: 'We think we've got problems - United can't even beat 10 men.' Somehow that day set us up for the run-in. Every team should have a session like that now and then.'

(Photograph omitted)

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