FOOTBALL: Laudrup denies divided loyalties

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The Independent Online
BRIAN LAUDRUP will face the ultimate test of divided loyalties in the Parken stadium tonight, when Chelsea, the club he is determined to leave, meet FC Copenhagen, whom he wishes to join, for a place in the European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-final.

That conflict of interests might suggest that he is unlikely to play any part in the game, which stands at 1-1 after the first leg. Chelsea being Chelsea, however, nothing is straightforward, least of all team selection. The club insist there will be no transfer this week and that the Dane, who joined them only five months ago, could therefore appear at some stage tonight. At least the home side would have no incentive to kick him...

Laudrup was insistent that he would be doing his utmost to help Chelsea progress. "I'm here to win the match for Chelsea," he said. "I have a contract with Chelsea, they pay my wages, I am 100 per cent professional and I'm ready to do my best."

Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea's player-coach, said: "Brian is old enough and experienced enough to play at his best. If he didn't feel like it, he'd tell me. It wouldn't be a gamble. In training he still looks like a player who is staying with us for three or four years. He hasn't shown that anything has affected him."

Vialli was otherwise giving little away and his defenders must do the same this evening, unlike the home tie, when an error jointly attributable to Marcel Desailly and Dennis Wise threatened their unbeaten home record in Europe. Bjarne Goldbaek profited, scoring a goal that Desailly equalised in added time.

That away goal means that a repeat of the 0-0 draw that Chelsea scraped in the previous round across the Swedish border in Helsingborg, will not suffice.

Vialli insists the equaliser will make little difference to either team's tactics. "We have to score, but we don't want to be caught with counter- attacks," he said. "They would defend whether it was 1-0 or 1-1, so we'll approach the game in the same way as we would have done."

If Vialli was looking for an excuse to select himself, a hat-trick against Aston Villa in the Worthington Cup last Wednesday would seem to have provided it. None of his rivals for a place were able to test themselves against a stronger Villa side three days later when the rain fell down in west London, so Gianfranco Zola must wait, as ever, on his master's choice.

Of the strikers in contention, none has scored regularly, and Laudrup not at all. Indeed, Chelsea's form has been less impressive than a run of 13 games without defeat since the opening day of the season might suggest.

The Danes, seventh in their domestic league when they travelled to Stamford Bridge, have perked up since, narrowly failing to beat the league leaders, Aalborg, on Sunday. They have neither injuries nor suspensions, but in front of an anticipated 30,000 crowd, Copenhagen must hope they did not use up all their luck in London on the same night that Manchester United beat their co-tenants, Brondby, 6-2.

If Chelsea were granted one wish other than victory, it would be not that Laudrup has a change of heart - it seems too late for that - but that Lazio lose their away leg to Partizan Belgrade. The Italians are the only side they need fear in this competition, Copenhagen included.