Football: Leeds fear losing players over Uefa ruling

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The Independent Online
UEFA, the game's governing body in Europe, will decide this morning whether to agree to Leeds United's request that their European Cup replay with VfB Stuttgart be played at Elland Road. The omens are not good. 'It's not possible,' one Uefa official said yesterday.

Leeds fear that Uefa will schedule the game for a Continental city like Rotterdam or Paris this weekend: the venue would limit the amount of English fans attending and the date could see five of Howard Wilkinson's internationals withheld by their national team managers, who can invoke a Fifa regulation which gives them first claim on players six days before major matches.

In these circumstances, Leeds would appeal against Uefa's original decision to allow the German champions to remain in the competition despite fielding an ineligible player in the second leg, at Elland Road, last week. Leeds have to decide today whether to appeal.

If the game is ordered for this weekend, when there are no Premier League fixtures, Leeds would lose their two full-backs, England's Tony Dorigo and David Batty, two midfielders, Gary McAllister (Scotland) and Gary Speed (Wales), and one striker, Eric Cantona, who was yesterday recalled to France's cause. All four countries have World Cup qualifiers the following Wednesday. Stuttgart are less affected as Germany qualified automatically for USA '94 as holders.

'If it was only a friendly international next week it would be so different,' Graham Taylor, the England manager, said. 'But this is the start of England's World Cup qualification campaign and I cannot allow anything to disrupt our preparations.'

Taylor's Welsh counterpart, Terry Yorath, said: 'It seems that Uefa will definitely be trying to make Leeds play this weekend, on Friday or Saturday. I have spoken to Howard Wilkinson about this and told him I would very, very reluctantly have to invoke the rule on Gary Speed.

'We have got an important game ourselves, a World Cup game, and Speed is an important player for us. We have helped clubs out in the past, but unfortunately, on this one cannot really do so.'

Uefa says it appreciates Leeds's dilemma. 'We are aware of the problems with players involved in World Cup games,' Uefa's disciplinary chief, Rene Eberle, said. 'Fifa's ruling has created us quite some problems. We are trying to find out what date would best suit both teams. But we are also trying to find a solution so that Glasgow Rangers can play their second- round matches as scheduled.'

The Yorkshire club faxed Uefa twice yesterday, making their case for the game to be staged at Elland Road. Wilkinson read out a statement yesterday, which said: 'The breach of regulations took place at Elland Road and in our view the deciding match should take place there as well . . . If the third game was to take place on the mainland of Europe then we submit that such a decision would give a clear advantage to Stuttgart.'

Another Yorkshire club, Sheffield United, were put up for sale yesterday. The Blades chairman, Paul Woolhouse, failed to meet the deadline for buying controlling shares worth pounds 3m, which will now go back on the market. Len Brealey, who chairs the trust that holds the shares, said: 'There are a number of individuals and consortiums who have expressed a desire to take over the club.

'In the meantime we cannot have a vacuum at Bramall Lane so on behalf of the holding company I have invited Derek Dooley to return as chairman as a temporary measure. He is the one man who commands enough respect to hold things together at this time.'

But Woolhouse countered in a statement that 'I am still chairman and chief executive of Sheffield United, having a substantial investment in the club and an effective control of the majority shareholding'.

Southampton are negotiating with Matthew Le Tissier to hold on to their most valuable asset. Liverpool, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Everton are reportedly interested in the England B winger and Southampton have offered Le Tissier a new contract, nine months before his present deal finishes.

TV ratings' battle, page 30

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