Football: O'Leary to build around Batty

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The Independent Online
DAVID O'LEARY will build his Leeds United team around his first signing, David Batty, and does not mind upsetting whoever has to make way for the England midfielder.

The Leeds manager confirmed that Batty, who signed yesterday for pounds 4.4m from Newcastle, will make his debut for his home-town club against Coventry on Monday, shunting into the sidings one member of the Leeds team who overwhelmed West Ham 4-0 last weekend. Batty has signed a four-and-a-half- year contract with the club he left for Blackburn in 1993.

"I am not going to play games with people, David will play on Monday if he is fit," O'Leary said. "If that upsets someone who has been in the team, then it is tough. I don't care what the players think, I am trying to build something that is going to last for the next few years. I will spend money when I think it is right, the responsibility doesn't bother me."

O'Leary faces a dilemma in deciding who will make way for Batty. The midfielder David Hopkin is in his best form since arriving at Leeds, while Lee Bowyer has scored three goals in the last three games. The teenage striker Alan Smith and and the Norwegian utility man Alfie Haaland are the favourites to be sacrificed.

Batty's signing brought to an end a protracted saga which had left the player, who celebrated his 30th birthday last Wednesday, contemplating his future in the game after Newcastle turned down Leeds' initial pounds 4m bid.

After being told he would never play for the Magpies again after he handed in a transfer request to his manager Ruud Gullit, Batty was relieved to finally set the seal on his return to Leeds.

"It has been a frustrating time," he said. "When I read the rumours that Leeds were initially interested I just hoped they were true. Certain things may have changed but it feels like I have never been away. There is a buzz about the place and these are exciting times.

"Although the last two weeks have been hard, as a whole Ruud handled it very well. I enjoyed playing with Newcastle but all my thoughts are for Leeds now. We have a young team and a young manager and this probably the most exciting period at the club for about five years."

Liverpool's exit from the Uefa Cup last night will make Gerard Houllier even more determined to sign the French centre-half Cyril Domoraud in a pounds 2m deal - and prevent Arsene Wenger taking the player to Arsenal.

The highly-rated Marseilles defender could seal an agreement before the end of the week. Houllier, the Liverpool manager, is even willing to leave the French Under-21 international at Marseilles for the rest of the season before bringing him to Anfield next summer. Wenger, looking to rebuild his defence next season, has also been in contact with Marseilles about the player.

Houllier is also considering an offer to take the Cameroon centre-half Rigobert Song on trial. He is out of favour at Italy's Salernitana, but he needs a work permit, which is a stumbling block. Liverpool already have two work-permit players and hope to sign the Croatia Zagreb winger Silvio Maric soon, which would take them up to the maximum of three.

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