Football: O'Leary's campaign for cash

Leeds United 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
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The Independent Online
COMING FROM George Graham, the words might have been construed as an impatient ultimatum from a man preparing the ground for his exit. In the gentle, lilting Dublin brogue of his successor at Elland Road, they sounded like a polite appeal for dialogue, although Leeds United's owners will mistake David O'Leary's niceness for weakness at their peril.

It was the aftermath of a tie which never quite lived up to the hype, and the talk had turned to expectations of the long-term variety. Whereas the Tottenham manager radiated an almost smug sense of satis- faction, O'Leary called for the very clarification of Leeds' resources and ambitions that Graham sought before settling on "personal reasons" as his rationale for taking the Alan Sugar shilling.

The Irishman began by asserting that, whatever the outcome of the battle of wits with his mentor had been, he would have deemed the "overall picture" at Leeds to be "rosy". However, if Graham is often guilty of offensive charm - the grudging praise and sarcastic asides are delivered with a smile - O'Leary is never slow to launch a charm offensive.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to put pressure on his paymasters, he explained that he was "trying to pin them down" for a meeting. First he would ask whether they wanted him to stay. O'Leary knows that if the answer were anything less than an emphatic "yes", the public backlash would make the strains of "You only went for the money" which greeted Graham on Saturday sound like a Boyzone ballad.

"The bottom line," continued O'Leary, "is how much money have I got to spend? We need a bigger and better squad, and I think I need four or five more players in the summer. I have a persuasion job to do; I have to ask how much is in the kitty. If it's not a great deal, then we have to tell people. If we're saying we're a big club we have to act like one."

The Leeds faithful could be excused for believing such matters were resolved at the time of his appointment. While even Alex Ferguson would say he is a couple of players short of his ideal pool, O'Leary has a better case than most for seeking substantial backing from the boardroom. A succession of injuries has depleted what was arguably the Premiership's least numerous squad, forcing him to keep young players on a rollercoaster ride that leads them to Aston Villa on Wednesday.

True, none looked out of place among Spurs' seasoned campaigners, with Harry Kewell more than matching David Ginola for menace, but Spurs had the better balance and the more clear-cut chances. Tim Sherwood, who frequently found space in a congested midfield, deftly put them ahead. Spirited as Leeds' response was, it came as a surprise when left-back Ian Harte cut inside to equalise with his supposedly weaker foot.

Like weary prize-fighters, the teams then settled for a replay almost as readily as did Steve Bruce at Highbury. With the second leg of a delicately poised Worthington Cup semi-final against Wimbledon looming tomorrow, any addition to Spurs' schedule is unwelcome, but in the space of four months Graham has turned them into a far more durable outfit.

Their current form - two defeats in 13 games - has been an eye-opener for the Scot. "When I came to the club I had preconceived ideas about some of the players," he admitted. "Having worked with them, I've changed my mind a bit. Some have done a lot better than I expected."

Graham believed the "nice buzz about the place" could only be enhanced by Sherwood's arrival. "Tim's a winner," he purred, "and in English football you need winners alongside the technically talented players".

The former Blackburn captain is no slouch in the skill stakes either. His impact on his full debut was no doubt in O'Leary's thoughts when he suggested that Graham had "taken a quality side and added to it". He aims to do likewise at Leeds, though if it sometimes seems he is in awe of his ex-boss, the impression is misleading.

Graham claimed he had guessed the Leeds line-up correctly. Unaware of his boast, O'Leary said: "He'll probably say he knew my side. Since we're down to the bare bones, that didn't take much of a genius." The protege is his own man and, for all his geniality, he will not go quietly at White Hart Lane.

Goals: Sherwood (52) 0-1; Harte (73) 1-1.

Leeds United (3-4-1-2): Martyn; Radebe, Wetherall, Woodgate; Haaland (Korsten, 84), Hopkin, Bowyer, Harte; Kewell; Hasselbaink, Smith. Substitutes not used: Granville, Halle, Jones, Robinson (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Young, Campbell, Edinburgh; Anderton (Nielsen, 82), Freund, Sherwood, Ginola (Sinton, 85); Iversen, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Armstrong, Vega, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Leeds: Woodgate, Bowyer. Tottenham: Iversen, Ferdinand, Carr, Sherwood.

Man of the match: Sherwood.

Attendance: 39,696.

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