Football: O'Neill gives a huge hint

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The Independent Online
THE WHIFF of political intrigue was reminiscent of the Borgia court. Men were manoeuvring for power and in those circumstances it would have been easy to overlook the game of football at Elland Road.

When the coded messages and hints had been deciphered, David O'Leary had done a 180-degree turn and now would like to be the new manager of Leeds United. Meanwhile Martin O'Neill, currently in charge of Leicester, would also love to be offered the job.

O'Neill is under contract at Filbert Street and had to be careful not to offend his current employers, but the implication was clear. "I'm honoured to be part of the speculation," he said, "because Leeds are a big, big club."

"There were 32,000 here and, look, we've all read the plans to develop the ground. They are talking about a capacity of 45,000, and this is one of the few clubs that could fill it. It's been a big club going back to Don Revie's time. It's steeped in history."

Short of asking someone for a first-class stamp, it was about as close as O'Neill could get to posting an application form, but it might have been in vain, because O'Leary's change of heart could tempt Leeds to look inside rather than out for George Graham's successor. A meeting is booked today with the Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale.

On Friday, O'Leary said he did not want the job but the torrent of goodwill that washed over him on Saturday prompted a rethink. "Lots of people have said `I hope you get the job'. These are not people who have an axe to grind in my favour, they will have jobs here no matter whether I stay or not. It was very flattering." Would he accept the job if he was offered it? "I'd have to think about it very carefully."

The caretaker dismissed suggestions he will join Graham at Tottenham. "If I was going to join George, I'd have gone by now," he said, adding, "I live in Harrogate now and love being there. As a player I used to come to Leeds on a Friday and leave on a Saturday and I never realised what Yorkshire was all about. It's not bad living in the North I can tell you."

His heart has moved to Harrogate and the clue to his destination also lay there as his house is being decorated and new carpets laid. Mrs O'Leary, you feel, would not be enduring this domestic upheaval if Hampstead was where the family was heading.

The resulting polite and respectful attitude to both men was carried on to the pitch as both teams appeared more aware of the other's capacity to counter and were fearful. The first shot on target arrived after 45 minutes, and for most of the afternoon the O'Leary-O'Neill duel looked likely to be joined by two further O's, as in the score.

Then Emile Heskey intervened after 75 minutes, profiting from a missed touch that sent Robert Molenaar the wrong way. That was fortunate, but there was nothing lucky about his charge down the right or his low hard cross that Tony Cottee got to first ahead of David Wetherall. The irony was that O'Neill had been about to substitute his 32-year-old striker just before the goal.

As for Leeds, they are learning there is no substitute for class. This was the team's first defeat in the Premiership, but the more pertinent statistic is two victories from eight games. They have resilience, but inspiration is harder to locate.

Graham realised that and so does O'Leary. "To take the next step we need better players," he said, "and that means plenty of serious dollars." Did he have anyone in mind? "Oh yes," he replied and, although he would not specify who, he will be throwing names at Ridsdale today. "The chairman could definitely get a fright on that one," he added.

Goal: Cottee (75) 0-1.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Hiden, Wetherall, Molenaar, Harte (Granville, h-t); Halle, Bowyer (McPhail, 85), Haaland, Sharpe; Hasselbaink, Wijnhard (Kewell, 81). Substitutes not used: Woodgate, Robinson (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Elliott, Ullathorne, Taggert; Savage, Zagorakis (Campbell, 55), Lennon, Izzet, Guppy; Cottee, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Parker, Kaamark, Fenton, Arphexad (gk).

Bookings: Leeds: Hasselbaink, Haaland; Leicester: Elliott, Zagorakis, Campbell.

Referee: G Barber (Tring).

Man of the match: Izzet.

Attendance: 32,606.

Leeds United 0 Leicester City 1