Football: O'Neill to stay with Leicester

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MARTIN O'NEILL yesterday ended weeks of speculation about the next stage of his managerial career by committing himself to Leicester City for the immediate future.

While rejecting the option of walking out on Leicester to fill the hole left by George Graham's departure from Leeds, O'Neill made clear his displeasure that his club had stopped Leeds from talking to him about their managerial vacancy. Leeds are now almost certain to invite their caretaker manager, David O'Leary, to succeed Graham as manager, leaving O'Neill to ponder on his future at Filbert Street.

The Leicester chairman, John Elsom, announced O'Neill has been offered a two-year extension to his present contract, which runs out in 2000. O'Neill, however - who has insisted he has a gentlemen's agreement with the Leicester board that he can talk to other clubs should they approach him with offers - is not likely to sign it until he has studied it very carefully.

"I've been denied the opportunity to go and speak to a club and it rankles with me," O'Neill said. "What it's forced me to do is get things written down and try to understand English. The phrase `a gentlemen's agreement' will disappear from my vocabulary."

He added: "There are only five or six clubs in the country I would leave Leicester to join and Leeds are one of them because I could have seen a chance of going close to winning a championship more quickly in my career.

"But I've made my decision and that's the end of it. You won't hear a peep out of me for the rest of the season."

Whether O'Neill's future at Leicester will be peaceful remains to be seen, but the Irishman's relationship with Elsom has been strained by the Leeds affair. "If you ask me if I would go out for dinner with him again, as I did a few times before this, then the answer is no," O'Neill said.

Asked if he would insist that the new contract Leicester want him to sign would have to include a clause allowing him to speak to other interested clubs, O'Neill replied: "That's something I'd have to discuss with John. That's pretty important."

Elsom, who denied he had betrayed his manager, revealed why he had rejected Leeds' approaches.

"My fear was they would roll out the red carpet and he would inevitably go there," he said. "I thought it was the best of the avenues to keep him at Leicester City."

O'Neill said the show of support from fans on Monday night, when Leicester beat Tottenham 2-1, had played a part in his decision not to move, as had the loyalty of his players. "I would not have been at ease with myself at walking out," he said. "Walking out on a contract is something I didn't want to do."

Elsom added: "I said to Martin in the summer that I would claim responsibility for eradicating the differences between the commercial and football sides of the company.

"Clearly I have not done that sufficiently well enough for him to be happy with it and so I have returned to it with vigour.

"It is fair to say that I had misunderstood the intensity of Martin's feelings at this level."

The Premier League said it will not be attempting to tighten up the rules on management despite the O'Neill affair. There have been calls for the League to introduce a rule where no-one could manage more than one of their member clubs in a single season, but a spokesman, Mike Lee, ruled out the introduction of such a law. "There are a number of features to this but all parties have acted by the rule book and the chairmans' charter," he said. "It shows we are getting things right and that the rules and regulations are working.

"All parties have acted honourably and responsibly. This wouldn't have happened two or three years ago and proves those involved are committed to the regulations. If we are getting it right there is no need to make any further alterations."

The League Managers' Association have welcomed O'Neill's decision to remain at Filbert Street and honour their, and the Premier League's, code of conduct.

The LMA's chief executive, John Barnwell, said: "Martin O'Neill did believe that he had a verbal agreement with his board to speak to any interested club during the term of his contract but when this was disputed, he chose not to break the written letter of his contract. While understanding his disappointment at being denied the opportunity to speak to Leeds, we believe he should be congratulated on fulfilling to the letter the LMA's code of conduct."