FA asks former captains for help as Smith is banned

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The Independent Football

On the day Alan Smith was handed a two-match ban for the incident that led to him being ejected from Sven Goran Eriksson's squad, it was revealed that the Football Association will enlist four of England's best-known former captains to help ease relations with the players.

In Manchester next Monday the FA is due to meet a number of leading England players, including Gary Neville and David James, to help heal the rifts caused by the Smith and Rio Ferdinand affairs. In both cases the England squad felt that team-mates had been found guilty by the FA before receiving a fair trial and even went as far as to threaten to strike.

Such animosity persuaded the FA to agree to a meeting with the squad to resolve the criteria for international selection. And last night it was reported that former captains Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker, David Platt and Alan Shearer will be consulted for their views on the new disciplinary code to supplement the meeting.

Yesterday's decision to hand Smith a mere two-match ban and not to fine the Leeds striker for the incident that saw him arrested and dropped from the England squad to face Denmark, seems to substantiate the players' gripes. The FA discipplinary committee held a hearing at Soho Square to look into the conclusion of Leeds' Carling Cup defeat to Manchester United on 28 October when Smith picked up a plastic bottle and threw it back into the Elland Road crowd, hitting the sister of one of his best friends.

Smith apologised the next day, and although he was later arrested, the Crown Prosecution Service advised that no action should be taken against him. By then, however, he had already missed out on playing for England.

The three-man panel decided on a verdict which means that Smith is ruled out of Leeds' games at home to Middlesbrough on 31 January and at Aston Villa a week later.

After the hearing, Leeds issued a statement which read: "The club are disappointed, as is Alan. Leeds United feel the player has been very harshly treated over the whole matter."

This, however, was in contrast to the view of Eddie Gray, Leeds' caretaker manager, who said that the 23-year-old should show greater responsibility for his actions. Smith has been booked nine times this season and is a yellow card away from an extra two-match suspension.

"Alan knows what's expected of him," Gray said. "He is a vital member of our squad and we can do without him being suspended. He has to learn to control his natural aggression."

Meanwhile, Allan Leighton, who resigned from the Leeds board last month, is now trying to raise enough investment to prop up the club rather than see them having to sell players such as Smith, Mark Viduka and Paul Robinson.

One leading creditor is demanding guarantees about the club's future after being led to believe that a takeover would go through before 19 January. However, with Sheikh Abdul bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa's proposed buy-out having stalled, Leighton is emerging as Leeds' main hope ­ despite being criticised by supporters for his part in creating the club's financial problems.

Leeds would be guaranteed a substantial cash injection if they stayed in the Premiership, but that is unlikely if Viduka, Smith and Robinson are sold. However, they must raise funds immediately, prompting Leighton's efforts.

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