O'Leary knows failure could break up team

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The Independent Online

David O'Leary believes Leeds will have to consider bids for their best players this summer if the club fail to qualify for next season's Champions' League. The implications of missing out for a second successive year on a highly lucrative competition, one that earned Leeds £22m last season en route to the semi-finals, are considerable. O'Leary has spent nearly £100m gross on players during his three and a half years in charge, while Leeds are going ahead with their plans to move into a new £70m stadium for the start of the 2004-05 season.

Although the Leeds chairman, Peter Ridsdale, has said he would prefer to offload fringe players, he could be tempted to start listening to offers for those he has previously stated are not for sale at any price. Over the last 12 months Ridsdale has rejected substantial bids for the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Harry Kewell, Olivier Dacourt and Mark Viduka – a quartet in today's market who would more than likely bring in a combined total of £75m.

All four have been linked with the financial heavyweights in Spain and Italy, and if Leeds are unable to offer Champions' League football next season, they would surely renew their efforts to prise them away.

"Bids come in one way or the other," stated O'Leary, ahead of tonight's return leg of the Uefa Cup fourth-round game against the reigning Dutch champions, PSV Eindhoven. The first leg last week ended goalless.

"The Champions' League is an excuse, a nice little spin for players because if they want to go then they will go whether we are in the Champions' League or not," O'Leary said. "Those we have bought and spent good money on, they are good players, so we will always get bids for them, and I hope we continue to get bids for them because it shows just how good they are."

The odds on Leeds finishing in the top four are increasing following a run that has seen them slip from top of the Premiership on New Year's Day to sixth as they have picked up three points from their last six league matches.

O'Leary is refusing to give up on the possibility of Leeds claiming a Champions' League place, a target he has had his sights on since the start of the season. But he would settle for the Uefa Cup, even though he knows it would not make Leeds plc's money-men happy.

"The Uefa Cup is now the only competition where we have a chance of delivering some silverware this season," he said. "So if we win the Uefa Cup, but are not in the Champions' League, I would be delighted with that.

"There are some big teams of high quality left in it. If we get through, we'll play either Feyenoord or Rangers, and I'm very impressed with Valencia and Inter Milan. But if we win this game and get into the next round, it will give everyone a big lift."

Lee Bowyer, Alan Smith and Danny Mills – who all started in the first leg – return from domestic suspension to boost a squad which is without the ineligible Robbie Fowler, who played for Liverpool in the Champions' League. Olivier Dacourt is unlikely to play due to an upper thigh strain, so David Batty, who replaced Dacourt at half-time at the weekend, is likely to start if the Frenchman fails a fitness test.

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