Remorseless Bowyer forces Leeds to act

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The Independent Football

Leeds United's decision to wash their hands of Lee Bowyer begs just one question. Where did they find all the soap?

His refusal to accept the fine of a month's wages (approximately £80,000) and comply with an order to perform community work made his transfer-listing a formality. Given Bowyer's behaviour, his apparent complete lack of remorse for his involvement in a trial which told an appalling story of drunken irresponsibility, his branding as a liar by both a judge and his own manager David O'Leary, effecting the move, at least within English football, might require a little more time.

Who, the question has to be asked, will be prepared to invest in a player whose undoubted talent has become so loaded with unwelcome baggage? Bowyer's stand against Leeds's attempt to impose what at best could be described as a little face-saving discipline is nothing less than a shocking statement of either complete ignorance, or indifference, to his own circumstances.

Certainly the invitation of his barrister to the jury at the first trial to share in Bowyer's dream of helping England to win the World Cup in Japan next summer is made to look bizarrely inappropriate. Though O'Leary accused the FA of hypocrisy in refusing to select Bowyer while he faced serious criminal charges, the verdict on Bowyer's character by the judge at Hull Crown Court last week has made the ruling body's caution seem ultimately wise.

The England coach Sven Goran Eriksson's distaste for the drinking culture of English football would surely not sit easily with the selection of a player who told a court that he was "legless" on the night Sarfraz Najeib was left badly beaten in a Leeds street, who had earlier narrowly escaped imprisonment for an assault made at 5am in the morning, who had been cautioned for the possession of drugs and had lied to his manager so persistently his club called in a private investigator.

It is not exactly the desired portfolio of a young football millionaire with his eyes fixed on the game's glittering prizes. Indeed, yesterday's rebellion by Bowyer speaks of either terrible arrogance or astonishingly inept advice. His position is clearly that having been cleared of criminal charges, he expected the club to deliver on their public statement that as far as they were concerned he was innocent until proven guilty.

What he seems to be ignoring is the accumulation of shame that piled upon his status as a £20,000-a week professional during the course of the trial. The extent of that shame was spelled out in graphic terms by his own manager in the book, Leeds United on Trial, that was staggeringly approved for serialisation in the News of the World last weekend.

O'Leary told of how, after the two were charged, he gathered his players together, then pointed to Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, who was found guilty of affray and like his team-mate faces legal costs of £1m, and said: "These two have disgraced us all. They were running round Leeds drunk that night. The terrible consequences of the evening were that a human being was left on the floor as though he was nothing more than a piece of meat. I was shouting at them. Never before had they seen me like that. I was incensed by what happened. I was definitely lied to by Bow and Woody. When they left my office I knew they had been economical with the truth. I was enraged when I learned what had taken place. We decided to get to the bottom of it by hiring a private investigator."

Such background information, makes the club's initial stand on behalf of Bowyer and Woodgate highly questionable, and certainly calls into doubt the wisdom of playing Bowyer under the shadow of the impending court case. The fact that Bowyer played conspicuously well, while Woodgate wilted under the strain, ultimately became irrelevant, and certainly does nothing to soften the damage now being caused to the club's image.

For O'Leary, who only last spring was just 90 minutes away from a place in the European Cup final, the new challenge of maintaining the morale of a young team which has displayed great ability and competitive character, is immense. He has to lift the team above the squalor that so besmirched the name of their club and left an innocent young man near to death. He also has to repair the professional values that were so outrageously flouted by Lee Bowyer. The player was cleared of criminal charges, but not the indictment that he was a professional whose word could not be trusted.

When he told Leeds that he was unprepared to make any kind of amends, financially or morally, he confirmed the validity of that verdict. He lifted the level of disgrace still another notch and Leeds had no option but to reach for the soap and the water.