Ridsdale defends the long-term goal

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From a club in clover to one in crisis. Reportedly. It doesn't take long for the purveyors of despair to start selling their wares around a football club. On the way to Elland Road on Tuesday, even the usually restrained Radio 5 Live described Leeds as "troubled". Really? Would that Chelsea, West Ham United, Middlesbrough and a host of illustrious clubs languishing in the Nationwide First Division be "troubled", their respective chairmen might contend.

From a club in clover to one in crisis. Reportedly. It doesn't take long for the purveyors of despair to start selling their wares around a football club. On the way to Elland Road on Tuesday, even the usually restrained Radio 5 Live described Leeds as "troubled". Really? Would that Chelsea, West Ham United, Middlesbrough and a host of illustrious clubs languishing in the Nationwide First Division be "troubled", their respective chairmen might contend.

Under the circumstances, you could not blame David O'Leary's acerbic reaction to Leeds' unanticipated triumph over Milan. With Besiktas defeating Barcelona 3-0, it was suggested that Champions' League Group H was wide open. "Until next week," the Leeds manager replied, looking ahead to Tuesday's home game with the Turkish club.

"If we lose that, we're a bad team again. But that's football. It's a funny game. Thank God my wife doesn't come to matches. Thank God we don't really read the papers. We answered people who've made little insinuations in certain columns, although I don't like using the word 'answer' because we don't need to answer to anybody about how far this club has come in two years and the money we've spent compared with so many others."

Over-reaction is something that the normally genial Irishman will have to accept as an occupational irritation. It should be swatted away like a hovering mosquito, not attacked with a hammer. As O'Leary maintained: "This is the first real blip in the two years I've been in charge."

Indeed, his chairman, Peter Ridsdale, finds the criticism "quite unreasonable" despite Premiership defeats by Manchester City and Ipswich and the humbling by Barcelona. "I'm very disappointed with suggestions that there's a problem, that so early people are starting to write us off," Ridsdale said. "I have total belief in what we're doing, with the manager and his squad. I'll allow everyone to judge us at the end of the season."

Ridsdale added: "At the time David was appointed two years ago, my thoughts were, 'Crikey, are we going to survive in the top half of the Premiership?' It's no secret that George Graham left because, Leeds having reached fifth place, he believed it was as high as we could go. Since then, David's taken us to fourth and third. People sometimes have short memories.

"We gave David a six-year contract. We have a long-term plan in place with Brian Kidd in charge of youth development. We have signed a lot of young players as well as developed a lot. We genuinely believe we are doing things the right way for the long-term good. You don't suddenly start getting knocked off course after two games. Against Milan, it was clear that the players were up for the game, probably because a few people were questioning how good we were."

O'Leary maintained that he would not entertain "a short-term fix" by acquiring players he does not particularly want to reinforce his injury-stricken squad. But Leeds' ambition can hardly be questioned in view of their £15m offer for Rio Ferdinand, made on the morning of the Barcelona game.

Thus far, the West Ham chairman, Terry Brown, has refused to yield, while manager Harry Redknapp has been provoked into a verbal flaying of Leeds, claiming the England international will not leave Upton Park. Ridsdale will not comment on the offer directly but, looked at objectively, it appears more than generous, particularly in view of the possible overhaul of the transfer system within Europe.

Leeds already have two excellent central defenders, of course, in the guise of Lucas Radebe and England international Jonathan Woodgate, who are both close to a return from injury. In the meantime, their understudies, Danny Mills and Michael Duberry, performed with a courage and conviction which reduced Andriy Shev-chenko and Oliver Bierhoff to frustration. The Ukrainian at least forced Mills to a fine saving tackle and goalkeeper Nigel Martyn into an equally resourceful save, but the German appeared as lively as an imbiber in a bier keller. O'Leary's pleasure at subduing the German international would have been mirrored by Kevin Keegan, whose England team face the prospect of shackling him at Wembley in 13 days' time.

Before then, Leeds face Besiktas, who until last Tuesday might have been regarded as points donors. Three goals past Barcelona have forced everyone to reconsider that impression. As the Milan coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, put it, as he desperately sought to mitigate his team's abject performance against Leeds: "It was written in Italy that Besiktas were a very weak team [after Milan defeated them 4-1]. How come, if they are so weak, they were able to beat Barcelona?"

Certainly, they appear to be an improvement on the team who finished third in their group in the 1997-98 season, although even they savoured home victories against Bayern Munich and Paris St-German. The Frenchman Pascal Nouman, who joined the club from Lens this summer, will require all the concentration of the Leeds rearguard, having already scored three in Champions' League qualifiers and one against Barcelona.

The France Under-21 player's longer-term future is in doubt following his arrest for alleged involvement in a violent incident with photographers outside a nightclub in the city. Nouman's fellow striker, Ahmet Dursun, managed two against the Spanish club.

"I saw Besiktas against Milan and I thought they were a good side," said O'Leary. "It's a very hard group, a quality group. There's no whipping boys. It's all about players and it helps when you can get a few of them back, such as Eirik Bakke and Dominic Matteo. It gives you more confidence."

Only around 150 visiting supporters are expected, and Ridsdale is confident that there will be no problems provoked by the deaths of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in April prior to the Uefa Cup semi-final against Galatasaray. "I'm satisfied with the security operation," he said. "Everything is being done that can be done. However, I don't believe that people in Leeds see Besiktas as a problem." For the sake of O'Leary's equilibrium, it is to be hoped that his side don't either.

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