Le Saux ready for Highbury

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The Independent Online
GRAEME LE SAUX is expected to play for Blackburn Rovers against Arsenal at Highbury today with a lightweight cast on the left hand he broke in his clash with David Batty early in the Champions' League match against Spartak Moscow last Wednesday.

The cast will be physical evidence of how the incident continues to dog Blackburn. They are also awaiting possible punishment to the players from Uefa, who, at the behest of the Football Association, have been studying the film of Le Saux striking Batty in what is believed to be retaliation for verbal abuse, and Batty's reaction to being fined two weeks' wages, thought to be about pounds 12,000, by the club.

Le Saux has already apologised for his part in the affair and has accepted his fine, but Batty is seeking guidance, probably from the Professional Footballers' Association, before deciding whether to pay up. It is understood that he feels less culpable for the whole episode, which flared after the two had tangled going for the same ball.

Batty has so far remained silent, but the England left-back Le Saux made a public apology via journalists at Blackpool Airport in the early hours of Thursday morning, contrition he repeats in his November diary for the Independent on Sunday today.

He is unwilling, however, to expand on his statement earlier in the week when he said: "I was lucky not to get sent off, I know that. The referee could have made a greater fuss. But there are reasons why I did what I did. Something that happened on the field, not before the match. But if I explained it, the situation would only become worse."

He did add yesterday: "If people feel I have let down the English game I am genuinely sorry. I can only look closer to home. I know I have to look within myself, learn from it all and change my own approach without losing the competitiveness that is an important part of my game."

Of today's match, he writes "Like a rider thrown from a horse, I feel it is important to get straight back on. I am determined not to hide and am desperately keen to play."

Unlike Le Saux, Blackburn were slow to respond to the midweek events, issuing a statement only on Friday night. It announced the fines, that Batty was considering his position, that the pair's future was not in doubt and they would be eligible to face Arsenal without any suspensions being imposed.

Uefa may have different ideas, and bans in European competition for the players may result. There is even a suggestion that there might be one fewer place for English clubs in next season's Uefa Cup. That, like the FA's knee-jerk request for Uefa action, would surely be an over- reaction, however.

As the Blackburn chairman, Robert Coar, said on Thursday, it is primarily an internal matter, even if pan-European television coverage meant that it became high-profile. Rather than a significant reflection on the English game, it may prove that it is more a symptom of the friction that possibly exists at Blackburn as they struggle to reproduce the form that brought them the Premiership title last season.

The red mist, page 25