LEEDS UNITED will meet VfB Stuttgart in Barcelona's cavernous Nou Camp stadium on Friday night - and all Howard Wilkinson's internationals, the heart of his team, will be available. It should be some game.
Uefa's decision yesterday that the European Cup tie's extra leg would be in the Catalan capital on Friday was beset with potential problems. Five of Wilkinson's players - Gary Speed, Gary McAllister, Eric Cantona, David Batty and Tony Dorigo - were needed by their countries for World Cup duty next week, and could have been called upon to leave their club-mates on the eve of a money-spinning tie. But the national managers all said yesterday that they would not enforce the Fifa release clause.
The England manager, Graham Taylor, who is preparing for his first World Cup qualifier, against Norway at Wembley, said: 'Now that the Leeds game is on Friday night I will be happy to release David Batty and Tony Dorigo. I want to support Leeds and it means that Batty and Dorigo will now join up with England late Saturday night or on Sunday.' They were scheduled to team up tomorrow evening.
Taylor's Welsh counterpart, Terry Yorath, also agreed that Speed, his influential midfielder, could play five days before facing Cyprus; Scotland's Andy Roxburgh was similarly sympathetic over McAllister. Gerard Houillier, the French coach, was singularly laid-back about Cantona, saying: 'I will make Eric available for his club and will take him back on the Sunday. It's no big deal.'
Leeds had said that they would appeal if the extra game, brought about by the Germans' inability to count to four, was not rescheduled for Elland Road, where Stuttgart made the error of fielding an ineligible player. But yesterday peace broke out. Leslie Silver, the Yorkshire club's chairman, said Leeds would not appeal. 'It is in the best interests of British football that this matter is settled as quickly as possible,' Silver said. 'We are very much concerned about upholding the goodwill and reputation of this club, English football and the relationship between ourselves and Uefa.'
The fourth meeting between the clubs (Leeds won their pre-season Makita engagement) will start all square, with extra-time and penalties if required to decide who progresses to the second round and two dates with Rangers. The first leg is at Ibrox on 21 October, one of the reasons why Uefa wanted the first round completed quickly.
Silver added: 'Our view is that everyone in British football is right behind Leeds United and anxious to see us do well in the European Cup. The last few days had become a farce, so we are pleased that the situation has been resolved; we can get on with playing football and stop playing politics.'
The Leeds secretary, Nigel Pleasants, said: 'We think that we have had a rough deal from Uefa over this and now we have got to go out and win it on the pitch.' Pleasants did not expect too many supporters to make the trip, but the game will be televised live by ITV, for which the club will receive pounds 200,000. The match kicks off at 8.15, in the middle of Leeds United Supporters' Club dinner.
One casualty of all this is tonight's Coca-Cola Cup tie between Leeds and Scunthorpe United, which has been postponed.
The Norwich goalkeeper, Bryan Gunn, has pulled out of tonight's Coca-Cola match against Carlisle at Carrow Road as his two-year-old daughter is struggling in her fight against leukaemia. Gunn has been given indefinite leave by the Norwich manager, Mike Walker, who said: 'That is the very least we can do. Our hearts go out to Bryan and his family, and it all tends to put our other problems into perspective, doesn't it?'
Steve Cherry, the Notts County goalkeeper, has resolved his pay dispute with the club after talks with the chairman, Derek Pavis. 'This is where I belong,' Cherry said.
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