Saturday, June 29, 2002
Sunday summit talks for Leeds plc
By Peter Ferguson
Leeds United's plc board will meet tomorrow to decide who they want to succeed the sacked David O'Leary as manager at Elland Road.
McCarthy: Ireland boss is Elland Road probable
Peter Ridsdale's dream of gate-crashing the domestic and European elite, underwritten by a massive £100million investment in players, depends on Leeds landing the right successor.
Mick McCarthy is their favoured candidate. But the gifted son of Barnsley, who took the Republic of Ireland to the last 16 of the World Cup, will not be easy to prise away from an international post where he has achieved hero status.
The former Manchester City centre-half was yesterday putting the finishing touches to the World Cup diary that will be an instant bestseller beyond Dublin thanks to his epic Far East row with Roy Keane.
McCarthy, who is scheduled for a family holiday in Portugal next week, is thought to have a clause in his two-year contract for the European Championship campaign that allows him to speak to interested Premiership clubs.
Leeds will certainly exploit that after conceding that their other prime candidate - Celtic boss Martin O'Neill - would be as tantalisingly out of reach to Ridsdale's overtures this time as he was four years ago at Leicester.
With success at club rather than international level, O'Neill would have been Leeds' No.1 choice but he is set on another season in charge at Celtic Park.
Rangers' improved challenge for the Scottish title will be a battle the loyal O'Neill relishes, as well as a further chance of Champions League progress that would make an impression on the Old Trafford powerbrokers.
O'Neill, who has turned down chances to manage Leeds and Everton, left Celtic fans to worry yesterday as he flew out to Japan for television duty at tomorrow's World Cup Final.
But a Celtic spokesman insisted: 'The manager has consistently said he has a three-year contract that he fully intends to honour. That deal still has a year to run.'
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren could be the outside candidate, but Leeds will not jeopardise their ties with PSV by attempting to hijack Guus Hiddink's move to Eindhoven.
Meanwhile O'Leary, who twice ignored warnings from his board to curb his public criticisms of the club, could be handed the chance to resurrect his managerial career in Italy.
His reputation was enhanced there by Champions League victories over Lazio and AC Milan two seasons ago.
The sacked boss went on holiday to Sardinia yesterday and has never hidden his admiration for Italy or its football, citing Roma's Fabio Capello as a favourite coach. Once linked with Inter Milan, O'Leary is also highly regarded at Lazio and was sounded out as a possible successor to Sven Goran Eriksson.
He said: 'I hope somebody takes pity on me and I get the chance to do the best for them and their fans. I loved this job. It was mentally tough for the last two years but it is a great club.'
Ridsdale decided that change was needed after a dismal defeat by Fulham in April. It took until last weekend for the plc board to reach the same conclusion.
The chairman said last night: 'We must appoint a manager who will lead the team to some silverware and regular Champions League football.'
Saturday, June 29, 2002
O'Neill remains Elland Road target
By Roddy Thomson
Leeds turned up the heat in their chase for Martin O'Neill last night as the Celtic manager cancelled his flight to Japan for the World Cup Final, fuelling speculation that he has stayed behind to sort out his future.
The Irishman remains top of Peter Ridsdale's wish-list to replace David O'Leary and the Leeds plc chairman hopes O'Neill will signal that all the other candidates can be discarded when the Elland Road directors convene tomorrow to watch the big match on TV.
It is understood that Leeds' pursuit will be determined and aggressive, with Ridsdale unwilling to be thwarted in his quest, as he was four years ago when the Yorkshire club first approached O'Neill to take over.
Ridsdale said last night: 'The board is putting together a list of names and I have arranged a meeting over the weekend. Once we have set out our target then I will start immediately to try to get him.
'We must appoint a manager who can build on recent success and take us to the next level, who will lead the team to some silverware and regular Champions League football.'
It is known that when O'Neill was at Leicester, he was only free to talk to Celtic because his contract contained a clause permitting direct approaches from alternative employers during the month of June. A similar clause in O'Neill's Celtic contract would enable Leeds to talk to their target before Monday.
O'Neill would be a very popular appointment with the Elland Road fans. In a daytime poll on the Yorkshire club's official website, he scored almost 60 per cent of the votes, World Cup success stories Guus Hiddink and Mick McCarthy both lagging way behind.
Parkhead chiefs declined to comment further on the day's developments, or rather lack of them. And, with pre-season training starting on Tuesday, they still fully expect O'Neill to be at the club to begin the final year of his existing contract.
Indications from the club's inner circle point to O'Neill 'running down his present deal' rather than actively seeking an early release, although the feeling persists that he will use the uncertainty to persuade the club's power-brokers to release more money for squad strengthening purposes.
That leaves Brian Quinn and his Celtic plc board with a weekend of soul-searching - and doubtless also some financial juggling - to try to ensure O'Neill stays put.
McCarthy, meanwhile, spent yesterday in Yorkshire putting the finishing touches to his World Cup memoirs. He will jet off to Portugal this weekend for a long-overdue family holiday - with key sources in Dublin saying yesterday they are resigned to losing their man. Hiddink is already ring-fenced by PSV Eindhoven, with Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren the new outsider. O'Neill's typical silence, nonetheless, is leaving his legion of Celtic fans feeling distinctly jittery.
The alternative prospect of his succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United remains fixed on the horizon - and on the lips of the majority of senior bookmaking executives.
The situation leaves Quinn and Dermot Desmond once again desperately seeking funds for Champions League signings to tempt O'Neill away from Premiership riches.
Rangers manager Alex McLeish, for one, insists Celtic's leaders will do everything to keep their man. 'I'm sure that Celtic will fight tooth and nail to keep him if it turns into anything more than speculation,' McLeish said yesterday.
Rangers are set to play Leeds in a pre-season friendly at the beginning of August - but McLeish is refusing to contemplate locking horns with O'Neill again quite that soon. 'We'll wait and see if that happens but, at the moment, it's all pie in the sky,' he added.