League Cup winners may get prized UEFA spot returned

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 November, 1997, 12:00am

ENGLISH soccer officials pressing for the reinstatement of this season's League Cup winners to the UEFA Cup have been 'encouraged' by talks with the European Commission in Brussels.

Football League chairman David Sheepshanks led the delegation in two days of discussions with members of the British and European parliaments.

'We've had two encouraging days' he said. 'We are generating and increasing groundswell of support in our favour as the merit of our case is more widely recognised.

'Our complaint centres on the gross injustice of the Football League having its UEFA Cup place removed from the winners of our League Cup as a result of a UEFA directive over the number of clubs in the Premier League, a matter over which we clearly have no control.

'We will seek the immediate reinstatement of our UEFA Cup place for this season's League Cup winners, to protect the integrity of the competition for our commercial partners, our clubs and our fans. It is vital we maintain our UEFA Cup place without interruption.' The Football League, which controls all divisions outside the Premier League, fears the Lea-gue Cup will be ignored by the big clubs if the prize of a place in Europe is removed.

Manchester United and Arsenal are among leading clubs who have fielded below-strength teams in the competition this season and many smaller clubs have complained about this.

Meanwhile FIFA General Secretary Sepp Blatter, who came in for considerable derision a month ago when he suggested a ban on sliding tackles, has renewed his attack.

'I make no apologies for returning to the same theme,' he says in this month's edition of FIFA News.

Blatter says that 'reckless tackling, and especially sliding tackles' are dangerous not only because they can end the careers of men like Marco Van Basten, but also of a Saturday afternoon park player.

'The case of Marco Van Basten (is) a particularly regrettable example of a great player removed from the game before his time . . . an effective indictment of brutal tackling,' says Blatter.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands international striker Van Basten, repeatedly on the wrong end of heavy tackles, was forced to retire in 1995 due to ankle injury.

'While the ankles of an international star striker may be worth several million dollars, those of a Saturday afternoon park player are no less valuable to their owner than Van Basten's. They deserve no less attention,' said Blatter.

'So when we wonder if reckless tackling, and especially sliding tackles should be curbed further still, it is also with Mr Average Player in mind.

'After all, he is less adroit at keeping out of trouble than the trained professional.' 'And many a park amateur bone-grinder can be just as damaging as a hardened pro when it comes to handing out rough treatment.' In the article, headlined 'One Set of Rules', Blatter suggests that all players, no matter what standard they play at, should be protected from the tackle from behind.

He says FIFA are on their way to eliminating the tackle from behind but asks: when is behind not behind ? 'Must the offender be coming in from a true 180 degree angle to be punished, or is he equally culpable, as the challenge may be just as dangerous, if he comes in from a few degrees off true north?