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I COULDN'T CARE LESS WHO WINS SPL TITLE .. MY ONLY CONCERN IS TO WIN A GAME OF FOOTBALL; Levein blasts Old Firm conspiracy theorists as ridiculous and insulting RACE FOR THE TITLE... ARABS BOSS WRITES EXCLUSIVELY FOR YOU.

Byline: CRAIG LEVEIN

I HAVE spoken to more Old Firm fans over the past couple of days than I have done in my life - or I should say, they have spoken to me.

I'm as puzzled as you as to why they have taken such a sudden interest in the Dundee United manager. Aye, right.

Despite the differences Celtic and Rangers supporters tell us exist between themselves, the conversations I've had with almost all of them to a man when they've come up to me in the street have strangely been exactly the same.

"Hey big man, are you playing the kids on Thursday night?" is the general gist of the queries that have been put to me rather forcibly.

Guess which ones ask me that in hope? The others have real worry on their eyes that I may decide to put out a team of 17-year-olds against Celtic.

A everyone in Scotland knows only too well, I will sit down some time tomorrow and pick a team who are going to help Celtic or Rangers - whatever club I decide I like more on the day.

And if you believe that ...

Only in our wonderful daft little country would I even have to defend myself, my players and Dundee United Football Club as a whole against these ridiculous and insulting conspiracy theories.

It is incredible to think we would throw a game, try harder or do something equally barmy to help some other team.

Honestly, nowhere else would this even be mentioned. It is beyond insulting.

Fans always think as fans. They don't have a clue what goes through a player's head and, take it from me, none of us is thinking about who is going to win the SPL.

Sorry, but we don't really care.

My only concern is to win the game. My players' one and only concern is to win the game. That is all.

Let everyone else talk about the Old Firm. It's nothing to do with us. Forget what I said about Mike McCurry's performance at Ibrox a week ago. That has no bearing on this game at all.

I'll repeat myself just to make it clear. That has absolutely nothing to do with Thursday night at Tannadice when Celtic come to our place.

We all know what is at stake. You can hardly pretend you don't. But we have trained as if it is any other game.

The players are in good spirits and anyone who has watched us train over the past few days would see a group who aren't already on their holidays. These boys aren't like that at all. I'm putting out my full-strength team.

I have only one decision to make regarding team selection. Lee Wilkie is on the suspension threshold.

If he gets booked we'll lose him for the first three games at the start of next season so that is something in my mind.

I will do what is best for Dundee United. Of course, some Rangers fans may point the finger at me but that's laughable.

I left out Barry Robson at this stage last season for exactly the same reason.

Take it from me - please - that any professional footballer worth his salt simply wants to win the game. I don't care who they may have supported when they were kids.

My players are desperate to win the five-a-side games in training, never mind an SPL match.

There is bonus money for the players and a pounds 150,000 difference between staying in fourth place or going down to sixth.

We have had a good home record this year and for a number of reasons we have enjoyed a great relationship with the United supporters.

Why would we want to jeopardise that on Thursday?

Oh, and one more thing worth remembering.

A league is neither won nor lost in just one match.

There have been 37 which have gone before. Take it from a man who knows that only too well.

In case you have forgotten, I was with Hearts when we lost the league on the final day of the 1986 season and it happened just a two-minute walk from where my office is now.

As any heartbroken Jambo can tell you, we needed only a point against Dundee at Dens Park and lost 2-0 to two goals from Albert Kidd, a self-confessed Celtic fan.

But that's not why we lost the league. It isn't decided over 90 minutes.

That season, Celtic's goal difference was superior and that is what tipped the balance.

Rangers had a decent lead over Celtic a month ago but even then I had a feeling it might come down to the final games and that would mean ourselves being involved.

What I can tell you is that Tannadice will be jumping and from that point of view it's going to be a great.

We didn't qualify for Europe in the end and that was disappointing.

But it wasn't Celtic's fault. It wasn't down to Rangers.

I have no problem with either team. We have had a good season and want to finish with another win.

If we were playing Gretna I would want to go out on a high.

If Celtic play better than us and win, then that's football.

If we have a good night and get a result it will be because we played well. Nothing sinister will have taken place.

As told to Neil Cameron

CAPTION(S):

WAIT FOR IT: Celtic hope to celebrate another title success but Dundee United boss Craig Levein will do everything to stop them although he may leave out Lee Wilkie, below
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 20, 2008
Words:939
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