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Leeds turn inward as boxed-in O'Neill rejects Filbert Street break-out.

Martin O'Neill pledged his future to Leicester City last night but admitted: "The phrase `gentlemen's agreement' will disappear from my vocabulary."

A grim-faced O'Neill sat alongside Leicester chairman John Elsom and did not hide his frustration at the club's refusal to let Leeds talk to him about their vacant manager's job.

Leeds now look certain to invite caretaker David O'Leary to succeed George Graham, leaving O'Neill to wonder about what might have been.

O'Neill has been offered a two-year extension to his present contract, which runs out in 2000. But the manager, who insists a gentlemen's agreement that he can talk to other clubs was made in the summer, is not likely to sign until he has studied it care fully.

"I've been denied the opportunity to speak to a club and it rankles," admitted O'Neill. "Foolish me, who studied law for a living. I should've realised an unwritten agreement is precisely that.

"What it's forced me to do is get things written down and try to understand English. The phrase 'a gentlemen's agreement' will disappear from my vocabulary.

"The fact is, it wouldn't have been a fait accompli. Leeds might not have offered me the job, though I would've been disappointed if that had happened."

Asked about the new contract, O'Neill replied: "I'm going to insert about 194 clauses, get them written down and sorted."

O'Neill's relationship with Elsom has been strained, with the Irishman admitting: "If you ask if I would go out for dinner with him again, as I did a few times before this, the answer is no."

Elsom said: "We disagree on the gentlemen's agreement I didn't believe that there was one."

O'Neill added: "I had a conversation with John and Sir Rodney Walker (the club's plc chairman) on Sunday and both felt there was a different interpretation. John accepts my interpretation, I'm not totally sure I've accepted John's but that's the end of i t."

Elsom revealed he had rejected Leeds' approach as he feared "they would roll out the red carpet and he would inevitably go."

O'Neill said the show of support from fans on Monday, when the Foxes beat Tottenham 2-1, had played a part, as had the loyalty of his players. But he admitted that he had been left with little choice because the thought of walking out was too much to bea r.

"The only contract I've ever left was at Norwich, where I spent six months with Mr (Robert) Chase. One of the reasons why I couldn't get a result to save my life when I first came to Leicester was because it was still on my mind."

Everton were linked with a move for the popular Ulsterman in June and it was widely reported then that there had been disagreements with club chief executive Barrie Pierpoint.

Elsom added: "I said in the summer I would claim responsibility for eradicating the differences between the commercial and football sides of the company.

"Clearly, I have not done that sufficiently well enough and so I have returned to it with vigour. It is fair to say that I had misunderstood the intensity of Martin's feelings at this level."

Meanwhile, at Elland Road, O'Leary was preparing to move into the hot seat. The former Republic of Ireland international impressed as number two to Graham and although he has failed to win any of his three matches in temporary charge, O'Leary has done en ough to earn the permanent post.

His axing of record pounds 4.5million signing Lee Sharpe from Saturday's draw at Nottingham Forest, proved he was strong enough to take on the challenge. And Tuesday's 1-0 reverse against AS Roma was indication that the O'Leary era would be more attracti ve than that of his predecessor.

Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale, who had admitted defeat in his pursuit of O'Neill before the Filbert Street announcement, said: "David has enhanced his reputation. This is a big club and we have to make sure David can make the step to number one, then hop efully we can look to the future.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 22, 1998
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