KEN BATES believes Chelsea’s FIFA Club World Cup commitments could give Leeds United a precious advantage in next month’s Capital One Cup quarter-final.
The two old foes of English football will meet at Elland Road on Wednesday, December 19 with a place in the last four at stake.
Chelsea’s first visit to Elland Road in a little over nine years should have taken place a week earlier at the same time as the other three ties.
But the Blues lifting the Champions League last May means they will be otherwise engaged in Japan that week as they look to succeed Barcelona as world champions.
Bates last night told the Yorkshire Post: “The draw is a good one, though we would have preferred Bradford City in the quarter-finals and then Chelsea in the semi-final.
“But, all in all, we have to be pleased. Before the final few fourth-round games took place on Wednesday, I had been hoping Liverpool and Spurs would go through but then Swansea and Norwich won. So, that cut down the potential big ties in half.
“In that respect, we have to be delighted to get Chelsea. It will be a fascinating game and one I am sure everyone is looking forward to.
“I was watching the draw at home and when No 4 four came out to indicate we had a home tie, I said to (wife) Suzannah, ‘...will play No 6, Chelsea’.
“Sure enough, out it came and, once again, I am delighted for our supporters. They seem to relish playing the really big Premier League clubs and this is another one of those.”
Asked about the personal significance of a meeting between Leeds and the club he spent 22 years running from 1982, Bates replied: “It will be a chance to meet old friends but it isn’t about me. The tie will be about Leeds and Chelsea trying to reach the semi-finals.
“From the club’s point of view, the Cup run really helps our finances. Live on television means it will also be watched all over the world.
“And who knows what might happen?
“Chelsea are in the Club World Cup and don’t get back until the Monday morning (December 17). The tie is on the Wednesday so we will have to wait and see what difference that makes. But I can’t imagine that travelling will help them.”
Chelsea, who have received a bye to the semi-finals of FIFA’s showpiece club competition, will be in action on both December 13 and 16, the latter date seeing both the final and third place play-off take place in the International Stadium, Yokohama.
On the prospect of the Blues’ first visit to Elland Road since a 1-1 draw on December 6, 2003, Bates added: “Nothing has yet been decided but at the moment we are looking into whether we can sort a special package out for our overseas supporters, the groups in Ireland and Norway and so on.
“We are looking at providing an ultimate Elland Road experience, where fans could come over to the Chelsea game, stay on for the Middlesbrough match (the following Saturday) and also attend the members’ Christmas party on the same night.”
As United prepare to take on Brighton & Hove Albion on the South Coast tonight, it has emerged that El-Hadji Diouf has rejected a new extended contract.
The Senegal international’s current deal of around £5,000 per week expires at the end of the year and manager Neil Warnock is desperately keen to tie down a player who has become an integral part of the United side.
Warnock said: “We have made an offer to him and it seems it is not right for him. We will be having further discussions about it.
“We can’t really afford to lose anyone at the moment and everyone knows how well he has done for us.”
Diouf turning down the offer of a new contract and United drawing Chelsea in the Cup are not the only items dominating the Elland Road news agenda this week.
Young defender Tom Lees has also been in the headlines with it being suggested that he is one of the two England Under-21s’ players who have been charged by the Serbian authorities over the mass brawl that marred the end of last month’s European Championship qualifier.
Steven Caulker, of Tottenham Hotspur, is the other player said by Serbian sources to be facing charges, though as of last night the Football Association were unable to confirm or deny the story.
Despite the threat hanging over him, Lees is likely to start for United at the Amex Stadium in front of the live Sky cameras.
Warnock said: “He is bound to be worried and it has been a frightening experience for him.
“But Tom will get all the help he needs and he has got our full support. He just needs to leave this in the hands of the people who are sorting it out. But he’s a good lad and I’m sure he’ll keep his head in the right place. He will be with us (tonight at Brighton).”
On tonight’s game, the United manager added: “We have been up and down but the thing I saw against Southampton (on Tuesday) was the players enjoying themselves and looking like they were happy to be playing.”
Last six games: Brighton & Hove Albion LDDLLD, Leeds United DWDDLW.
Last time: Brighton & Hove Albion 3 Leeds United 3; September 23, 2011; Championship.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).