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'Euro soccer league in 98'

A European soccer super-league pitting five or six English Premier League clubs plus Rangers and Celtic against the best of Italy, Spain, and Germany could be announced as soon as next summer's World Cup in France, according to Tony Fraher, fund manager of Singer & Friedlander's Football Fund.

Mr Fraher, who raised pounds 33m earlier this year to invest in soccer clubs, reckons the league would generate a fortune from pay-per-view television. "Nothing is going to stop the move to football on a European basis," he said.

Clubs such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, which are quoted on the London Stock Exchange, are likely to be included in any European league and would see their shares boosted accordingly.

The super league is a long-held dream of European soccer bosses such as AC Milan's Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, and Real Madrid's Lorenzo Sanz. But it would be bitterly opposed by the bulk of teams that would be excluded. It could be 15 years before the creation of a European league, said Nigel Hawkins, an analyst at Yamaichi International.

A second-tier of listed clubs would survive in a domestic league, kept afloat by revenue from domestic terrestrial television agreements, Mr Fraher said. This would include the rest of the 20 teams in the premiership, as well as First Division clubs such as Birmingham City, Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion, all traded on the London Stock Exchange.

The growing inequality in English football is reflected in stocks. Shares in Premier League champions Manchester United have leapt 47 per cent in the last 12 months, while shares in Sunderland, relegated from the Premier League to Division One last season, have slumped 54 per cent since they started trading in December.

There are currently 18 British clubs traded on the London Stock Exchange, with Bloomberg's Kick Index up 23 per cent to 271.23 in the last 12 months, after falling back from a high of 352.51 on 5 February.

The increasingly high profile of the top clubs will make them takeover targets for large corporations. Mr Fraher sees media companies such as Granada Group taking over Manchester United, or Carlton Communications bidding for London's Chelsea.