Ball agrees to move to Maine Road

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The Independent Online

Alan Ball was looking up yesterday after agreeing to become the new manager of Manchester City - he was struggling to find a flight back to England after cutting short a family holiday in Spain to complete the deal which will see him take over at Maine Road.

The City chairman, Francis Lee, admitted that he was so determined to team up again with his old England team-mate that he was prepared to travel to Ball's Marbella villa to discuss the deal. However, Lee managed to speak to Ball by telephone yesterday and persuaded him to walk out on Southampton.

"We have managed to locate Alan in Spain and, while there are a few details to finalise, I see no problems," said Lee, who confirmed that he is hoping to finalise the deal today.

Lee, who is believed to have offered Ball a three-year contract worth pounds 150,000 a year as well as substantial funds to build a team capable of challenging for honours. "I know Alan very well," he said. "He's a great enthusiast with a great knowledge of the game. His teams play football and I am excited about it."

It will be Lee's first managerial appointment since he took over at Maine Road in January 1994, following a prolonged and bitter takeover battle with his predecessor, Peter Swales. On his arrival, Lee vowed to give the then manager, Brian Horton, his full backing but his patience finally snapped when City avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth for the second year running. Horton was sacked two days after the end of the Premiership season.

Ball, 50, who has also had spells in charge of Blackpool, Portsmouth, Stoke and Exeter following a playing career that brought 72 England caps, will be City's 20th manager since the the Second World War - the last nine have all failed to land a major trophy.

Lee faces a pounds 500,000 compensation claim from Southampton, who had just awarded Ball a two-year extension to his contract for guiding them to 10th place in the Premiership last season. Last week, solicitors acting for Horton revealed that the former City manager - now in charge at Huddersfield - is suing his old club over compensation for the remainder of his contract, around pounds 200,000.

Supporters will soon have their own ombudsman to look into complaints. The Association has decided to appoint a full-time liaison officer to improve relationships with supporters, and counter accusations that it is too aloof. "It will mean that the opinions and views of the supporters can be better focused within the FA," Graham Kelly, the chief executive, said at the FA annual meeting in Bournemouth.

The FA has taken steps to centralise decision-making, with power being switched from the 70-member Council to the Executive Committee, which has been enlarged to 14 members and transformed into a new board of directors. Kelly has been elected to that body to increase his authority to act swiftly when controversies arise.