English clubs face Uefa ban

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The Independent Online
The Premiership was last night attempting to find three clubs willing to sacrifice themselves to the dreaded Intertoto Cup this summer to save English clubs from being banned from Europe again.

In a stormy meeting before the European Cup final in Vienna on Wednesday night, Sir Bert Millichip, the chairman of the Football Association, was told English clubs would be banned from competing in the three main European cups if they failed to fulfil their Intertoto obligations. Millichip was so shocked he flew back to London immediately without even staying for the final.

The ban would not affect qualifiers for next season's competitions - the Champions' League, the Cup-Winners' Cup and the Uefa Cup - but would be implemented the following season.

The Intertoto Cup is an expanded version of a long-running competition which previously existed mainly to provide east European pools companies with fixtures in the summer. This year Uefa took direct control and offered Uefa Cup places to the four successful quarter-finalists in an attempt to upgrade the tournament entry.

Spain and Italy turned down the invitation, but the Premier League chairmen, acting with customary knee-jerk greed, clutched at the offered three places when the competition was formulated in the autumn.

Since then their managers, concerned at the drawbacks of competing in a summer tournament (with a minimum of four games) when they should be recharging for next season, have persuaded the chairmen not to enter. However, Uefa is furious at the snub and has threatened the FA with its ultimate sanction.

Given that Uefa rewrote its own rules primarily to incorporate Blackburn Rovers in next season's Champions' League, this may be mere sabre-rattling. However, the FA was understood to be taking the threat 'very seriously' yesterday.

The Premier League has until 31 May to nominate three clubs and is believed to be targeting Tottenham, Queen's Park Rangers, Southampton and Wimbledon. Partick Thistle and Ton Pentre are already in the competition, representing Scotland and Wales.

One option may be to play reserve players, as Leeds (who eventually qualified automatically for the Uefa Cup) had considered. However, given Uefa's apparent enthusiasm for the competition, that may lead to sanctions for playing an understrength side.

The Premier League clubs had thought the only punishment they would receive for not entering any clubs was a pounds 150,000 fine. German clubs, who are also beginning to regret entering the competition, are believed to be watching the situation closely. One of them would be Bayern Munich, who have yet to secure automatic Uefa qualification. Maybe Jurgen Klinsmann will be making an unexpectedly early return to White Hart Lane.

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