Ferguson says European League is nigh

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Alex Ferguson yesterday predicted that a European league was likely to be created in the next few years and that the Coca-Cola Cup would probably suffer as a consequence.

The Manchester United manager said that for a long time he had not thought a European league was possible but he now believed it was a direction in which European football was heading. It made, he added, a reduction of domestic fixtures inevitable, with the junior competition the most vulnerable.

Ferguson, speaking at Howard Wilkinson's unveiling as the FA's new technical director, said: "Many people have asked me when the European League will start but I could never see it happening. Now it may be the way Uefa are structuring their competitions. Last year the Uefa Cup had 128 teams, it was only 70 odd the year before. The Champions' League is also bigger with more games.

"Uefa know where the power lies, in TV. That is where the money is made. Uefa are so powerful no one wants to miss the boat so we could end up with a European League and those who structure our own game would have to look at the consequences.

"There are also more international games. With the satellite countries of the Soviet Union coming in, it means up to 12 games to qualify for next year's World Cup. There are too many games. Howard was bang on about that - we all agree. We have to reduce them somewhere and it will have to be at club level.

"The Coca-Cola Cup is well sponsored and has the attraction of Wembley but in future it may not bring a place in Europe. That obviously dilutes it. If you go back to when it started, Manchester United were not in it. Playing at Wembley and having a place in Europe made it an important trophy. This decision is not up to me but it will come."

Ferguson added that his own club faced a major loss when Eric Harrison, the coach who developed the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers, retires next year. "He will be 60 in the summer. He's had years of working in the cold. And I think he will retire. He will be a major loss to the club. We will keep him on in some role but he will be very hard to replace."