Football: AXA seeks to change Cup deal

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THE CONTROVERSY surrounding the withdrawal of Manchester United from the FA Cup deepened yesterday with the tournament's sponsors, AXA, declaring their intention to renegotiate their deal.

The insurance company paid pounds 24m in 1998 for a four-year sponsorship deal, but an AXA spokesman said the group now plans to hold talks with the Football Association soon.

"Circumstances have changed a little bit now," the spokesman said. "We do need to sit down with the FA to consider the full implications [of Manchester United's withdrawal], not just for this season, but for future years as well."

The Spaniards clearly know how to handle these matters. The Spanish Football League agreed yesterday to grant Real Madrid a bye through to the last 16 of next season's Spanish Cup so that they could play in the World Club Championship.

The decision, agreed unanimously by Spanish clubs, will see Real exempted from Spanish Cup fourth-round ties to be played in early January, when they will be in Brazil.

The international careers of some of Australia's top players were in doubt yesterday after claims that they demanded huge bonuses to play against Manchester United.

Soccer Australia's chief executive, David Woolley, said one overseas- based player asked promoters for a A$100,000 (pounds 45,000) bonus to play in Australia. "If they don't want to play under the same terms and conditions as the other players then we don't want them," Woolley said.

Manchester United's captain, Roy Keane, could miss the start of the season because of his troublesome ankle injury. Keane has already pulled out of his side's pre-season tour to Australia and China.

Michael Branch's pounds 600,000 move to Portsmouth looks to be off after the Everton striker failed to agree personal terms.

West Bromwich Albion are to appoint the former England No 2 John Gorman as their new assistant manager. Gorman is taking the post in a short-term deal, replacing Malcolm Crosby who joined Derby County recently.

Dean Richards, the Wolves defender, had talks with Southampton yesterday about a possible move. Richards is available on a free transfer under the Bosman ruling.

Wolves and Aston Villa are pounds 1m apart in their valuation of Robbie Keane, the 19-year-old Republic of Ireland striker. Villa's vice-chairman, Mark Ansell, said there had been "brief discussions", but Villa are reluctant to pay more than pounds 5.5m while Wolves want pounds 6.5m.