Football: Charlton attack whingers

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The Independent Online
THE CHAIRMAN of Charlton Athletic plc, Richard Murray, has told the country's biggest clubs that if they are worried about fixture congestion they should leave the Premier League and play permanently in Europe. Otherwise, he believes, they should use their profits to employ bigger squads and fulfil all their commitments.

At a meeting of club chairmen today, called to discuss fixture congestion, Manchester United and Arsenal are again expected to press for a reduction of the Premier League from 20 to 18 clubs, for which they need a two-thirds majority. A United spokesman said yesterday: "I couldn't confirm exactly what we'll be saying, but we have supported a reduction for some time."

The new Champions' League format for next season means that any of the three English clubs competing could play 17 matches - 19 in the case of the team finishing third in the League. Any of the three teams in the revamped Uefa Cup who reached the final would play 13 games. To avoid possible fixture problems, the FA Cup committee have already considered dispensing with replays.

However, Murray believes that is irrelevant to most clubs. He said yesterday: "Speaking for the smaller clubs, our only fixture problem is deciding whether we play on Tuesday or Wednesday. Some of us haven't played for a fortnight. Should we really be changing the face of British football because Manchester United are in Europe a lot?

"The solution is either to increase the size of your squad, or get out: if you want to be in Europe that badly, then go to Europe. But they won't, because they're not convinced they'd get the gates."

Murray is also concerned about the effect on other clubs trying to compete with those who grow even richer via the Champions' League. "There are United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, then Villa and Leeds, who can afford to pay big wages. The danger is that others trying to keep up with them will overstretch themselves, which is happening already. There's one Premier League club pounds 17m in debt. Another one can't afford to build a new main stand and one still needs to sell players. We've been accused at Charlton of not being ambitious enough, but we won't allow that to happen to us."

Newcastle's hopes of signing the Internazionale defender Taribo West appear to have been dashed after the player settled his differences with the Serie A club.

Reports in Italy claim the 24-year-old defender has resolved his problems with the Inter coach, Mircea Lucescu, and agreed to stay with the club at least until the end of the season.

The news will come as a blow to the United manager, Ruud Gullit, who was awaiting the outcome of a pounds 4.2m offer to take the Nigerian international to St James' Park.

A delegation from Tyneside travelled to Italy last week to try to finalise the deal, but with West away on international duty in Africa, everything was put on hold over the weekend.

It is understood that a second attempt to clinch West's signature was to be made later this week, but yesterday's news looks to have scuppered Newcastle's plans.

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