Football: Charlton slams the fixture squeeze

United claim they are being punished for success. By Nick Townsend
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The Independent Online
SIR BOBBY Charlton spoke out last night against the fixture congestion that threatens Manchester United's chance of winning the Champions' League.

He claimed that the club, for whom he scored two goals in the 4-1 defeat of Benfica in the 1968 final and where he is now a director were being "punished" for their success by being made to play too many fixtures in close proximity at the climax to their season.

He made his observations on the same weekend that Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, voiced his concerns about the number of games his players may be involved in during next season's new format of the Champions' League, saying: "I'm scared that the next Champions' League will kill the English championship because there will be too many games."

This season, despite all their squad resources, United must negotiate nine fixtures in 36 days - including the FA Cup final - if they reach the Champions' League final in Barcelona.

"We're representing the country and yet we're going to have to play all those games," said Sir Bobby. "And there's the possibility of nine or ten players being involved in international matches, too. We say it every year, but we could do with help.

"I don't know why we have to keep squeezing fixtures in before the FA Cup final. It seems that the better clubs get punished. The more successful they are, they have to play more and, really, with not a lot of help. I would push the odd fixture after the Cup Final but it seems to be cast in stone that everything has to be finished by then."

Lest anyone suggests that he is taking a myopic view towards his beloved club, he insists that a Manchester United triumph in Europe's premier competition - which would make them the first English champions of the continent since Liverpool 15 years ago - would have a galvanising effect on the whole country. "The important thing is that it would bring England back in line with the top teams," said Sir Bobby. "People want us to win the Champions' League - it doesn't matter which team you support - because it reflects on everybody.

"The game in England over the next 12 years or so has a lot to look forward to. There are three World Cups in that time and I think we could win it. We are learning quickly and we've got good young players. We've now got foreign coaches and we're technically more mature."

Success in bringing the World Cup here in 2006 would assist that ambition, and Sir Bobby continues to refute suggestions that it will go elsewhere. "We've got the best bid without any question," he said. "We're selling our message to everyone, and really our rivals don't seem to be doing much. But then they don't seem to have the same thing to offer. We have all our stadiums in place and we could virtually start from tomorrow. But it's going to get very political before the vote next March."