Football: Clubs approve new Champions' League

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The Independent Online
THE LEADING 14 clubs in Europe gave the green light for an expanded Champions' League of 32 teams at a meeting in Madrid yesterday.

Manchester United, Real Madrid and Internazionale were among the sides who agreed to increase the current 24-team format and urged Uefa to launch the new-look competition from next season. A sub-group of five clubs - Real Madrid, Milan, Bayern Munich, Porto and Marseilles - has been formed to discuss details of the changes with football's European governing body.

The Professional Footballers' Association is trying to block Manchester United's "feeder club" deal with Royal Antwerp. Gordon Taylor, the PFA's chief executive, says he will complain to the European Commission, world governing body Fifa and Uefa.

"I am surprised and disappointed at United," Taylor said. "With their record of bringing through home-grown players I don't see why they need to bring in young prospects from abroad." The PFA is also at loggerheads with United over Rupert Murdoch's proposed buy-out.

Manchester's notorious weather is to blame for the pitch at Old Trafford having to be dug up and relaid in mid-season, according to the Australian company which laid it.

Bill Casimaty, managing director of Strathayr, which also laid surfaces at Sydney's Olympic Stadium and Melbourne Cricket Ground, inspected the pitch yesterday, only five months after it was laid.

"They've had only five days of sunshine since June," he said. "When you get this exceptional combination of no sun and a new pitch, it doesn't allow the roots to knit properly."

The Chelsea striker, Tore Andre Flo, said yesterday that he will sign a new contract despite having been the primary victim of manager Gianluca Vialli's rotation system. The Norwegian international made only his first Premiership start of the season against Wimbledon on Saturday, but Chelsea have opened negotiations aimed at extending his contract by five years.

Fulham have signed Barry Hayles for pounds 2m from Bristol Rovers. The 26-year- old striker scored 26 goals last season as Rovers reached the Second Division play-offs.

Tim Flowers is unlikely to feature in Premiership action until the New Year, but the Blackburn and England goalkeeper will not need an operation. Flowers picked up a severe arm injury in training and missed both Blackburn's Worthington Cup victory at Newcastle and the Premiership defeat at Manchester United last week.

His Derby counterpart, Russell Hoult, is set for a two-week lay- off after he was concussed in Monday night's 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest.

The out-of-favour Aston Villa central defender, Riccardo Scimeca, has handed in a transfer request. The former England Under-21 captain has become frustrated at the lack of first- team opportunities during the current campaign following the emergence of Gareth Barry.

The Celtic striker Henrik Larsson has been named as Sweden's Player of the Year.

The Leeds manager David O'Leary admits he has still not received a single inquiry about his transfer-listed winger Lee Sharpe. Leeds' club record pounds 4.5m signing was put up for sale last Thursday

Manchester City's unsettled midfielder, Michael Brown, is set for a pounds 400,000 move to join Barnsley.

The Spanish hardman, Miguel Angel Nadal, is touting himself as the solution to Newcastle United's defensive problems. The 32-year-old defender, known as the "Beast of Barcelona", believes he could fulfil Newcastle's requirements.

"I know that Newcastle United are looking for my type of player, and I would love to go to England and play for them," he said yesterday. "My agents have been in touch with Newcastle, and I'm told they could have reservations about my age but I am still only 32 and I know I have plenty to offer them."

Fifa has rescheduled the Confederations' Cup from January to July and August of next year, enabling France to take part. In another Fifa announcement, a spokesman said that only female referees will be used at the women's World Cup finals in the United States next year. For their male counterparts, more emphasis will be placed on psychological well-being as well as physical fitness in the future.