Football: Edwards to shed stake in United

MARTIN EDWARDS, Manchester United's chief executive, admitted yesterday that he would consider selling his shares in the club to help him become the next plc chairman.

Edwards has aspirations to succeed Sir Roland Smith next year and is prepared to sell some, if not all, of his 14 per cent of the world's richest club. Sir Roland does not have any United shares and the position is considered impartial.

"If I were to become chairman of the plc then it would be sensible for my holding to be reduced," Edwards said. "There is also an argument that says there is nothing wrong in having a stake but that maybe 14 percent is too high.

"I know that a lot of people will say this is Edwards cashing in again but I will do what I believe is best for me and what is best for the football club."

Edwards was in line for an pounds 80m windfall last season when BSkyB bid for the club and he would be well rewarded by prospective buyers now. The football speculator Joe Louis and other major players will be alerted by the news. Louis has long been in the market for a stake in a top English club and has the funds for a major share of United. Edwards has turned down recent approaches, including one from a betting syndicate.

Meanwhile, Edwards is still negotiating a new contract with the Roy Keane. A secret pact with the agents of the club's other big names could drive the United captain out of Old Trafford. Edwards has an agreement with the agents who negotiated the contracts of the other United players to keep them on "comparable terms" until 2002.

Some will be on pounds 25,000 a week, mainly the new arrivals, while most are on pounds 20,000 a week. This has been a practice agreed in a dozen or so cases recently. The pay scale is in operation until 2002 when it will be reviewed, a strategy that suits United who have tied up most of their players on deals up to that date. And it is why Keane's "final offer" from United is in the pounds 28,000 a week range and is as much as Edwards can pay one of the club's existing players without causing major problems.

Keane is looking for around pounds 40,000 a week which would break the agreement between Edwards and the agents, sparking a pay revolution. The spiral effect of that would be rises of around pounds 600,000 a year for every player, spread throughout the first team squad costing the club a further pounds 10m a season in wages. One agent confirmed last night: "There has always been a rider from Martin Edwards in negotiations that the players will be on comparable money until the year 2002. We all accept it although everyone is watching the Keane case with interest."

Keane is running out of time to accept United's contract which clearly is unlikely to increase and come near his demands.

Meanwhile, Andy Cole has said regrets his tackle on Simon Colosimo and has wished the Australian a swift recovery. The Manchester United striker has sent a private message to Colosimo after he was accused of jeopardising the defender's career.

United insist that Colosimo's injury was an accident. A statement from United said: "Andy Cole and Manchester United are extremely upset by comments in the media following our match in Sydney on Sunday, in which Andy was involved in an accidental collision with Simon Colosimo. Andy has sent a private message to Simon together with his best wishes for a speedy recovery."

New bid for Palace, page 27

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