Football: FA Cup not a priority for United

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TWO WEEKS after clinching the domestic double at Wembley, Manchester United say they will have to downgrade the FA Cup to the status of a low priority next season. The oldest and most famous club tournament in the world will find itself the victim of United's success as the treble winners stride into the next century.

Such is the pressure on United's financial and playing resources that their chairman, Martin Edwards, is already talking about treating the FA Cup in the same way as the League Cup, a competition that has been downgraded by the club for several seasons as they have used reserve and youth-team players.

United play in an enlarged Champions' League next season, with group matches spilling over into the New Year unlike this campaign, and Edwards said: "The European Cup and the League are both major competitions and probably more important than the FA Cup, so if something has to give it will probably be the FA Cup."

United have confirmed that they will play in the European Super Cup against Lazio in August, and against the South American club champions in the world club final in Japan in November, but they are unlikely to be involved in a three-week world club competition in Brazil after Christmas.

United played more than 60 games in their treble-winning season and Edwards expects that total to rise to well over 70 next term. "What you will find with teams still involved in the European Cup when the FA Cup starts is that they will have to make more use of their squads and leave their first- choice players out of the FA Cup. That will be a fact of life," he added.

Edwards warns it may be impossible for United to match their treble success and defend all three trophies because of the growing demands on their players: "As far as the size of our squad is concerned, there are always worries about whether it will be big enough to handle all the demands of next season.

"It will be difficult to win the Champions' League and to defend the [Premiership] title - just those two competitions alone is 55 games. Then if you add in things like Super Cups and world club championships, plus two domestic cups as well, it is going to be tough. We played 62 games this year and I can see it going well over 70 games next season."