Football: FA defends its approach to FA Cup

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SO DESPERATE is the Football Association to ensure Manchester United's participation in the World Club Championship in January that it was even prepared to make the Charity Shield match a home League game for Arsenal to reduce United's fixture list, it was revealed yesterday.

The treble winners are still mulling over the Football Association's offer for them to withdraw from next season's FA Cup and take part in the inaugural Fifa club tournament. United directors hope to release a statement today.

The FA is anxious for United to take part in the tournament in Brazil in January to help England's 2006 World Cup bid and has offered exemption from the FA Cup to ease their fixture congestion. The Charity Shield idea was quickly rejected, after opposition from Highbury.

In the face of the growing flak following its controversial decision to allow United to miss out on defending the FA Cup next season, the FA has insisted that it cared passionately about the competition.

David Davies, the FA's interim executive director, declared: "We have agonised over this problem for many days and are not surprised by the controversy.

"The FA Cup is our heritage and we care passionately about it. But who were the people who voted unanimously last Sunday in favour of offering Manchester United this solution? They were overwhelmingly traditionalists - and sometimes it is said there are too many of them within the FA.

"They considered all the options, together with the significance of Manchester United going to Brazil [with relation to the 2006 World Cup bid]."

Davies added: "Some people have claimed that we are diluting the FA Cup and that it will never be the same again. But we believe that it will be the same again as this is an exceptional circumstance and we want people to recognise the dilemma we have faced."

Meanwhile, the United midfielder David Beckham has been told by the club's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, that he can miss the club's pre-season tour to Australia and the Far East. Beckham gets married in Ireland on Sunday.