Football: Ferguson condemns the demands on youth: Manchester United's manager objects to treatment over his youth players and questions the validity of too many tournaments

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ALEX FERGUSON, the manager of the Premier League champions, Manchester United, yesterday launched another exhaustive season by condemning the demands placed on players - and particularly young players. He is determined to fight a Football Association misconduct charge for refusing to make his youngsters available for the summer England Under- 18 tour, even though he has been warned it could cost United their European Cup place.

Both United and Leeds have been summoned before the FA on 31 August, after they chose to give a total of nine players an extra summer break rather than make them available for the visit to Scandinavia prior to the European Youth Championship in which England were the winners.

'We believe it is something worth confronting the FA on,' Ferguson said, 'and we hope they see sense. We have a responsibility to these boys and we want them still playing at 27. I experienced the 'too much football' syndrome at Aberdeen and I don't want to make the same mistake again. None of the four 19-year-olds we used regularly in our European Cup-Winners' Cup season in 1982 are still playing because of recurring injuries.'

Ferguson, who is reckoned to have the richest crop of young players, now puts their defeat by Leeds United in last season's Youth Cup final down to an England call-up three weeks before.

'They came back from that game absolutely buggered because of the amount of work they were forced to put in. Then in mid-June they were asked to report for 10 days' training with England before going on tour.

'Pre-season is when these young lads grow. That's when they need a rest. I think the FA know we were absolutely right but we bucked the system and no one is allowed to do that.

'I said to my chairman: 'What could they do to us,' and he reminded me that participating in Europe is at the FA's invitation. That pressed the panic button a little but you have to stand up for what you think is right.

'I look back through the records and I don't see Germany and Holland winning too many youth championships. They are only bothered about winning that little thing called the World Cup. Some people's jobs at the FA might hinge on the outcome of the youth team but we must look at the overall picture. The criteria is how England do in the World Cup and if Graham Taylor is not in overall control of the whole thing then he should be.'

It took Ferguson, who was speaking at the launch of the 1993-94 Rothmans Football Yearbook, neatly on to every manager's pet subject: the number of Premiership fixtures. 'The focal point for the game in this country should be the international team but we don't give ourselves the best chance.

'Reducing the league programme to 38 would help and we should also be looking at reducing the League Cup, which starts in August and does not finish until April.'

Queen's Park Rangers last night completed the pounds 600,000 signing of the Blackpool midfield player, Trevor Sinclair, which would seem to hasten the departure of the pounds 3m-rated Andy Sinton, who has been the subject of a summer tug-of-war between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday.

Blackburn have now joined the chase with a reported pounds 7m attempt to prise from Loftus Road both Sinton and his England colleague, Les Ferdinand.

The Rangers chairman, Richard Thompson, has promised the Blackburn manager, Kenny Dalglish, an answer by the weekend.

Sheffield Wednesday, who had considered selling Paul Warhurst to Blackburn for pounds 3m, appeared to put themselves out of the running for Sinton by tying their defender- turned-striker on a new four-year deal. However, Wednesday were involved in transfer business yesterday, agreeing to sell the defender, Peter Shirtliff, to Wolves for pounds 250,000.

Wednesday still await a decision from their American international, John Harkes, on whether he will sign for Derby County.

Everton, who had a pounds 1m offer for Wednesday's Mark Bright - a player Chelsea are unlikely to bid for - rejected, have placed the striker Maurice Johnston, a pounds 1.5m signing from Rangers nearly two years ago, on the transfer list.

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