Football: Ferguson rules out return to FA Cup

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The Independent Online
THE WORD from the horse's mouth is that Manchester United will - with regrets - not be defending the FA Cup next season. Failing to show up for things is becoming a habit at Old Trafford. United also confirmed yesterday that David Beckham will not be appearing on the club's tour of Australia.

The matter of United's unprecedented decision not to appear in the FA Cup - so they can play in the World Club Championship in Brazil - was dealt with by the club's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Speaking at his race day at Haydock Park, part of Ferguson's testimonial year, he responded to Cabinet minister Chris Smith's calls for a compromise to be reached to allow United to play in both competitions.

"There are a lot of people with theories and points to make about it but your players can only play so many games, and that's the nuts and bolts of it," he said. "If there was a way we could have done it, we would have loved to have done it because the FA Cup is dear to me. It was my first trophy [with United], I dearly would have loved to be in it again to defend it but unfortunately that will not be the case," he said.

Ken Ramsden, a United spokesman, supported Sir Alex's view and rejected fresh claims that a new deal had been reached between the club and the Football Association, whereby United would defend the trophy and withdraw from the Worthington Cup.

Ramsden said: "As far as we are concerned, there are no plans for us to return to the FA Cup competition. I know the idea of us pulling out of the Worthington Cup has been put forward to give us the possibility of returning to the competition but, so far, no further discussions have been held with the FA. Myself and other United officials are aware of the speculation surrounding this issue but there has certainly been no definite solution, nor any further progress."

The claims were also dismissed by an FA spokesman, Adrian Bevington. He said: "We made our position fully clear following the announcement at Old Trafford. We've explored every avenue possible with Manchester United and ultimately that's why the decision was reached."

A Football League spokesman insisted that United were committed to playing in the Worthington Cup.

Promoters of United's trip to Australia have dropped a threat to fine the club half their pounds 1.6m fee if Beckham and Sir Alex stay at home. A statement from Rivkin Entertainment said: "Following our most recent discussions with Manchester United we are satisfied with the composition of the travelling party and the explanations the provided for the missing personnel. The circumstances surrounding the absence of some, [including] Alex Ferguson, are unfortunate but consistent with the operations of a very successful team." Gary Neville, the best man at Beckham's recent wedding, will also miss the trip, with a hip injury.

Making a journey in the opposite direction is the South African international Quinton Fortune. The 22-year-old midfielder, who has been at Atletico Madrid for the past three years, is to have a week-long trial with United from 27 July. His former Cape Town club signed a co-operation agreement with United last month. Three of their teenagers are also going for trials at Old Trafford before the end of the year.