Football: Fifa keen on world club competition

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MANCHESTER UNITED'S reward for continuing to dominate English football could be a place in a club equivalent of the World Cup.

Plans for a knock-out competition, featuring the champions of 16 countries, are at an advanced stage, with a start-up date of June 1995 mooted this week.

The concept received an enthusiastic reception when it was put before officials of Fifa, the game's governing body, who are assembled here for tomorrow's World Cup draw.

Guido Tognoni, their spokesman, said yesterday: 'There would be 16 teams involved, with the competition played every other season, probably over a two-week period in the fallow years between World Cups and European championships.'

Tognoni had found widespread support for the idea. 'The attitude was: 'Let's find out who the best team are.' The Africans, Asians and South Americans would all love it, and deserve to be involved.'

For reasons of financial expediency, more than expertise, the bulk of the entrants would have to be European. The television money on which the venture depends would come from Sky TV and the Italian and French networks owned by Milan's Silvio Berlusconi, and Bernard Tapie, of Marseille, and Europe could expect to fill up to 10 of the 16 places. South America might provide three teams, Africa two and Asia one.

Tognoni envisaged a two-week knock-out tournament, played either in one, or possibly two, adjacent countries.

There would be enormous logistical difficulties to be overcome, with some teams required to travel great distances and play out of season, and there was also an obvious conflict with the European Cup's Champions' League.

The obstacles, though, are not insurmountable, and money holds the key. If football's television paymasters want it to happen, the likelihood is that it will - and sooner rather than later.

'I am very hopeful,' Tognoni said. 'The football calendar is missing a competition like this, and I think Fifa recognise that.'

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