Football: National threat to fixtures: Club and country conflict to cause Premiership chaos

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THE Premiership programme will be thrown into chaos next month if, as seems likely, the home countries and the Republic of Ireland enforce their right to withdraw players to prepare for European Championship matches. It could mean, for example, that Manchester United will be deprived of eight internationals for their game at Sheffield Wednesday.

Conflict between club and country is a recurring theme in football. It is poised to ignite again because, unlike last weekend, the Premiership has not cleared its decks before England's game with Romania on 12 October. That is a friendly so Terry Venables' selection can turn out for their clubs but under Uefa rules those countries involved in competitive matches are entitled to their players for up to five days before.

Including the televised fixtures there is a full league list between 8 and 10 October. Every Premiership game will be affected and in the worst scenario Manchester United will have to write off Schmeichel, Irwin, Keane, McClair, Kanchelskis, Cantona, Hughes and Giggs.

It seems strange that the Premier League has made no plans to pre-empt the problem. In the Endsleigh League, clubs with two or more players called up for international duty can postpone fixtures.

Wales are particularly keen to ensure they have as strong a squad as is possible for their trip to play Moldova in Group Seven. With Dean Saunders and, almost certainly, Mark Hughes, already ruled out by suspension and injury, what price their chances if, say, Ryan Giggs and Ian Rush are forced to withdraw?

'The rule is on our side' said the Wales manager, Mike Smith. 'The way things stand we are entitled to the players for five days.' He described it as a 'nonsense' that the Premiership had a full programme.

Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has admitted that the European Champions' Cup is the prize he craves most and, if need be, United's league campaign will be sacrificed to it. 'We judge ourselves by the standards set when the club won it in 1968 and we cannot rest until we have achieved that level,' Ferguson said.

Also pressing the case for European advancement over domestic gain is the Arsenal manager, George Graham. Graham, also speaking at ITV's launch of their coverage of the two clubs' European campaigns, pointed out that later this month his club were going to have to play a European match and a Premier game within three days, because of a chain of fixtures that ended with Lincoln's refusal to move a Coca-Cola Cup tie. 'The FA should have the power to say 'this is the team in Europe, give them some assistance,' he said.

England's challenges,