Football: Permit problem stymies Naybet

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MANCHESTER UNITED'S attempt to sign the Moroccan centre-half Nourredine Naybet for pounds 6m collapsed in an embarrassing shambles last night.

United pulled out of the transfer just hours before yesterday's Champions' League deadline for new arrivals. The deal went wrong when United discovered that Naybet needed to apply for a work permit. They had been assured he had a French passport and could play immediately.

United made hurried checks to find out how the situation would affect Naybet's eligibility to play in European competition and were told by the Football Association that he could not be registered properly without a work permit, a situation which would have forced him to miss United's first six group matches in the Champions' League. So, as Naybet and his agents sat in the Old Trafford boardroom discussing personal terms at around 4pm yesterday, United's chief executive, Martin Edwards, finally decided that the deal could not go ahead. The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was in Switzerland and was said to be furious at developments.

Both chief executive and manager were unwilling to sign Naybet at such a price and on a pounds 5m-plus four-year contract when he would be unable to appear in the first half of the club's European campaign.

The work permit would have been granted eventually but Uefa, football's European governing body, insists that players are properly registered and that could not be done last night.

United had no inkling of the problem until Monday night, when Naybet was stopped at Manchester airport without a valid visa to enter the country. Ferguson proved that he has great influence by persuading the authorities to let Naybet come in and begin negotiations.

United did complete one deal yesterday, signing the 29-year-old goalkeeper Massimo Taibi from the Italian side Venezia in a deal reported to be worth pounds 4.5m.