Football: The Treble - Big demand for the European champions

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED may regard themselves as the world's biggest club, but they are likely to accept reluctantly that they are not quite big enough to take on the world at the same time as conducting campaigns in England and Europe.

Alex Ferguson will meet with the club's board of directors in the next few days to consider a trio of invitations that would take the club across the globe following their European Cup triumph on Wednesday night.

Two of the invitations, to contest the European Super Cup in Monte Carlo in August, and the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo in December, are likely to be accepted. The third, the inaugural Fifa Club World Championship, which will probably be played in South America next January, is expected to be refused.

Maurice Watkin, the influential club lawyer and board member, said yesterday: "We haven't received the invitation yet but we have discussed it and the feeling is that it would be very difficult to fit in when you consider the amount of games we hope to be involved in, in Europe and at home, next year. We may reconsider that view but it would be difficult, especially if it is in South America."

The tournament, the brainchild of Sepp Blatter and Joao Havelange, the current and past presidents of world football's governing body, is scheduled to last a fortnight and involve eight teams including the champions of Asia, Africa, Europe, South and north America, Oceania (Australasia), a host nation club and the holders of the Intercontinental Cup. Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico and Saudi Arabia are contending hosts. Uefa, the European governing body, agreed under intense pressure from Fifa, earlier this month to send a team and confirmed yesterday they would be inviting United.

However, they also said they would understand if United said no. Bayern Munich, the European Cup runners-up, who may be able to arrange the tournament around the German winter break, or Dynamo Kiev, who reached the semi-finals and will be between Ukrainian seasons, are likely deputies.

Watkins added that United expected to take up the invitation to play the European Super Cup against Lazio, the European Cup-Winners' Cup holders, and hoped to make the Intercontinental Cup against the winners of South America's club championship, the Libertadores Cup, which has reached the semi-final stage.

This match, which is widely regarded as producing the world's top club, is especially evocative for United who lost a notoriously violent contest against Estudiantes of Argentina in the 1968 equivalent. The first game, in Argentina, was a battle in which Nobby Stiles was dismissed, but the second leg was even worse, with George Best sent off for punching his tormentor, having been continually kicked.

All these events will further gild the club's international reputation - and, of course, its stock market value. Earlier in the tournament Martin Edwards noted wryly that the best result was to reach the final and lose as the bonuses due on winning outweighed the prize-money.

But, he added, the impact of winning brought immeasurable benefits both financially, in terms of commercial spin-offs, and in attracting and retaining players.

One of those, the match-winner Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was yesterday again linked with Tottenham who tried to sign him last autumn. However, Watkins said: "He was very keen not to leave Old Trafford earlier in the season. I can't imagine he'll be rushing to leave after last night. I've not heard anything about a transfer. The great thing about the team this season is the way we've had a squad, how players have fought for their places and pleased to be part of the team.

"You can imagine how everyone is feeling today. It's such a great thing for the club and for English football. It's been a long haul back from Heysel and now we have several powerful teams in the Premiership we could do something next year. I doubt if we'll ever see something as exciting as last night again though."

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