Football: United investors may consider legal action over fixture pile-up

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The Independent Online
Manchester United's main investors could sue the Premier League for the fixture chaos that would cost the club at least pounds 10m if they fail to win the championship because of it.

United have run out of options in their battle to extend the season and avoid a programme of four games in the final eight days of the season. United have to visit Leicester on 3 May before home games against Middlesbrough on 6 May, Newcastle on 8 May and West Ham on 11 May.

If United lose the League title, finishing third or worse, and fail to win this season's European Cup, they will be out of next season's Champions' League, in which potential profits are around pounds 10m. That would affect their share price and thus the interests of major investment funds.

United are writing to the Football Association to appeal against the verdict, but they are not being given any encouragement. The football club itself cannot sue the FA, or Uefa, the governing body of European football, could ban them from their competitions next season. However, any of their investors could do so and that fact may be an additional worry for the Premier League in a controversy that is clouding the end of the season.

Leeds United's manager, George Graham, is considering a pounds 3m bid to sign Bolton's midfield player Alan Thompson. Thompson has been outstanding for Bolton in their runaway success in the First Division this season and he would bring some much needed flair to the Leeds side.

Bolton's manager, Colin Todd, has said Thompson is not for sale, but Graham is refusing to take no for an answer. He has been keen on Thompson since he was manager of Arsenal and the player was a prospect at Newcastle and with the England Under-21s.

English football is close to reaching agreement on a new transfer system to answer the challenge of the "Bosman" ruling. The FA met with the Premier League, the Football League and Professional Footballers' Association this week to continue discussions on proposed changes.

Their talks have been given added urgency by the threat of Wimbledon's Vinnie Jones to challenge the current system in the courts if he is not allowed to leave Selhurst Park at the end of his contract.

That could throw the domestic game into the kind of chaos the Belgian footballer forced on cross-border moves with his successful challenge to the old Continental systems. Among the proposals being considered are free transfers for players over the age of 24 if and when they are out of contract.

"After consultations with clubs we anticipate reaching a common view on changes to the current system of financial compensation when a player changes clubs at the end of his contract," the FA chief executive, Graham Kelly, said yesterday. The League Managers' Association was present at the meeting as observers.

The impact of the Bosman ruling will also be discussed next Thursday by the Uefa executive committee meeting in Geneva, which will also rule on England and Germany's bids to stage the 2006 World Cup. "A definitive statement [on Bosman] may be issued from that meeting which will guide us when we have our next meeting in May," Kelly added.

n Diego Maradona was in hospital again yesterday, days after being rushed to a clinic after falling ill on a Chilean television chat show. "It's not serious, it's just a check-up," an official at the exclusive Buenos Aires hospital said. She said Maradona had been admitted during the night but would give no further details.

Argentina's 1986 World Cup winning captain broke out in a cold sweat on a Chilean chat show on Monday night after dancing a tango with former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco. He was taken to hospital and diagnosed with high blood pressure. Maradona returned the next day to Buenos Aires, where local media reported he spent the night dancing at a night-club.