Football: United may be given Champions' League bye

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED have learned that they may receive a bye into the Champions' League and not have to bother with next week's preliminary round.

The Premiership runners-up are due face the Polish side, LKS Lodz, next Wednesday in the first leg, with the winners over two legs qualifying for the highly lucrative Champions' League. However, Lodz may be removed from the competition today by Uefa, European football's ruling body.

The problem centres on a dispute between Uefa and the Polish government, which has suspended top Polish Football Association officials.

Uefa believes the decision has been made on political grounds and wants the officials to be reinstated before Polish football is allowed to compete in Uefa competitions. So far the Polish government has refused to lift the bans, claiming that the decisions were made because of internal corruption and not for political reasons.

The United manager, Alex Ferguson, preparing for Sunday's Charity Shield with Arsenal and - perhaps - the European tie, said yesterday: "Apparently it is all being decided tomorrow, so we will just have to wait and see. I don't know what will happen. You never know with football authorities." It is possible that United may be asked to play Kapaz Ganca, from Azerbaijan, who lost to Lodz in the qualifying round, but a bye is more likely.

If Uefa does get tough with the Poles, it could also expel the national side from the European Championship qualifiers - in which Poland are in the same group as England.

The Wolves striker Dougie Freedman is set to complete his delayed move to Nottingham Forest. The deal appeared to have broken down last week when the player announced he was staying despite the two clubs having agreed a pounds 900,000 fee, but yesterday he said he had agreed a four-year deal.

"The delay was only a contractual thing at Wolves," the former Crystal Palace striker said. He will replace Kevin Campbell, who is on his way to the Turkish club Trabzonspor, at the City Ground. Dave Bassett, the Forest manager, yesterday denied reports that another Turkish side, Fenerbahce, had made a pounds 7m bid for the unsettled Dutch striker, Pierre van Hooijdonk.

Blackburn Rovers have suffered another setback after losing their second centre-back in the space of two days. The England Under-21 defender Marlon Broomes - widely rated as Colin Hendry's replacement for the early weeks of the new Premiership season - will be out of action for at least a month.

Broomes injured ankle ligaments in a training accident and will be in plaster for the next three weeks. With the Norwegian defender Tore Pedersen also ruled out with a knee injury, the Rovers manager, Roy Hodgson, has admitted that he needs to move quickly on the transfer front, following Hendry's move to Rangers. "We only have two senior central defenders in Darren Peacock and Stephane Henchoz, and that clearly isn't enough," Hodgson said.

The Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore looks likely to be fit for the opening game of the Premiership season at Everton on 15 August.

The Villa manager, John Gregory, had ruled Collymore out of his plans for the next three weeks after the striker suffered a thigh strain in a pre-season friendly against Peterborough last Friday, but the former Liverpool man has been able to make a swift return to training.