Football: United prepare to pull out of FA Cup

Football: Decision due today as governing bodies put pressure on treble-winners to play in World Club Championship

AXA, THE insurance company who have made the FA Cup the flagship of their sports sponsorship, are to seek urgent talks about the future of the 127-year-old competition if, as expected, the holders Manchester United pull out of next season's defence.

Although United's intentions are still to be confirmed, their chairman, Martin Edwards, said yesterday that the club had been placed in a "no- win situation", with little option but to withdraw after being put under huge pressure from both the Football Association and the Government to travel to Brazil in January for the inaugural World Club Championship.

United have been told that England's bid to stage the 2006 World Cup will be in jeopardy if they fail to take part in the new tournament, which is the brainchild of Sepp Blatter, the president of the game's world governing body, Fifa. Only by forgoing the defence of the FA Cup can they squeeze the eight-team event into an already-overcrowded fixture list and the FA have willingly offered them an unprecedented exemption.

"Going to Brazil will mean rearranging two Premier League matches and if we go all the way in Europe the only spare dates will be for FA Cup games and replays," Edwards said.

But AXA, whose pounds 25m four-year support for the FA Cup is only 12 months old, is unhappy that the FA have been prepared to devalue the competition, even though the company accepts that the circumstances are unusual.

"We respect the decisions made by the FA and Manchester United," AXA's spokesman, Phil Hickley said. "The FA are the experts in football matters and it is only right and proper that such decisions be theirs.

"But as sponsors, AXA will be seeking meetings with the FA in the near future to discuss the implications both for this year's competition and for future years."

The company agreed to sponsor the Cup on the assumption that its status would not suffer in the same way as the Worthington Cup, which has effectively been downgraded by top clubs fielding below-strength teams and even threatening not to participate because of fixture congestion. They want to be assured that the exemption offered to United will not lead to the FA Cup suffering the same fate.

Last night, Edwards was locked in talks with the rest of the United board and the club's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and a decision is not expected until today at the earliest. "Really it's a no-win situation," Edwards said. "It will help the 2006 World Cup bid if we go, and the Government and the FA are obviously very keen that we go. But if we pull out of the FA Cup that will disappoint our own supporters. We're going to get criticised, whatever we do." The World Club Championship, which will bring together the best sides from six continents, will be staged in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo between 5 and 14 January, just eight weeks before Fifa members decide which country will host the 2006 World Cup. Eight clubs will compete - Manchester United, plus the champions of South America, Africa, Asia, Oceania and central and north America. Also invited are Real Madrid, as the current holders of the World Club Cup, plus Corinthians of Brazil, last year's national champions of the host nation. If United did not take part, their place would probably be offered to Bayern Munich, their defeated opponents in the European Cup final. Either side would have to contend with an average daily temperature in excess of 30C. The dates for next season's FA Cup have already been moved forward to avoid clashes with the expanded Champions' League, in which clubs surviving to the second group stage will have to play on four consecutive Wednesdays during March. The third round of the FA Cup will be on 11 December and there will be a seven-week gap between the quarter-finals in February and the semi-finals in April. However, the fourth round, on 8 January, falls in the middle of the Brazil event. The FA ruled out the possibility of United being granted a fourth-round bye - Ferguson's preferred option - and although United could still play in the FA Cup simultaneously, putting out a second- string side as they do already in the Worthington Cup, Edwards claimed this would be "almost impossible". The Government, fully behind England's World Cup bid - ironically headed by the United director Sir Bobby Charlton - made its position clear through the Minister for Sport, Tony Banks. "It is my estimation that a failure by Manchester United to go to the new competition in Brazil - particularly if they were replaced by Bayern Munich - would do irreparable damage to our 2006 campaign," he told BBC Radio Five. And David Davies, the FA's interim executive director, said: "It would send the worst possible signal to world football at a time when we are in the midst of the 2006 bid to turn our backs on this tournament."

But critics yesterday said that even the World Cup did not justify the FA's willingness to risk the English game's most cherished tradition. Cup legend Ronnie Radford, whose goal for non-League Hereford against Newcastle in 1972 in many minds still epitomises the magic of the FA Cup, said: "It is part of our culture and if you degrade it like this, it is a kick in the teeth for everyone. If we are going to get the World Cup we should get it regardless of whether Manchester United play in a tournament in Brazil." David Sadler, secretary of United's former players' association, echoed that sentiment, blaming a chain of pressure emanating from Fifa through the FA to United. "You don't like to use the word `blackmail' but it seems there is something of that behind this. England's World Cup bid should stand or fall on what we have to offer in terms of staging the event."

And Andy Walsh, the chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, claimed the club had been put in an unfair position. "This is not Manchester United saying they do not want to play in the FA Cup. This is the FA willing to sacrifice the oldest domestic cup competition in the world at the high altar of TV revenues."

Leading Article, Review, page 3

FIFA WORLD CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP

WHEN

5-14 January 2000

WHERE

Brazil

WHO

Manchester United (England) (1999 European Cup winners)

Real Madrid (Spain) (1998 Toyota Cup winners)

Vasco da Gama (Brazil) (1998 Libertadores Cup winners)

Corinthians (Brazil) (1998 Brazilian champions)

Al-Nasr (Saudi Arabia) (1998 Asian Super Cup winners)

Plus three other clubs: 1999 African Champions' Cup winners; Concacaf club to be decided; Oceania club to be decided. (Fifa Confederations have until 3 October to nominate competing clubs).

HOW

The inaugural Fifa World Club Championship will consist of two groups of four teams, with clubs playing each other once. Group winners will contest the final, group runners-up will play off for third place.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home