Football: United spurn Keegan's pursuit of Hughes

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The Independent Online
AS THE Eric Cantona affair rumbled on yesterday, Newcastle enquired about the player most threatened by the Frenchman's transfer, Mark Hughes, only to be told by Manchester United that he was not for sale.

Kevin Keegan, the manager of the runaway First Division leaders, first asked for the pounds 1.5m-rated Welshman last summer after Liverpool spurned his approach for Dean Saunders. Their interest was revived by Alex Ferguson's pounds 1.2m swoop for Cantona from Leeds, but the answer was the same.

'Perhaps it's inevitable that we'll have enquiries for our other forwards now that we've signed Eric,' the United manager said. 'But I'm not selling anybody. What would be the point of signing one just to sell one?

'We now have a competitive edge for places up front, and that's why I bought Eric. But after Saturday's win at Arsenal, which was our most satisfying performance of the season, I honestly don't know how I can fit him in against Manchester City next Sunday.'

United play Benfica in Lisbon tonight in a match to celebrate the 50th birthday of Eusebio, and Ferguson has promised Cantona a place in the starting line-up. Bryan Robson, who suffered knee and thigh injuries at Highbury, is likely to be rested, with Brian McClair dropping into midfield to accommodate the newcomer.

Cantona flew out with his new colleagues leaving Howard Wilkinson, his manager at Leeds, to mull over some thinly veiled criticism from his former striker in yesterday's L'Equipe, the sports daily.

In an oddly contradictory interview, Cantona hit back at Wilkinson's suggestion that he wanted to be guaranteed a first-team spot. 'He accuses me now, but you only have to look at my performances for Leeds to be convinced I was worth my place,' he said. 'Eight goals and eight decisive passes - I was a hit with everyone. I had become the leader.

'I've had enough of these rumours about being on the bench. Let's look at the facts: apart from being rested between two European Cup matches, I played all the games except Arsenal, when I was injured.

'I never had any problems with anyone at Leeds. Everything was fine, and if this offer from Manchester hadn't come, I'd have stayed. But I like changes. I need them more than most people. New things excite me - and I only play well when I'm excited.'

Meanwhile, both Leeds and Coventry yesterday played down reports that Wilkinson had agreed a seven-figure deal for Peter Ndlovu, the Sky Blues' 19-year-old Zimbabwean striker. Coincidentally, Ndlovu's older brother, Adam, has been on trial at Old Trafford.

Steve Coppell, who has been linked with Sunderland, said yesterday that he intended to remain the Crystal Palace manager at least until the remaining 18 months of his contract are up. 'As someone who has spouted on about contracts over the years, I'm not about to walk out on mine,' Coppell said.

Ron Noades, the Palace chairman, said: 'I do not see that a change of managership, instigated on either side, would be of any benefit to Crystal Palace.' Palace return to Liverpool in the Coca- Cola Cup fourth round tonight, 72 hours after losing 5-0 there in the Premier League.

Derby, who visit Arsenal in a third-round replay, have moved quickly to quell rumours of boardroom unease with their manager, Arthur Cox, following the big- spending First Division club's sixth defeat in eight home matches by Tranmere on Saturday. Brian Fern, Derby's chairman, said: 'There's no need for a vote of confidence. It's time to remain calm.'

Cox, who is also a director, admitted that the team's home form was 'hanging heavy'. Derby have won their last six away fixtures.

Partick Thistle have fined their defender Ray Farningham after a 'trial by television'. Farningham was filmed by TV cameras elbowing the Rangers winger Pieter Huistra in an off-the-ball incident during Saturday's Premier League game at Ibrox. None of the match officals spotted the incident.