Football: United trust in their powers of persuasion

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED remain hopeful of persuading their captain, Roy Keane, to stay at Old Trafford, despite the fact that the player has refused to sign an extension to his contract.

His decision was revealed after yesterday's 2-0 home victory over Leeds and, although the United chairman, Martin Edwards, said he hoped it would put an end to speculation about his future, the reality is that it is likely to increase it.

Keane's present four-year agreement expires in June next year and he is entitled to sign a pre-contract agreement with another club from January 2000. The hugely influential midfielder has already been linked with Juventus, and invariably the giants of Italian and Spanish football will court him with tempting financial inducements. But according to the manager, Alex Ferguson, who spoke to the player about his future yesterday morning, the Republic of Ireland cap has no intention of talking to anyone else, even in January.

Keane, who is understood to have been offered a pounds 2m a year salary, justified his prevarication in a statement. "At the present time I am undecided as to my future after June of next year," it read. "A career in football is short-lived, a fact brought home to me in 1997 when I sustained an injury which almost ended mine. I have a duty to my family to consider my position carefully. I shall make a decision concerning my future at the end of this season."

Keane, who turned 28 a few days ago, also referred to his relationship with the supporters, his manager and the board, adding: "I find it both distressing and embarrassing that any criticism whatsoever should be directed at the board and management as a consequence of the recent negotiation."

Both Edwards and Ferguson put an optimistic gloss on the decision. They ruled out any intention of selling the Irishman, who would be valued at well over pounds 10m, and declared their intention of convincing him to stay. The likelihood, though, is that if United cannot persuade the former Nottingham Forest man to stay by the end of the year at the latest, they would have no option than to sell him and at least secure some financial return.

However, all Edwards would say was: "That is the end of the matter and we're going to have to live with it. It's not a question of money. We've made two offers and the second was acceptable to him. He has absolutely everything here. It's a question of motivation."

Edwards added: "If we sell Roy now, ahead of one of the biggest seasons in the club's history, who do we get to replace him? There are not many who could fill Roy Keane's boots."

Ferguson said that he could understand Keane's dilemma. "He's in a comfortable situation at Old Trafford; he's popular with all the players and the supporters, and sometimes people think they can go elsewhere and get the same situation. It's not always like that. But I think his decision is admirable. It will give me time to work on Roy and let him know how much we want and need him."

Elsewhere, the 38-year-old Lothar Matthaus, who played against Manchester United in the Champions' League final and who will be joining Major League Soccer in the US next season, was honoured yesterday as Germany's player of the year. Matthaus, who took the honour for the second time - having previously received the trophy in 1990 - was given his award before Bayern Munich's 2-2 draw against Hamburg in the Bundesliga season-opener.

Matthaus, who will play for the New York-New Jersey MetroStars, swept the field with 556 of the 982 votes from German sports journalists. The Hertha Berlin forward Michael Preetz was second with 161 votes.

Bayern's trauma, page 6