Football: Wenger angry at United

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The Independent Online
ON THE day when Lennart Johansson, the president of football's European governing body, Uefa, cast serious doubt over the long-term participation of European clubs in the World Club Championship, the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, added his voice to those criticising Manchester United's decision to opt out of the FA Cup in favour of the inaugural world tournament in Brazil next January.

Wenger, confirming that Arsenal would be playing their Champions' League home ties at Wembley again next season, expressed his astonishment that Manchester United and the Football Association were risking the prestige of the FA Cup for the sake of what he termed "a business tournament".

"It's a bad decision," Wenger said. "The FA Cup is famous worldwide and for such a prestigious club like Manchester United to be out of the competition is just untrue; it's not normal. There is no impasse. They could have played on 30 or 31 December and had a replay on 18 January, or they could have been pushed straight through to the fifth round.

"To go to play a business tournament that nobody knows about and to be out of the FA Cup is just unbelievable. I'd love to be in the same situation as them and to play in the FA Cup. If you have as many players as they do, there was a solution to be found."

"Basically it's slowly killing the FA Cup and why? For business and politics. It's difficult to defend a competition when the team that was so successful in it last season is not in it any more. And what for? A tournament in Brazil that nobody knows about."

Manchester United's participation in the World Club Championship is not only seen as crucial to England's hopes of winning the rights to stage the 2006 World Cup, but also to the efforts of Fifa, the game's world governing body, to brand the event as a prestigious global alternative to Europe's glamour tournaments.

However, Johansson yesterday did his best to pour cold water on that notion by suggesting that European clubs would be reluctant to take part in the new competition were it to arise again after this season.

"We have to listen to our clubs," Johansson said. "For this once, we are going to Brazil out of loyalty to the football family but we cannot guarantee participation in the future."

Speaking in Los Angeles, Johansson said he sympathised with United's position and did not believe their participation would have any bearing on the World Cup vote.

"I am extremely disappointed that United are not taking part in the FA Cup," he added. "We in Uefa were afraid something like this would happen because of the overcrowded calendar."