Football: Wenger proposes axing cup replays to cut fixture chaos

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The Independent Online
The continuing row over when the season should end took a new turn yesterday when the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, suggested England follow Europe's example of settling cup ties on the day - by penalty shoot-outs if necessary - thus ruling out the need for replays.

Wenger put forward his solution to fixture congestion as Manchester United's legal experts considered their response to yesterday's ruling by the Premier League not to grant them an extension to the season beyond the present 11 May deadline.

Wenger, who has become involved in a public confrontation with the United manager, Alex Ferguson, over the champions' plea to extend the season, believes settling cup ties on penalties could be the answer to the heavy schedule of games facing clubs at both ends of the table.

"We should take a lesson from what happens in Europe whereby the cup games are settled after one encounter, even if that means by penalties," he said. "The way things are we can't afford to draw cup games because of the burden it puts on the squad."

Wenger was fiercely criticised by Ferguson after voicing his opposition to United's proposal to extend the season. "I never wanted to become involved in a polemic with Alex Ferguson," Wenger said. "I was asked my opinion on whether it was right or wrong to extend the season at this late stage and I explained my position.

"I didn't attack Manchester United and I was surprised Alex reacted the way he did and I was even more puzzled when it was said that I had attacked him over the issue of releasing players for England. All I've tried to do is explain my position.

Wenger and Ferguson have found common ground on the United manager's suggestion that Premier League teams, or those involved in European competition, should not be obliged to play in the Coca-Cola Cup: "That is only logical," Wenger said.

United, meanwhile, are refusing to take no for an answer after being denied their request for an extension, and the club's legal experts are preparing a letter to send to the FA.

However, a football club itself cannot sue the FA, otherwise Uefa, the governing body of European football, could ban them from their competitions next season. Another avenue would be for United's main investors - who are not affected by the Uefa rule - to sue the Premier League for the fixture chaos that would cost the club at least pounds 10m, That could be sum at stake if the club fails to qualify for next season's Champions' League. That would affect their share price and thus the interests of major investment funds.

English football is close to reaching agreement on a new transfer system to answer the challenge of the "Bosman" ruling. The FA met with the Premier League, the Football League and Professional Footballers' Association this week to continue discussions on proposed changes. Their talks have been given added urgency by the threat of Wimbledon's Vinnie Jones to challenge the current system in the courts if he is not allowed to leave Selhurst Park at the end of his contract.

Among the proposals being considered are free transfers for players over the age of 24 if and when they are out of contract. "After consultations with clubs we anticipate reaching a common view on changes to the current system," the FA chief executive, Graham Kelly, said yesterday.

The impact of the Bosman ruling will also be discussed next Thursday by the Uefa executive committee meeting in Geneva. "A definitive statement [on Bosman] may be issued from that meeting which will guide us when we have our next meeting in May," Kelly added.

Leeds United's manager, George Graham, is considering a pounds 3m bid to sign Bolton's midfield player Alan Thompson.

Diego Maradona was in hospital again yesterday, days after being rushed to a clinic after falling ill on a Chilean television chat show. "It's not serious, it's just a check-up," an official said. Maradona broke out in a cold sweat after dancing a tango with former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco.