Ferguson to reject calls for mediation with Wenger

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Manchester United have no intention of entering into mediation with Arsenal before their vital Premiership match on 1 February and feel that there is no figure within English football who would have the reputation to bring Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger to an agreement.

The fall-out from the Ferguson interview that appeared in The Independent last Saturday continued yesterday with calls for the Scot to end his dispute with Wenger from Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport, and Barry Norman, the Metropolitan Police's borough commander for Islington. Their remarks followed reports that the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, is to broker a deal in which the two managers will formally agree to cease hostilities.

However, sources at United have indicated that the club will not be forced into an "empty gesture" simply to placate those who feel that the exchanges between Wenger and Ferguson have had a detrimental effect on the game's image. Officials at United are still smarting from the suggestion that they "kicked Arsenal off the pitch" during the match on 24 October which caused such controversy.

Following that game, there was a fear that a new public perception of United as a physical side would affect the impartiality of the referee for the crucial match at Highbury on 1 February. Those were concerns that Ferguson addressed in his interview with The Independent and the United manager's views are reflected by others at the top of Old Trafford hierarchy.

United are also not certain that Scudamore, or indeed anyone from within the game, would necessarily fit the bill as a neutral mediator between Ferguson and Wenger. United would certainly not countenance signing a joint statement with Arsenal before the Highbury game unless they were completely backed into a corner by the Premier League - which would render any agreement meaningless.

The United chief executive, David Gill, will travel from Exeter to London today for the meeting of Premiership chairmen, but there is no suggestion that he will have private talks with the Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, on the issue of the two clubs' managers.

However, Ferguson's position has not prevented calls from Caborn for the two managers to end their latest dispute - which began in The Independent with the United manager calling Wenger a "disgrace" for not apologising after their tunnel row following last October's game. Caborn said: "Both of these people are very responsible men and they know when the situation has gone too far.

"They have been asked by a number of people to cool it down, and I'm sure that will happen," Caborn said. "Things do get out of hand, so let's get back to them doing what they do best and that's managing damn good football teams. We have had the pantomime. Let's now have the serious stuff."

Norman, whose London borough includes Highbury, said that the relationship between the two managers "increases the intensity and hostility of the supporters, is not responsible and should be stopped".

He added: "The difference with the United game is simply that the intense playing rivalry can permeate into the crowd. People can easily become more agitated and aggressive towards supporters of the other team."

Arsenal will consider moving for Stuttgart's highly rated goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, who will not sign a new contract when his deal runs out in the summer and could form part of a swap deal with Jens Lehmann. United are also believed to be interested in the player.

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