Fixture pile-up wins approval from Ferguson

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The Independent Football

Only four and a half years ago, Manchester United horrified the traditionalists by withdrawing from the FA Cup to play in the World Club Championship on the other side of the globe as they could not fit both competitions into their schedule.

Only four and a half years ago, Manchester United horrified the traditionalists by withdrawing from the FA Cup to play in the World Club Championship on the other side of the globe as they could not fit both competitions into their schedule.

Now, the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, is warmly embracing the latest high-profile addition to his side's already congested countdown to 2004-05.

As manager of a club destined for the Champions' League qualifiers, three friendlies against Bayern Munich, Celtic and Milan in the United States and possibly for a Community Shield date with Arsenal, he might have filled in the odd gaps with trips to the likes of Stockport and Stoke.

Far from it. United yesterday announced they are to host the Vodafone Cup on 3 and 5 August - a four-team tournament also featuring PSV Eindhoven, Boca Juniors and Urawa Red Diamonds. It is the first time Old Trafford will have staged a club competition and, if Ferguson has been pressured into it by plc considerations, he was convincing and cheerful in talking up the prospect of quality time with opposition from three continents.

"We need games that mean something," he said. "We have previously played break-in matches in the Far East or Scandinavia but they don't serve our purpose now given the thrust of competitive games upon us. We're going to need matches and this tournament will bring us up to our game quicker."

United face PSV on Tuesday 3 August, and Urawa from Japan on the Thursday, both evenings made up of double-headers.

The tournament, organised by the Birmingham-based International Event Partnership - coordinators of the Amsterdam Tournament and, previously, the Umbro Cup and Makita Tournament - has an innovative edge, with an extra point awarded for each goal scored.

Whether United's leading marksman will be around to boost their tally has become a subject of some speculation but their commercial director, Andy Anson, said: "Ruud Van Nistelrooy will be looking forward to facing his former club [PSV]."

Ferguson deflected questions about United's slump in form, although he was chipper about putting things right next season. "Not contesting the League [title] for the first time in 13 years has affected everyone," he added. "It's a new experience. We know we can do it next year. The players have that ability, that drive. We don't enjoy not winning." United's pre-season programme, which may also include a testimonial for the sacked Burnley manager, Stan Ternent, will be under further strain the longer England remain in Euro 2004.

Kleberson and Diego Forlan also depart for the South American Cup in the summer while Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, the Neville brothers and Wes Brown may all be in Portugal - and Ferguson believes they will then need 28 days' rest.

Ferguson, a proud Scot, might have been hoping for their early flight home. Instead, he insisted he longs to see England do well, for the good of the domestic game.

What's more, his teeth didn't even seem to be gritted.

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