Sponsors urge United to agree Cup compromise

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The Independent Online

The Sponsor of the FA Cup, AXA insurance, has admitted dismay over the seemingly "set in stone" stance of both the Football Association and Manchester United regarding the treble-winners' non-participation in this season's Cup.

The Sponsor of the FA Cup, AXA insurance, has admitted dismay over the seemingly "set in stone" stance of both the Football Association and Manchester United regarding the treble-winners' non-participation in this season's Cup.

AXA believes the competition will be seriously devalued if a compromise is not reached within the next few days, allowing United to defend the trophy they won in May.

Time is fast running out as the FA recently imposed a deadline of this Saturday on any possible solution, despite the draw for the third round not taking place until mid-November.

So far all suggestions of a potential agreement, however, have been rejected, with the FA's executive director, David Davies, admitting at the weekend that the chances of any settlement were slim.

Manchester United's presence in the World Club Championship in Brazil in January is seen as being of paramount importance to the FA and the Government if England are to stage the 2006 World Cup finals, despite protestations to the contrary by Fifa, the game's ruling body.

One offer proposed by AXA was to fly United's fourth-round opponents to Brazil for the tie, but the FA "did not like the idea", according to an AXA spokesman, Phil Hickley.

He said: "We have always been of the view that we would like Manchester United to take part, but we realise the predicament everyone is in. There is no easy solution.

"We have held dialogue with the FA all the way through to discuss the implications and even at this late date we have not given up hope a solution can be found.

"But as the deadline looms then the opportunity for finding such a solution begins to disappear. We will continue to do whatever we can, although the prospects don't look good.

"It would be wrong for us to throw our weight around and say this should happen and that should happen. That's not what sponsors are about."

With AXA 18 months into a four-year agreement, Hickley would not confirm reports that the insurance company will pull out when the deal ends, given such a state of affairs surrounding the saga. "We sponsored the FA Cup, the most prestigious tournament in world football, to raise our brand value," Hickley said.

"We did so at a time when we knew all teams would be taking part. So to have Manchester United - the team with the highest profile in the world and the FA Cup holders as well - pull out clearly has implications for us.

"It's very speculative at this stage to say we won't renew our deal. That will be a decision which will be taken in another year to 18 months' time."

Malcolm Shotton has resigned as the manager of Oxford United, who are struggling near the foot of the Second Division. Shotton, who was in charge when the financially troubled club were relegated from the First Division last season, had been in charge at the Manor Ground since January 1998. Shotton's assistant, Mark Harrison, has also resigned. It is thought the youth team coach, Mickey Lewis, and the chief scout, Maurice Evans, will take temporary charge for this weekend's FA Cup first-round tie against Morecambe.

Leicester City are facing a fresh crisis after the developers behind their plans to build a 40,000-seater stadium announced they have pulled out of the deal. In a critical statement, Goldwing Properties Ltd confirmed the boardroom unrest at Filbert Street is behind their decision to withdraw. "In the current circumstances, Leicester City's ongoing involvement in any future project should be questioned," it read.

Sheffield United's Brazilian striker, Marcelo, has completed his £500,000 move to Birmingham City. He is likely to go straight into the squad for tomorrow night's match against Queens Park Rangers.

The Aberdeen manager, Ebbe Skovdahl has signed the 22-year-old Moroccan Hicham Zerouali, subject to a medical and a work permit.

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