United run risk with schoolboy plane trips

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The Independent Football

Manchester United are bending Premier League regulations by signing the teenage prospect Kalum Mooniaruck.

Manchester United are bending Premier League regulations by signing the teenage prospect Kalum Mooniaruck.

The club's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has spotted the potential of the 15-year-old midfielder and he is appearing for United's Under-17 Academy team, despite the fact that he comes from Bishop's Stortford. United fly Mooniaruck from London on a weekly basis and put him up in digs in Sale in an attempt to circumvent the strict rules that any schoolboy must live within 90 minutes of the ground.

Mooniaruck clearly does not and the Premier League may ask United about the youngster, who strictly should be attached to a London club. The talented teenager is still at school but will go to Old Trafford permanently and is tipped to become first-team regular.

United have gone to extraordinary lengths to sign him but Premier League rules state that the 90-minute distance between player and academy has to be travelled by car. Adrian Cook, a Premier League spokesman, said: "You can get from Newcastle from London by air in an hour but the new rule relates to being able to drive in that time. Anything else would be illegal although nothing has been brought to our attention in this case. The rule is designed for clubs to bring through their local talent."

United do not want to lose Mooniaruck and may even buy a house for his family and find him a new school, a costly exercise but one the club considers worthwhile. The chairman, Martin Edwards, revealed recently that the Premier League Academy rules were potentially a problem for United and that going into the property market to put up their most-promising youngsters was the best way round it.

Meanwhile, Mooniaruck, who already has a boot deal with Nike, is playing for United in the Academy league and standing out among other hopefuls up to two years' his senior. Now that United have a hold on him they will not want to let go. The trade among teenage players these days is growing, with some attracting high valuations.

However, the Premier League may want to ask questions about Mooniaruck's presence at Old Trafford. Even Michael Schumacher would struggle to make the drive from Essex to Manchester in 90 minutes.

United's Swedish international, Jesper Blomqvist, has been ruled out of action until March after being told yesterday that he needs a second operation on his knee. The winger, who has not played a competitive game for United since starting in the European Cup final in May, damaged his knee during the pre-season tour of Australia.

Ferguson said: "Jesper is still feeling something [is wrong] with his knee. We just don't know what is causing the pain so he's gone back to Sweden and he'll have another op and hopefully they will be able to discover what the problem is. Unfortunately it will mean another six weeks out for him and it may be around March before he is back in action."

United's Norwegian striker Erik Nevland has rejoined his former club, Viking Stavanger, in a £250,000 deal after failing to claim a regular first-team place. The 22-year-old signed for United in July 1997 but made only six appearances for the Old Trafford side, including just two starts. He was unable to displace the regular front pairing of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, and had fallen behind Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jonathan Greening in the striking pecking order. He spent the last few months of last season on loan with IFK Gothenburg.

"At least I have played six games for Manchester United. There are not many Norwegians who have done that," Nevland said.

Roberto Baggio's future was thrown into doubt yesterday when the Internazionale coach, Marcello Lippi, said the Italian interantional could leave the club after he was publicly criticised by the player. Baggio said in an interview that Lippi had gone back on his word by leaving him on the bench for most of this season after promising him a key role.