United underline Cup withdrawal

MANCHESTER UNITED will not play in this season's FA Cup. The Football Association will receive official confirmation from Old Trafford today that the FA Cup holders will not be defending the trophy. Ken Merrett, the United secretary, confirmed: "The issue is now dead. We will not be entering this season's FA Cup."

MANCHESTER UNITED will not play in this season's FA Cup. The Football Association will receive official confirmation from Old Trafford today that the FA Cup holders will not be defending the trophy. Ken Merrett, the United secretary, confirmed: "The issue is now dead. We will not be entering this season's FA Cup."

The FA had set a deadline of 5.30pm tomorrow for United to reconsider their position. However, United have sent a letter to Lancaster Gate reiterating that last season's treble winners will not be altering their stance. Pressure had been exerted on the United chairman, Martin Edwards, and the Old Trafford board to change their minds and enter the competition despite their participation in the inaugural World Club Championship in Brazil in January.

The club maintained all along that to play in the FA Cup and the World Club Championship would create a fixture jam as they attempt to retain both the European Cup and Premiership title.

The FA issued a statement yesterday. "Manchester United have today confirmed they will not be entering this season's FA Challenge Cup," it read. "Over the past four months, since the FA and the club were confronted with special fixture pressures as a result of United's successes, together we have looked for a new solution. We have remained open-minded. We have never under-estimated the strength of public concern.

"The FA's hope, clearly stated back in June, was that United might take part in the World Club Championship in Brazil as well as in the FA Cup. Sadly, achieving this has proved elusive. We are well aware how agonising the decision has been for Manchester United. It was for us too. We know United will share with their fans, and all of us, the disappointment that a solution has not been found.

"Crucially the club, for totally understandable reasons, has not wanted to devalue the FA Cup as they see it, by entering a team other than their strongest. This would have been inevitable given their potential fixture congestion.

"Manchester United have confirmed to us their full commitment to the FA Cup in the future, and they will take their place next season. We are totally confident the unique circumstances of this season will not be repeated.

"In setting this week's deadline, we have had to be aware of the views of the other clubs who will participate in the FA Cup. After this weekend the arrangements for the third-round draw have to be made. AXA, the FA Cup's newest sponsors, has been kept fully informed over recent days as, with United, we have considered all the implications. We are grateful to AXA for its support and look forward to assessing new ways to continue the great football tradition of the competition."

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