Oxford's unlikely Italian job

Glenn Moore hears a strange tale of mighty Juventus and a humble English First Division club
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The Independent Online
The European elite have long sent their most gifted young men to Oxford to finish their learning - but the practice could be about to assume an unusual dimension.

According to the Nationwide Football League First Division club, Oxford United, Juventus, the European Cup holders, have had discussions about loaning them some of their most promising young players. However, Juventus officials are doing their best to play down the story.

"It is very exciting," said Robin Herd, the Oxford chairman. "They are not just going to send us players. Juventus have managed to combine the traditional technical brilliance of the Continentals with the power and pace of the British game. They will be showing us how to do it. Manchester United have undertaken something similar, with their coaching staff going to Turin to see how they do things. We are hoping to take it one step further."

The club's general manager, Ian Davies, was more circumspect, saying: "At the moment it's still talks about talks."

Motor racing is the link in this unlikely deal. Having been involved in IndyCar racing and the March team, Herd is a well-known figure in the world of Formula One. Much of that, including the Italian Benetton team, is based in Oxfordshire. Juventus, like Ferrari, is part of the Agnelli family empire.

Herd stressed: "Juventus don't want any financial influence. They don't want to interfere in any way with the running of Oxford United." The Italians were less keen to commit themselves, though.

Two Juventus directors visited the Manor Ground on 2 February and spoke informally to Oxford officials - but that, it seems, is as far as it went. A Juventus spokesman, Daniele Boaglio, said yesterday: "It's all wild imagination."