United closing in on Nadal deal

Barcelona last night left the way clear for Manchester United to bring their pursuit of Miguel Angel Nadal to a successful conclusion, writes Glenn Moore. The Spanish defender was on the substitutes' bench for the Spanish club's European Cup-Winners' Cup tie against Larnaca in Cyprus - but they did not call on him, thus leaving him available for Champions' League matches in due course.

The Barcelona manager, Bobby Robson, speaking to The Independent from Cyprus, said: "He is in my [first choice] team but I did not want to play him in this match, then he is not cup-tied in terms of European football.

"He might go, but I do not want him to. He is very important to us, an outstanding player. I do not want to strengthen someone else's team and weaken mine," Robson then added, tellingly, "unless the money turns our heads.

"At the moment they [Manchester United] are offering reasonable money but we would rather have the player. He is even better than I thought. I knew he was a good player but when you work with someone you see their quality.''

United have been chasing Nadal - who was outstanding against England in Euro 96 (until he missed the crucial penalty) for weeks. Spanish newspapers claim an original offer of pounds 2.4m has been raised to pounds 3.5m.

Martin Edwards, the United chairman, said yesterday the onus was on Barcelona, while the player insisted he wanted to join United.

Nadal would not be eligible to play in Europe until the spring - which is especially unfortunate in view of an ankle injury, sustained on Wednesday, which may rule Ronny Johnsen out for a month. There was better news of another United ankle, Phil Neville's, which has recovered enough from an operation for him to plan a comeback for the reserves on 5 October.

West Ham hope to complete the loan signing of Hugo Porfirio, who played for Portugal in Euro 96, from Sporting Lisbon later today.

The Coventry City manager, Ron Atkinson, and his assistant Gordon Strachan have requested personal hearings to answer disrepute charges brought against them by the Football Association. Both remonstrated with officials following Chelsea's disputed first goal by the French sweeper, Franck Leboeuf, in last month's 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Leeds United's Swedish international Tomas Brolin looks set for clear- the-air talks in a bid to heal his rift with the Premiership club. The 26-year-old's agent, Lars Peterson, yesterday admitted Brolin could play for the club again following George Graham's appointment as manager. The pounds 4.5m striker, who joined Leeds from Parma 10 months ago, fell from grace with the former Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson.

Arsene Wenger, who officially takes over as the Arsenal manager on Monday, hinted yesterday that George Weah, the Milan striker, is not on his shopping list. "If I decide to sign new people this season I would like to bring in young players of 22, 23 - something like that,'' Wenger said.

The Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, has dismissed claims that he played a weakened team in his side's Coca-Cola Cup tie at Hereford this week. Robson, reacting to the prospect of a Football League inquiry, said he would explain that some of his players were unavailable and he was not prepared to risk long-term injuries.

The Professional Footballers' Association will send out ballot forms to its Nationwide League members today seeking support for strike action over its televison income dispute with the Football League.

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