BY PHIL SHAW
The Manchester United chairman, Martin Edwards, has admitted that the Double winners could lose Eric Cantona to Internazionale, of Milan, if the suspended Frenchman comes to regard his position in English football as "impossible".
Cantona's future was discussed yesterday by Edwards and the player's agent, Jean-Jacques Bertrand. The meeting, expected to be the first of several, came less than 24 hours after a Crystal Palace supporter was killed during a clash with Manchester United followers before Sunday's FA Cup semi-final between the clubs. Police in the West Midlands confirmed that the confrontation before the match at Villa Park was sparked by taunts between the rival groups over Cantona's "kung-fu" attack on a Palace fan on 25 January.
Edwards's negotiations with Bertrand concerned United's counter-proposals in the face of Inter's readiness to pay £5.5m for Cantona, as well as a salary of £30,000 a week reputedly being dangled by the Italian club.
While neither party referred directly to Sunday's fatality, Edwards hinted that such incidents might be a factor in Cantona's decision. "I'm optimistic but I think a lot depends on where Eric wants to be," he said. "If Eric wants to play for United he is certainly going to get a very good offer from us.
"If he feels that he has had enough of England or perhaps that he is in an impossible position, then that's a different matter. But we'll be doing our best to retain him."
Edwards added that he did not expect matters to be resolved in the immediate future, but confirmed that he believed Inter were "very interested" in becoming the 28-year-old's ninth club. "There are rumours that they have spoken to Bertrand and they may well have offered certain terms. We don't know what these terms are but we'll certainly be doing our best to keep Eric."
A year ago, when United fined Cantona two weeks' wages for stamping on Swindon's John Moncur, the indiscretion cost him £20,000. United are now understood to be prepared to offer him a deal worth £15,000 a week.
Cantona, who is banned from playing until 1 October as a result of the events at Selhurst Park, had previously intimated that he would prefer to stay. However, concern that his continued presence in the English game might provoke hostility among rival supporters is likely to intensify in the aftermath of Sunday's pre-match violence outside a Walsall pub.
At a press conference organised by West Midlands Police yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable Clive Roach said: "The trouble started after someone mentioned Cantona's name. But these people were in a minority and would have fought over anything."
Should Cantona decide to return to the Continent once he has completed his worldwide ban, Johan Cruyff's Barcelona are expected to emerge as Inter's chief rivals for his services.
n Robbie Fowler, the Liverpool striker voted PFA Young Player of the Year on Sunday, has been charged with insulting behaviour and fined £1,000 by the FA after complaints from fans that he had hitched up his shorts during the 2-1 win at Leicester on Boxing Day.
n Ernie Walker, the former Scottish Football Association secretary, is to head an independent review body of players, spectators and the media among others, which will spend two to three years drawing up a blueprint to take Scottish football into the next century. The initiative follows the SFA's admission that the state of the game there is in decline, with Scotland failing to qualify for last year's World Cup and having a poor record in European club competition.
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