United confirm Belgian link


Manchester United have finalised plans to form an association with Royal Antwerp in Belgium, giving them a club to groom their young talent for the rigours of the Premiership.

Alex Ferguson and company will take top young talent from around the world - specifically South America - and send them to Belgium's oldest club where they are more likely to receive playing time.

"Our reserve team is of a good standard but doesn't have that competitive element that it will get in Antwerp," declared Ferguson.

The Belgian club, who now play in the Second Division, see the new coalition as a way to raise badly-needed money.

"We have to face reality," Royal Antwerp secretary Paul Bistiaux said. "The smaller clubs have to align themselves with the big ones to survive."

As for Manchester United, establishing a presence in Belgium is only the beginning. "This is just part of the expansion plan," said Ferguson. "There will be deals with clubs in Australia, Ireland and Sweden."

Antwerp was believed to be a prime target for Manchester United because Belgian labour laws and work permits are far more flexible than in England. Once the players are established in the European Union, it is easier for them to transfer to Manchester United.

But talk that United will use the arrangement to sign non-EU players and allow them to gain Belgium citizenship and therefore avoid the need of a work permit when they sign for United were refuted by a United spokeman Ken Ramsden.

"We have not bought the club and this is not a takeover move. We have simply come to an agreement with them whereby we can send players to play in their team and gain experience and the situation will work vice versa," he said.