MANCHESTER United are not prepared to pay Roy Keane GBP40,000 a week and will lose his services at the end of the present soccer season. That's the way the betting is going in England at the moment. In the same week that further doubts about Keane's future at Old Trafford were raised, Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards pocketed the huge sum of GBP41 million by parting with half of his remaining shares, about seven per cent, in the world's most famous - and richest - club. Edwards is the man who is deeply concerned about maintaining a wages ceiling at United. His determination is shared by others from the city who hold sizeable parts of Manchester United plc. They are not all necessarily the directors of Manchester United, among whom sits Sir Bobby Charlton. The ceiling so beloved by Edwards has, on several occasions, thwarted Sir Alex Ferguson clinching deals with players after a transfer fee has been agreed. While many will feel that paying a player, even such a powerful leader on the field as Keane, the sum of GBP40,000 per week is too much and almost offensive, it is really a matter of perspective. A decade ago the same Edwards, who listed rugby union as his favourite sport in an earlier edition of Who's Who , was prepared to sell the controlling interest in United to Michael Knighton. The agreed figure was GBP10 million. Ultimately the deal did not go through because of opposition within the United boardroom. As the directors and shareholders bickered and fought, some of Knighton's original backers backed out. To be fair to Knighton, his heart must genuinely be in the game because he took over Carlisle United - he is still there - and spent plenty of money in a vain effort to get the Cumbrian club back up the league. The irony of the position a few months ago would not have been lost on Knighton or United fans who can remember back a decade. Ten years previously, Knighton was actually on the Old Trafford pitch, flicking a ball around and being presented as the new power in the boardroom. At the end of last season, Manchester United had won the Treble and Carlisle United - with Knighton again on the pitch, this time when the final whistle blew - escaped oblivion in the Football Conference with a goal from their on-loan goalkeeper with the final kick in stoppage time. It is difficult not to think that Edwards is really in it for the money. Less than a year previously, his attempts to sell the club his father, Louis Edwards, left to him were thwarted at governmental level. On that occasion it was the Rupert Murdoch-controlled BSkyB which was attempting to take over. When that deal fell through, leaders of the Manchester United official supporters' club were delighted but, to some extent, that joy has been short-lived. This time Edwards could have sold his percentage to a bloc from the supporters' club but opted for a city placement instead. No one disputes that Edwards has a perfect right to sell his shares if that is his wish and it is now hinted that it will clear the way for him to become chairman of Manchester United plc, the controlling company. Regulations prevent the chairman of the plc having more than 10 per cent of the shares. What is nauseating is that Edwards is prone to delivering homilies about capping players' wages and the need for some form of control over salary levels. This is from a man who would have parted with the club just 10 years ago but failed. In the interim, he has now pocketed well in excess of GBP100 million from selling his shares in the club. During that period, United have rocketed to the very top of world football in club terms. That, of course, has been due to Sir Alex and players like Keane, David Beckham et al. It took weeks of bickering, some of it ill-natured, before Sir Alex finally received what was unquestionably his financial worth with his latest contract. Considering the money which made its way into Edwards' account largely because of the skill and sagacity of Sir Alex, the manager was on a pittance. Players' wages have spiralled in the most recent seasons, due largely to the huge amounts of money received through television. The Premier League is well packaged and well sold with the result that many clubs, week in and week out, are playing to full houses. If the market sustains it, then basically whatever players receive is, to a very large extent, justified. It may offend some people that a player like Keane should seek GBP40,000 per week for 'only playing football'. But that is not the point. Football, as we have seen with the Edwards' sell-off and will see again, is really big business. It's about shares and profit. It is not the Keanes and Beckhams who are costly - it's the mistakes and the non-performers. Stan Collymore cost GBP7 million and faces the end of a meaningful football life if Fulham let him go after his loan period ends. And where would United be today if Sir Alex, as so nearly happened, had departed a decade ago - at the same time Edwards was trying for his first GBP10 million sell-out? The one inescapable conclusion from last week's dealings is that, in the future, Edwards would be well advised to keep his mouth firmly shut in relation to players' wages. Hypocrisy is unpleasant.