The Manchester City chief executive, Garry Cook, was struggling to hold on to his job last night as the club's Abu Dhabi owners sought answers about an email sent from his account to the mother of defender Nedum Onuoha, mocking her fight against cancer.
Cook's claim, to Dr Anthonia Onuoha, that a member of City's staff had hacked into his email account on his iPad and sent the message as a joke, is being subjected to stringent investigation by representatives of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, for whom the offensive email is a source of profound embarrassment.
The owners – whose attempts to make contact with Cook have been complicated by his presence in Portland, Oregon, with his American wife – want to know that Cook has not attempted to cover up an offensive email, rather than simply come clean. The club confirmed last night that a "board review" into the incident had been launched. The review is expected to be brief but the prospects for Cook do not look good. A defence of the chief executive was conspicuous by its absence last night, more than 24 hours after City had become aware that the excruciating email, which was intended for Brian Marwood, City's football administrator, had been made public – nearly a year after it was sent.
By Cook's version of events, related via Dr Onuoha, someone would have had to have hacked into his computer and presumably discovered her email to him before sending a reply, addressed "Brian", to Dr Onuoha instead.
Cook's position had been under no threat until details of emails to and from Onuoha's mother emerged. She said in an email to Cook and Marwood last October that, although her body was "ravaged with cancer and ongoing chemotherapy", she still had her wits about her to argue Nedum's case.
Two weeks later, she received the email addressed to "Brian", sent from Cook's address, which stated: "Ravaged with it!!......I don't now how you sleep at night. You used to be such a nice man when I worked with you at nike [sic]." Dr Onuoha demanded yesterday that the FA or the Premier League intervene.