Sir Alex Ferguson last night moved to distance himself from an alleged associate who was the subject of a Channel Four undercover investigation into the illegal ownership of football clubs.
The Football Association will look into allegations made by the Dispatches programme that London Nominees – a football investment fund – are helping rich foreign investors break FA rules that prevent individuals from owning more than one club.
The documentary secretly filmed Bryan Robson, the former Manchester United and England captain, who works with London Nominees, promising that Ferguson and his other contacts in English football management would loan players to clubs bought by the fund's potential investors.
The key person in the fund was Thai businessman Joe Sim, a senior figure in Thai football who claimed to be a close friend of Ferguson and said that he could persuade the United manager to loan players to lower division clubs bought by his investors. Ferguson's lawyers said that Sim had over-stated the closeness of his relationship with the United manager.
The club identified as a prime target by Sim and London Nominees was Sheffield United but they also claimed that the likes of Leeds United, Cardiff City, Leicester City and Oxford United were available for acquisition. The stated purpose of the fund was to buy a club cheaply, achieve promotion to the Premier League and then sell up for a major profit.
As well as Robson claiming that his connections with the likes of Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce, Alex McLeish and Kenny Dalglish would mean a supply of loan players – which those involved all denied when questioned by Channel Four – he said that profits could be made by selling and relocating club's training grounds.
Robson, who was manager of the Thailand national team for two years and is a global ambassador for Manchester United, said in last night's broadcast: "I disagree with people when they say football is a sport. Football lost its sporting thing when all the money from Sky TV and that [came in]. Football is a business."
Sim was also recorded saying that he was involved in the acquisition of up to three football clubs. He claimed that one of his associates was the Singapore businessman Peter Lim who tried to buy Liverpool last year.