Alex Ferguson: Family co-operation prompts 'nervous' board into action

The key figures conflict of interests at Manchester United
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The Independent Football

"I don't understand why top players want agents," Alex Ferguson said in 1989. "In transfer discussions you are not going to offer top players a pittance, so why does he have to be involved with extra people?"

"I don't understand why top players want agents," Alex Ferguson said in 1989. "In transfer discussions you are not going to offer top players a pittance, so why does he have to be involved with extra people?"

That his son, Jason, should become one of these "extra people" is surprising. That he should have become so entwined with Manchester United's transfer deals is potentially dangerous.

Michael Crick's acclaimed biography of Ferguson, The Boss, was the first to expose precisely how much of a conflict of interest there was between Jason Ferguson and his father. His first involvement in a transfer, that of Massimo Taibi to Reggiana in 2000, Crick wrote, made the Old Trafford board "nervous". By the time Manchester United submitted their internal inquiry yesterday, Jason Ferguson had grown so powerful that his company, Elite, represented 13 of the club's players.

Why Alex Ferguson would compromise himself to this extent is a mystery. Crick suggested it was a desire to see his son, who did not make it as a footballer, become a success in his own right. However, Ferguson is a distrustful individual and as time has gone on he has put his faith more in his own family. His brother, Martin, acts as Manchester United's chief European scout.

When he needed an assistant manager earlier this season, Ferguson turned to an old friend, Walter Smith, rather than to someone younger and perhaps more abrasive. His rare interviews are handed to The Sunday Times, a paper where his long-time friend, Hugh McIlvanney, wields great influence.

Some of the help Ferguson gave his son was obvious and perhaps natural. Jason ran Sir Alex's testimonial season, which raised £1.4m. He also negotiated his father's contract and media deals. Rather tackier was Jason's attempts to sell shirts autographed by United players. Some, including David Beckham, objected, claiming Jason had no right to represent him.

Other attempts by Ferguson to help Jason appear less forgivable. Jonathan Greening and Mark Wilson claimed the United manager threatened to scupper their transfer to Middlesbrough in 2001 unless they dropped their agent, Mel Stein, in favour of his son. Though the pair stuck to their principles and their agent, others decided it was easier to bend to the boss's iron will.

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