Billionaire prepares Man U bid

The American billionaire trying to buy Manchester United has enlisted the help of the banker who advised Chelsea on its sale to Roman Abramovich. The move shows Malcolm Glazer's determination to win control of the world's richest football club.

However, reports yesterday that Sir Alex Ferguson is about to admit defeat in his own multi-million-pound struggle with John Magnier, the club's largest shareholder, were denied last night.

Manchester United refused to comment on speculation that Sir Alex, its manager, has agreed to drop claims that he is owed up to £100m in racehorse fees by Irish billionaire Mr Magnier. But it was confirmed that lawyers from the two sides have not even met, let alone prepared an announcement.

In any case, the controversy could soon be overshadowed by a bid for United from Mr Glazer, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football franchise. He has raised his stake to at least 16.31 per cent, and yesterday was reported to have consulted Keith Harris, a banker and former chairman of the Football League, on how to launch a bid. Mr Harris advised Chelsea on its sale to Mr Abramovich, the Russian businessman.

At the heart of Sir Alex's dispute with Mr Magnier is the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar, winner of the both the Irish and English 2,000 Guineas. Sir Alex, who has a share in the horse, infuriated the Irishman by claiming that a verbal agreement also gives him half the stud fees, and starting a legal case in the Irish courts.

The poisonous dispute has already caused turmoil at United and many fear it could do lasting damage to the most successful British football club of the last decade.

Mr Magnier and his business partner JP McManus have responded by increasing their shareholding in United to 29 per cent, and prompting an investigation into the role that Sir Alex's son Jason, an agent, has played in transfer deals.

Mr Magnier, a successful owner and breeder, has in turn suffered racecourse protests from angry United supporters. The controversy even appears to have affected recent team performances, although United beat rivals Manchester City in the fifth round of the FA cup yesterday.

Most observers expect a compromise, and it seems likely that lawyers from both sides are corresponding. But when a final agreement will be reached remains unclear.