Ferguson and Magnier close to end of dispute

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The Independent Football

The acrimonious dispute between Sir Alex Ferguson and John Magnier over the record-breaking stallion Rock of Gibraltar is nearing its conclusion.

While the pair's legal teams are yet fully to conclude a deal, a formal announcement that would signal an end to the saga is imminent. Precise details of the agreement remain sketchy, but it is believed that the final settlement will fall somewhere between Magnier's initial offer of two nominations per year, worth an estimated £1.5m and the £5m deal that has been suggested in other quarters.

In an early attempt to resolve the dispute Ferguson was offered four nominations a year and it is possible this might have been revived, although the final settlement will almost certainly be capitalised into a lump sum to avoid further complications.

It is thought the wording of an official statement would allow both parties to come out of the battle with their reputations intact, although Ferguson has been forced to accept far less than the £50m he originally believed he was entitled to.

The deal is expected to be completed early next week. But it comes a little over two weeks after Ferguson is believed to have called Magnier at his holiday villa in Barbados in an attempt to find a solution to a row which erupted over the details of a gentleman's agreement the pair had during the early stages of "The Rock's" racing career.

Ferguson believed he was entitled to half the stud fees for the horse, who became the first stallion to win seven successive Group One races, while Magnier thought he had offered only two nominations - one in the northern hemisphere, one in the south - for the duration of Rock of Gibraltar's life as a sire.

What followed was a legal battle between the manager and the major shareholder of the world's richest football club that threatened to bring Manchester United to its knees.

With the United fans firmly backing their manager, Magnier was subjected to fierce abuse at almost every game and it took a public plea from Ferguson for supporters to call off a protest planned for Gold Cup day at Cheltenham on 18 March.

Now peace has broken out, supporters and directors will be keen to establish what plans the Irishman and his business partner, JP McManus, have for the club.

Meanwhile, United are looking into the possibility of expanding Old Trafford to a 75,000 capacity. United confirmed to the Stock Exchange yesterday that they have launched a feasibility study into the cost of filling in the two corners of the ground at the North Stand side, opposite the managers' dug-outs.

Officials have previously resisted demands to increase the capacity, believing the club's current 67,500 stadium large enough for their needs, even though every Premiership match has been a sell-out since the last redevelopment was completed four years ago.

The fear at United was not filling the stadium for every game and ending up in the same embarrassing situation as some of their continental rivals by having a huge ground which is barely half full. These concerns appear to have been allayed, giving rise to yesterday's announcement.

No time limit has been put on the study but the extra 7,500 seats could generate in excess of £4m over the course of a full season. That cash could be vital at a time when Arsenal have confirmed their plans to relocate to Ashburton Grove, whose capacity is likely to be around 60,000.

Roy Keane will be available for the Champions' League quarter-finals if United scramble past Porto this week. Uefa confirmed the Irishman will serve only a one-match suspension for treading on the veteran Porto goalkeeper Vitor Baia during last week's first-leg defeat in Portugal. Keane got the 11th red card of his career when he stood on the keeper who beat him to a long ball played out of the visitors' half.

Keane's midfield team-mate Paul Scholes has requested a personal hearing into the charge of violent conduct levelled against him by the FA.

Scholes clashed with Middlesbrough's Brazilian midfield player Doriva during their recent Premiership encounter at Old Trafford on 11 February. Referee Paul Durkin indicated in his match report that he had not seen the incident, but it was picked up on television replays and the FA decided to act.

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