Ferguson ready to carry on legal battle

Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday signalled his determination to see out his legal battle with John Magnier by providing a detailed breakdown of his claim to half of Rock Of Gibraltar's breeding rights to Magnier's lawyers.

It is thought the documents acknowledge that there was never any formal, written agreement about the racehorse's stud earnings, which could exceed £200m. But Ferguson contends that he was always portrayed, willingly by both sides, as a co-owner. This, he argues, was hugely beneficial to Magnier in publicity terms and cannot have failed to increase the horse's value. Ferguson also argues that he is named as Rock Of Gibraltar's co-owner on the horse's official form of registration.

Magnier claims that Ferguson has no right to the racehorse's stud fees, arguing that the horse only ran in the Manchester United manager's colours as a favour.

Neither side admits it publicly but the bitter feud will probably be resolved with an out-of-court settlement. Unfortunately for Ferguson, it seems that he will have to cede the most ground for that to happen. He and United are at the greatest risk of fallout the longer the brinkmanship continues. Ferguson is under pressure from the United board to settle.

Magnier and his fellow tycoon JP McManus own 25.49 per cent of United via their company, Cubic Expression. Although sources close to Cubic say the row over the horse has nothing to do with their probing of United's financial affairs, Magnier's stake in United gives him a huge lever in his court battle.

Magnier and McManus have already forced United to launch an internal review of transfer dealings. Without doubt they will continue to press for a raft of details about how the club has been run. The issue is whether they do this while fanning the flames of negative publicity. The alternative is to continue seeking greater transparency - which many neutrals feel can only be a good thing, at United and everywhere else in football - with least embarrassment to Ferguson and United.

Ferguson is apparently playing hardball. That may yet prove nothing more than a bargaining position.

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