Ferguson to Magnier: 'I shall not be moved'

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The Independent Football

Bob Dylan had to endure fans going through his garbage for hints of his genius. Jason Ferguson, however, has had to put up with private investigators rummaging through his bin bags for altogether more sinister clues.

His father, Sir Alex Ferguson, yesterday revealed the intense pressure that has been brought down on his family since he launched his legal action against John Magnier, head of the fabulously wealthy Coolmore Stud, to recover a half-share of the lucrative stud- rights to the stallion, Rock of Gibraltar, worth perhaps £50m.

The bitterness of the struggle has led to Jason Ferguson calling in the police, alleging his mail and litter have been tampered with. Magnier, who owns a quarter of Manchester United, has employed a leading detective agency, Kroll Associates, to investigate both Alex and Jason Ferguson, who works as an agent and has been accused of profiting from transfers authorised by his father.

"It has been an awful week for the Ferguson family," the Manchester United manager said. "My son, Jason, has taken a real battering. He has had to call the police in; people have been stealing his mail, going through his bin bags and hiding in the bushes. It is very distressing that things can affect your family like that.

"For 17-and-a-half years at this club, nobody has ever questioned my propriety but now, following a private issue regarding a racehorse, all this has happened. It is incomprehensible that I would abuse my position at this football club, out of the question."

Ferguson said he did not think that taking legal action against Magnier, a man he once counted as a friend and ally against the United board, would have let loose all this bile. If taken at face value, this shows a remarkable lack of understanding of one of Ireland's toughest men, outraged at suggestions he had gone back on his word.

Magnier's company, Cubic Expression, which he owns with his fellow racehorse breeder, JP McManus, has regularly leaked damning allegations about the way Manchester United conduct their transfer policy. In particular, they question whether Jason Ferguson, who runs the Elite football agency, profited from the £139,000 allegedly paid to his close business associate, Mike Morris, after the transfer of Tim Howard from New York Metrostars.

They were also inflamed by the payment of £750,000 to two agents for last week's transfer of Louis Saha from Fulham, arguing there was no need for this kind of expenditure since the player was desperate to come to Old Trafford. Sir Roy Gardner, the chairman of Manchester United's plc, is studying a 99-point letter sent by Cubic Expression in which they question everything from the way in which United present their accounts to their use of agents.

Ferguson is adamant he has nothing to hide, arguing that relations with agents were the responsibility of the chief executive, David Gill: "I don't talk to agents, I have nothing to do with agents. I don't pick them, I don't employ them and I don't pay them. That is David Gill's department and it has been the case since 1990 [when United became a publicly-quoted company].

"When I first came down to Manchester [in 1986] Martin Edwards and I used to do transfers together and I used to take the player round the stadium, take him on to the pitch and talk to him and Martin would do the other part. When Manchester United became a plc I thought it right that it should be the responsibility of the board and I just identified the player."

Ferguson stopped short of describing this feud with Magnier, a man with more money and just as much ruthlessness as the Scot possesses, as his greatest battle in football. That unquestionably was the unsuccessful suing of St Mirren for unfair dismissal following his sacking from the inaptly-named Love Street in 1978. Then, Ferguson had little money, less legal representation and was on his own.

Now, he is being backed by the board and the fans. Shareholders United, a group of supporter-investors who own 17 per cent of the club, spoke last week of Magnier attempting an "assassination" of the manager. At last Sunday's FA Cup tie at Northampton, Magnier was the target for some bitter abuse from the away fans. "The supporters have told you what they think of this football club and the signing of Saha and Ruud van Nistelrooy agreeing a new contract that will keep him here for five years tells you what the long-term future is," Ferguson remarked.

"This is a well-run football club. You are seeing clubs going into administration left, right and centre. We are making profits and winning cups. That's not a badly-run club."

However, although Magnier did ask for negotiations on Ferguson's contract to be suspended while an independent review was conducted into United's transfer policy, he also supported the offer of a fixed-term deal being replaced by a one-year "rolling-contract". This has happened, although Ferguson denied the board had caved in to the head of the "Coolmore Mafia".

"Not at all. Peter Kenyon [United's former chief executive] spoke about it to me in July. It was only a basic point but David Gill followed it up. The thing that concerned me most was this thing about retirement. People were telling me I could go on as long as Bobby Robson but I don't look at it that way. I am in control. When I get to 65 I can decide whether I want to stay or go. Instead of signing a four-year contract and having to see it out, I might decide in two years' time that at the age of 65 that's enough."

Some members of the Old Trafford board are desperately hoping Ferguson might say "enough" to his legal action with Magnier, due to be heard in Dublin in 18 months' time, although the odds must be on an out-of-court settlement. Sources close to Ferguson say there is "no chance" of him withdrawing his action.

Amid all this there is a football match against Southampton to prepare for, although the players appear unconcerned about the off-field drama: "I don't think it's affecting these lads out there," Ferguson smiled. "They are still going along, still taking the mickey."

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