Furious Ferguson tries to uncover transfer leak 'mole'

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson has launched an internal investigation after the embarrassing allegations that his son, Jason, was involved in recent transfer deals at Manchester United as an agent.

Ferguson is angry that an official invoice to an agent working for United on the signing of the United States goalkeeper Tim Howard was leaked to a newspaper. Details of the payment and a subsequent fee to Mike Morris, one of Ferguson Jnr's associates at the Elite Sports company, were too precise to have come from anyone but a person involved in the move. And Ferguson is trying to trace the culprit, with his own suspicions about the man involved, and knows that he has intimate knowledge of the workings of the deal.

The precise information about how much was paid to the Swiss agent Gaetano Marotta is confidential and only known to United officials and the agent himself - who is highly unlikely to be the "mole", which brings the chase back to Manchester United itself.

Ferguson is sensitive just now because he is aware that the Irish shareholders John Magnier and JP McManus are believed to have hired private detectives to look into his alleged gambling habits. What now seems more worrying for the manager, who is still waiting on the board's approval of his long-term contract, is that there could be a "spy" inside - or previously inside - the camp.

In that line-up, the chief executive, David Gill, can safely be ruled out. He is very pro-Ferguson and denied that Jason Ferguson was involved with dealings involving Manchester United at the last annual general meeting. Gill would not do anything to upset Ferguson. He is new to the job and takes a "don't rock the boat" strategy to keep the manager happy and the share price high.

Most of the other Manchester United officials, both at football club and plc level, are supporters of the manager in public. But there has to be a leak or this story would never have got out. Ferguson was told to be careful in dealings with his son a couple of years ago in case it was seen as a conflict of interest, but it is an open secret that Elite are very influential at the club. The link to the Howard deal was a surprise, but the introduction of Marotta to the deal would have been done with club approval - from the chief executive Gill.

Possibly yet more irritating for Ferguson and Manchester United, the mole may also have information about two more signings last summer, the Brazilian Kleberson and Cristiano Ronaldo, of Portugal. Large fees were paid by United to the Portuguese agent Jorge Gama, who was brought in to do the Kleberson deal on their behalf, while the Italian Giovanni Branchini was shipped in for Ronaldo's transfer.

Picking agents to close deals is often seen as a "favour" to friends of the club for past help. But the links with Gama and Branchini are obscure. Whoever leaked the paper trail on the Howard deal may have more confidential information on these two cases and that is another reason why Ferguson is furious. One United insider revealed: "Sir Alex thinks he knows who did it, but it's still hard to prove."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's comeback from knee surgery has been delayed. Ferguson had pencilled in the Norwegian striker for a reserve outing at Birmingham tomorrow but the 30-year-old, whose recovery has taken longer than anticipated, has been given another week off. It is expected that Solskjaer, who has missed United's last 24 matches, will turn out for the reserves against Everton at Altrincham's Moss Lane ground on 22 January.

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