Irish pair 'deadly serious' about Ferguson claim

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The Independent Football

Manchester United have delivered their response to the 99 questions about corporate governance posed by John Magnier and JP McManus but are bracing themselves for fresh legal action by the Irishmen against Sir Alex Ferguson.

According to a source close to Cubic Expression, the company via which the racing tycoons own 25.49 per cent of United, the pair are "deadly serious" about a possible defamation claim against the United manager over comments he made last week.

The source also revealed that United's response to the 99 questions comprised a seven-page letter plus a six-page attachment. No one on either side was commenting on the level of detail in the document but the size suggests supplementary questions, if not overt dissatisfaction, could be imminent.

It was almost two weeks ago that Magnier and McManus wrote to United's chairman, Sir Roy Gardner, seeking details about United's past conduct that might possibly have fallen "short of best practice".

Among other things, the pair sought information on the amount of money paid to agents in 15 specific transfer deals dating back to Jaap Stam's arrival from PSV Eindhoven in 1999. They also questioned potential conflicts of interest in several working relationships at Old Trafford.

"We are going to give [United's replies] due consideration," the Cubic source said. "Once they have been fully digested, we'll consider what action to take next."

Magnier and McManus have already forced United to announce a "thorough internal review" of the club's finances and transfer dealings. That came in response to the pair's demand for an independent audit, which they still seek. Whether or not they will continue to press for one will depend on the outcome of the internal process but it seems unlikely that process will satisfy them.

Gardner and United's chief executive, David Gill, hope yesterday's answers will placate the Irishmen but realise the pair are still considering calling an extraordinary general meeting. They know that the current quest for transparency is inextricably linked to Ferguson's ongoing bitter dispute with Magnier over the stud rights to Rock Of Gibraltar. Thus they want a resolution to that case, if not to halt the Irishmen's probing then at least to encourage them to probe less publicly.

The potential defamation action follows remarks Ferguson made last week when he said his son Jason had had "a terrible time" because of "people stealing his mail, going through his bin bags and hiding in bushes. In the end he has had to call the police in. It is all a result of what we are reading about in terms of the transfer stuff."

Magnier and McManus are investigating whether Ferguson's comments could have been construed to implicate them. "We will write to the United board seeking the relevant material so we can make a judgment as to whether it is defamatory," said a source close to Cubic. "Any suggestion of involvement [by Magnier and McManus] would be damaging and untrue."

Requests for the transcripts of Ferguson's pre-match press conferences last Friday were issued on Tuesday and will now be checked for defamatory comments. The Irish camp strenuously deny having any involvement in stealing from or snooping on Ferguson Jnr.

"It is incomprehensible I would abuse my position at this club," Ferguson said last week. "I have been here 17 and a half years and nobody has ever raised a doubt about that. All of a sudden because of a private matter about a racehorse it is all coming out. It is not easy to take."