Magnier's legal action damages hopes of a deal

Hopes of an imminent peace deal between Sir Alex Ferguson and John Magnier receded yesterday when Magnier took fresh court action against the Manchester United manager in their dispute over the stud rights to Rock of Gibraltar.

Weekend reports emanating from Manchester had claimed that Ferguson's lawyers were on the verge of offering a compromise deal to settle the row. One suggestion was that Ferguson would settle for a one-off payment in the low millions from Magnier rather than press for 50 per cent of fees that may eventually top £200m. If such a deal could be agreed, so the theory went, Ferguson would emerge with his pride intact and Magnier would "call off the dogs" in his pursuit of information about United's financial affairs.

Yesterday's court action and subsequent rumblings from Magnier's camp blew those possibilities out of the water. First, Magnier issued what is effectively a "put up or shut up" legal ultimatum to Ferguson over the latter's claim to half of the racehorse's stud earnings. That is unlikely to make Ferguson more amenable to settlement.

Second, it became evident that whatever happens in the Rock of Gibraltar case, Magnier and his business partner JP McManus will not cease their probing of United's affairs. "Their correspondence and dealings with the Manchester United board will be unaffected by the quite separate issue of Rock of Gibraltar," said a source close to Cubic Expression, the company through which the Irishmen own 25.49 per cent of United.

"Their focus remains the same," the source added, referring to demands from Cubic for an independent investigation into United's transfer dealings and answers to 99 questions about how the club is run.

The source denied any knowledge of a peace offer from Ferguson and said Cubic had had no contact with Ferguson or his representatives about any such deal.

Magnier's legal action yesterday involved filing a "motion to comply" on Ferguson in the High Court in Dublin. This, in effect, demanded that the United manager substantiate his claim for half of Rock of Gibraltar's stud fees. Magnier received this claim from Ferguson in December and reacted by requesting the "Particulars" of the claim - precise details about when, where and how a deal on the horse was supposedly struck.

Ferguson's legal team was given until 12 January to provide the Particulars but requested a seven-day submission extension, which was granted on 11 January. When no Particulars were forthcoming, two further extensions were granted. The last expired on 30 January.

"Alex Ferguson has now failed to meet three deadlines to provide details of his statement of claim," said the Cubic Expression source. "Now he will have to comply under the court order."

Magnier and McManus will maintain their pressure on United's board over corporate governance and, if necessary, call an EGM later this year to seek information.

Cubic's demand for greater transparency at United continues to have repercussions beyond the bounds of Old Trafford. Ferguson's son, Jason, who is director of the Elite Sports Group agency, is considering quitting his job. Ferguson Jnr and Elite have both been linked to transfer deals that Cubic want investigating. No directors at Elite were available for comment yesterday.

The unlikeliest location for fallout from the dispute is Taunton racecourse, a potential target today for protestors against Magnier and McManus. Protests have been encouraged by the influential Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association.

McManus has two horses due to run at Taunton today but the course's managing director, John Hills, declined to say whether security would be increased. "We review security for every meeting," he said. "This is no different."

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