Alex Ferguson dedicated just two paragraphs among his 350-page autobiography to the bitter row between him and his former friends, and Manchester United shareholders, JP McManus and John Magnier over the ownership of the racehorse Rock Of Gibraltar.
The row that blew up over the successful horse and Ferguson’s claim on the stud rights, consumed the club from Ferguson’s first legal action in January 2003 to the legal settlement in March 2004 and beyond to the Glazer takeover in May 2005. McManus and Magnier owned almost 30 per cent of the club and eventually sold out to the current owner, the Glazers.
Over that period, the two Irish investors’ Cubic Expression group applied serious pressure to Ferguson, forcing the then plc board into an internal investigation into the dealings of his son and agent Jason. Their famous leaked list of “99 questions” to the United board resulted in the investigation that saw Jason banned for representing further players at the club.
Asked about it in his press conference today, Ferguson said that he had an agreement with Magnier that neither would talk about it. In his autobiography, he wrote “we reached a settlement agreeing that there had been a misunderstanding on both sides.” He later added that he felt “awkwardness” when he was challenged on the saga by a fan at a club AGM but that “at no point was I sidetracked from my duties as manager of Manchester United”.
That explanation may not sit so well with supporters who felt that the episode in which the key figure at the club sued the major shareholders, unsettled United significantly. Others would also argue that it opened the door for the Glazer family takeover, which h as proved so unpopular.
To argue that the issue was simply a “misunderstanding” would be to grievously underplay a very bitter, unhappy dispute in which Ferguson originally claimed lost earnings on £110m, half the value of the Rock of Gibraltar, which won a record seven consecutive Group 1 races.