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Ferguson bugged by spying threat

Alex Ferguson said yesterday that he is concerned about the threat of espionage after the revelation that conversations between England players and coaches were secretly recorded and offered for sale.

The Manchester United boss and his team were bugged in 2004, when a radio transmitter was planted in the home dressing room at Old Trafford. The device captured Ferguson's tactics and team-talk before a match against Chelsea. The spies also tried to sell the recordings to a newspaper, and United now employ security staff to do regular sweeps of their dressing rooms.

The illicit England tape, which is believed to contain tactical details and a discussion about win bonuses, is a setback for Fabio Capello as he prepares for the World Cup finals.

"We had that before," Ferguson said. "You have to be concerned. Preparation involves discretion and secrecy. I haven't revealed one bit of my tactics ahead of the match (against AC Milan tonight). I haven't been asked.

"And do you know why? Because I wouldn't tell anyone. Why should I tell anyone? Capello may have been discussing some important issues about his team. All of a sudden someone else has got it. It is a concern."

The recordings are believed to have been made by a member of the public at England's pre-match base -- The Grove Hotel near north London -- before last week's friendly against Egypt at Wembley. The hotel said that it provides a "very high" level of security, in addition to the FA's measures.

However, the incident will be a concern for The Grove and any hotel with a reputation to protect that hosts important meetings and rich or famous guests. A security expert yesterday said that corporate espionage is a growing threat that is hard to defend against. "Eavesdropping is extremely common in the modern age, given the ease with which one can buy bugs and recording devices on the high street, from £40 for a thumb-sized audio recorder up to thousands of pounds for very sophisticated equipment," said Steve Beels, the London head of corporate risk at risk management specialists Lynceus.

"It would not surprise me if that sort of activity was occurring around football, given the remuneration that individuals can get for selling stories.

"Good hotel security would take all measures necessary to protect the privacy of their clients. But it's difficult for a hotel, which is essentially a public place where the public don't want to be greatly restricted."


"A room can be bugged in numerous ways -- via a tape recorder disguised as a fountain pen that can sit undetected in a jacket pocket, for example, or with a long-range microphone. The threat of this type of activity has existed for many years, but incidents like this one do concentrate the mind."

Fifa already has an extensive plan in place to guard team hotels at the World Cup finals this summer.

"Security will monitor the floors occupied by the teams on a 24-hour basis, with access to hotels limited to individuals with the appropriate accreditation," a Fifa document states.

Denmark accused their Chinese hosts of spying on a team meeting at the 2007 women's World Cup finals. The Danes said two men with video cameras were found sitting behind a glass mirror in the squad's hotel.

Other cases include the Formula One 'Spygate' scandal in 2007 and claims from England, Scotland, Australia and Argentina that they were spied on at Rugby World Cup 2003.

© The Times, London