MORE SUNDAY TIMES DIGGING
Sports Group football agency was paying hidden inducements
to 21-year-old French player David Bellion before his
transfer from Sunderland. Elite was picking up the bills for
the player’s mobile phone and car in the period that United
were attempting to lure him to Old Trafford.
‘The deal was a source of controversy for several months
before it was finally clinched. Last January Bob Murray, the
Sunderland chairman, claimed attempts were being made to
unsettle the player and persuade him to move to United. In
an extraordinary outburst, he accused United of “shabby,
despicable, disrespectful, arrogant and unprofessional
behaviour”. He identified Jason Ferguson as one of the
agents who had made approaches — a claim denied by United.
‘Murray also pointed his finger at Mike Morris, a Monaco-
based tax exile who runs the World Football agency. Morris
is recognised in the football world as a business associate
of Jason Ferguson.
‘Between August 2001, a month after Bellion joined
Sunderland, and February 2003, following Murray’s outburst,
his mobile phone bills of more than £600 were paid by Elite.
Bellion’s car, believed to be a Volkswagen Golf, was
provided by a finance scheme that sources close to Elite
said cost the firm £4,800 a year.
‘When he moved to Manchester after signing for United, he
listed his address as an upmarket apartment in Worsley. The
property is owned by David Gardner, one of Elite’s four
named directors. The payments will raise questions about why
Elite was financing Bellion if, as it claims, it had no role
in the transfer of the player and therefore did not profit
from it. There is no suggestion that Bellion has breached
‘United, however, did pay Morris £358,000 for his work in
securing Bellion — an exceptionally high payment for a
relatively small transfer. The FA is now likely to inquire
whether Elite took a cut from Morris.
‘When there was a dispute between Sunderland and United last
summer over the transfer payment because the player was
technically a free agent, Murray had threatened to make
public detailed allegations about Jason Ferguson’s role in
the transfer. He dropped the threat last October when a fee
was agreed. He is now barred from discussing the matter as
Sunderland have signed a confidentiality contract with
‘Shareholders at United are known to be questioning whether
Jason Ferguson’s dealings in his father’s transfer deals
compromise the club, which is a public limited company.
‘Yesterday, a United director, who does not wish to be
named, said the disclosures were proving “embarrassing” and
will prompt questions from the board. He said the club was
unaware of the Bellion payments, which he described as
“highly unusual”, and added that the club will not tolerate
“any aspect” of Jason Ferguson’s involvement in its deals.
'“The minute one of his (Sir Alex’s) relatives becomes an
agent, that leaves him and the club open to criticism.
Manchester United is a public company and corporate
governance is high on the agenda,” he said.
‘Despite the warnings to Sir Alex to keep his son’s company
at arm’s length from transfers, Elite’s involvement appears
to have grown. The agency now acts for a number of young
rising stars at the club, including Darren Fletcher, billed
as the new David Beckham. Fletcher signed a four-year
contract worth around £1.5m in September, with Elite’s
commission estimated at £150,000.
‘Sir Alex has been criticised by a number of young United
prospects for putting pressure on them to sign up with
Jason’s Elite agency. Yesterday both United and Jason
Ferguson declined to comment on the Bellion allegations.
They have, however, previously denied Elite’s involvement in
the Bellion transfer in correspondence with The Sunday