Last updated : 18 January 2004 By Editor

From The Observer:

The increasingly bitter feud between Sir Alex Ferguson and John Magnier reached a new low last night when it emerged that the law firm representing the Irish racing tycoon has asked a second private detective agency to investigate the Manchester United manager.

Magnier's side has already admitted that it employs Kroll Associates, the global gumshoe agency that is considered by many to be the leader in its field.

But The Observer has learned that Clifford Chance, the law firm which represents Magnier, asked several of London's leading investigations agencies to pitch for a special assignment back in December. It has subsequently emerged that the brief was to investigate Ferguson's financial dealings.

The news is likely to alarm the United board of directors who are dismayed that the highly public row between the two men is damaging the club's profile. Magnier - along with his business partner J.P. McManus - owns almost a quarter of the football club and the board is increasingly concerned that the row will only be resolved when one of the men breaks links with Old Trafford.

Intelligence sources suggested there were a number of reasons why a second firm of private detectives had become involved in the battle. 'It may be because Kroll's cover has been blown. Under the rules of the Data Protection Act Ferguson could ask to see what ever they have uncovered - providing it is not germane to the impending court case,' said one private investigator. 'It could also be that Kroll haven't found anything and that this represents another throw of the dice.'

However sources close to Magnier insisted that the feud would not affect the club. 'This is about the horse. Magnier has €250 million invested in the club. Forcing Ferguson out of United would cost him money - and he's too shrewd a businessman for that.'

Fergie, according to the papers, is really up against it now. Kroll's involvement shows Magnier is playing hardball. It was Kroll who practically invented the modern-day private investigations industry. Kroll employees are the Wall Street gumshoes who trigger fear in the boardroom. They are the Rolls Royce of private eyes who unearthed Saddam Hussein's hidden millions. Even the word 'Kroll' sounds vaguely threatening. On the hiring of a new employee, many a chief executive has been known to ask the human resources manager: 'Have you Krolled him?