Last updated : 11 January 2004 By Editor
The Sunday Times has reported today:

‘The Football Association is to investigate a £2.3m deal
that brought Manchester United's American goalkeeper to Old
Trafford after allegations of hidden payments to agents. The
Sunday Times has uncovered evidence that a six-figure sum
was paid to an agent who is a business partner of Jason
Ferguson, son of Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager. The
FA inquiries raise fresh questions about conflicts of
interest in transfers involving Ferguson and his son's
company, the Elite Sports Group. The Old Trafford board
warned Ferguson two years ago to avoid dealing with his
son's company to prevent the appearance of impropriety.

‘However, inquiries into the secret transactions surrounding
the transfer of the American Tim Howard have uncovered
involvement by Jason's agency and his close business

‘David Davies, the FA's executive director, said: "Various
documents are now in our possession. They will be studied
very carefully and any breach of the rules and regulations
that they show will then be discussed as a matter of

There is more though…

‘For Ferguson, Howard’s purchase solved a problem position
that had hampered his team’s attempts to win the European
Champions League for the second time. For his son Jason, a
football agent, there was reason for celebration as well. On
the face of it, Jason Ferguson had no connection with the
transfer. Nor should he have had.

‘Senior sources at United have confirmed that Ferguson Sr
was warned by the Old Trafford board two years ago that he
should avoid potential conflicts of interest arising from
his son’s involvement in any of the club’s transfers.

‘Manchester United paid a six-figure sum in commission for
the Howard deal to Gaetano Marotta, an obscure Swiss
football agent. Leaked internal documents show that Marotta
promptly passed the lion’s share of this cash, £139,000, to
Mike Morris, a Monaco-based tax exile who runs the World
Football agency.

‘Marotta and Morris have close financial ties with Jason's
Elite agency. Elite allows Morris to use its Manchester
offices, pays his mobile phone bills and they share the same
financial and legal advisers.

‘United's spokesman said he was not aware of the business
relationships between the three agencies. He also said the
club had no knowledge of any involvement by Morris or Elite
in the Howard transfer.

‘A director at the club said: "This relationship is not
known by the club. It would raise questions. As a board, as
a public company, you are concerned about conflicts [of
interest] all the way along. That has been made clear to Sir
Alex in relation to Elite."

‘On Friday, Jason denied his company had an agreement with
Marotta and that Elite had been involved in the Howard deal.
"There is no partnership agreement between our firm and
Marotta. We were not involved in the transfer of Tim
Howard," he said.’

And more still…

‘Four years ago Jason Ferguson was a producer of Sky’s live
Premiership programme. Since then, his move into the sports
agency business has been a resounding success.

‘Insiders believe that one of the reasons for his success,
apart from having the kudos of being the son of the United
manager, is his link to Morris’s World Football firm.

‘On paper they are not connected. Neither is a director of
the other’s company. Documents seen by The Sunday Times
show, however, just how close is the relationship between
the two agents.

‘Documents show that Elite has made several five-figure
payments to Morris in relation to transfers of players,
including £30,000 for the transfer of Ivan Campo from Real
Madrid to Bolton Wanderers.

‘Manchester United denies that there is any special link
between Elite, Morris and the club. However, Jason Ferguson
not only negotiated his father’s new contract as manager but
Elite has also run a number of prestigious testimonial
events for United figures, including for his father and for
the star player Ryan Giggs.

‘Furthermore, Morris and Francis Martin, an Elite director,
recently travelled with the team on a pre-season tour of

‘Spanish-speaking Martin, 36, is a key figure in Elite,
which he set up with Jason Ferguson and David Gardner, the
former Manchester United youth player and one of David
Beckham’s closest confidants. Martin is close friends with
Morris and is Elite’s only agent registered with Fifa,
football’s governing body.’

And more…

‘Early last year, Sunderland football club suspected Jason
Ferguson and Morris of attempting to unsettle David Bellion,
its young star French player, and of trying to take him to
Old Trafford. Morris is Bellion’s agent.

‘When Manchester United infuriated Sunderland further by
claiming that it could sign the player for free, Murray
countered by threatening to reveal to a Football Association
(FA) tribunal details of Morris’s and Jason Ferguson’s
illegal approaches. United quickly relented and handed over
£2m for the player.

‘According to documents seen by The Sunday Times, Morris
earned £358,800 from Manchester United for his work in
securing Bellion.’

The details of the Howard deal are:

‘When it came to the deal to bring in Howard from New York,
United retained Gama Sports, a Swiss-based company, to
conduct its negotiations with Howard over his personal

‘SportsNet, Howard’s American agent, was unimpressed when
Marotta contacted it to say that he acted for Manchester
United. His English was so poor that SportsNet could not
believe that the world’s biggest football club would retain
him as its negotiator. An Italian-speaking agent was drafted
in to translate for him.

‘Dan Segal of SportsNet said: “I was initially sceptical of
(Marotta) but he kept insisting that he was their authorised
representative. I had never met or heard of this guy before
and I was so sceptical initially that I didn’t even return
his call.

‘A Manchester United spokesman said yesterday that Marotta
had been brought in to help Howard to obtain a work permit
to play in England. The spokesman could not explain how
Marotta, as a Swiss-based agent with no apparent expertise
in English immigration law, was able to help. When pressed,
he said: “You can keep asking — we’re not going to give you
an answer.”

‘The Sunday Times has seen Morris’s invoice to Marotta’s
company for work on the Howard deal. Written in French it
demands $225,000 (£139,000) as “commission concerning
signing of player Tim Howard with Manchester United FC”.

‘Morris confirmed that he had a rolling agreement with
Marotta but denied that he had been involved in the Howard
deal. He refused to comment on his invoice to Marotta in
relation to the transfer.

‘“I did not have any performance on that deal,” he said, but
declined to answer further questions. Jason Ferguson denied
that he or his company was involved in the Howard deal.
“There is no partnership agreement between our firm and
Marotta,” he added.’