England's richest and most successful football club, Manchester United, will hold an internal investigation into recent player transfers.

The move is seen as an attempt to head off an escalating battle between the coach Alex Ferguson and the club's biggest shareholder, horse racing magnate John Magnier.

Manchester United chairman Roy Gardner and the board of directors released a long statement to the Stock Exchange to defend the club's transfer procedures and try to defuse the growing furor. It has been roiled by accusations of irregularities involving the signings of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, Brazilian midfielder Kleberson and French forward David Bellion.

Magnier and J.P. McManus, who together own more than 25 percent of Manchester United Shares, want an independent audit of recent deals, especially those that brought in the foreign players.

Surrounding this is the fact that Magnier and coach Ferguson used to be friends. But but the friendship broke up over Ferguson's disputed claim for half the hugely lucrative stud fees set to be earned by Rock of Gibraltar, the champion racehorse they co-own. Ferguson is suing Magnier.

Magnier and McManus called on club officials to halt negotiations over Ferguson's proposed new contract pending investigation of the transfers.

The controversy has called manager Alex Ferguson's position into question, with the club's biggest stockholders opposing moves to give him a two-year contract extension.