The Football Association today charged Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson with improper conduct after calling referee Alan Wiley “unfit”. Ferguson’s comments followed United’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland a fortnight ago and the Scot faces a likely touchline ban when he is inevitably found guilty by the FA.
“Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been charged with improper conduct,” the FA said in a statement today.
“The charge relates to media comments made by Ferguson about referee Alan Wiley following United’s match against Sunderland at Old Trafford on 3 October. He has until 3 November to respond to the charge.”
Ferguson, who has since apologised to Wiley for causing “unintended personal embarrassment,” accused the Burntwood-born official of not being fit enough to referee a game of Premier League standard.
“My only intention in speaking publicly was to highlight what I believe to be a serious and important issue in the game,” said Ferguson in mitigation at the weekend.
“Namely that the fitness levels of referees must match the ever increasing demands of the modern game, which I hope will now be properly addressed through the appropriate formal channels.”
It was an apology dismissed by the referees’ union chief Alan Leighton as “half-hearted” and the FA – keen to make a scapegoat out of Ferguson – will punish the United manager, possibly with a five match touchline ban. Leighton had called for a UEFA-style ban, which would prevent the Scot from all coaching.
The FA, which acts as judge, jury and executioner in disciplinary cases, normally finds those it accuses guilty. However, the Association has never issued a touchline ban relating to remarks made to the media. Given the intense pressure being placed by the referee’s union, Soho Square is likely to set a precedent in Ferguson’s case.
The Scot has twice been banned by the FA from the touchline for two games – first in 2003 for lecturing Jeff Winter and then in 2007 after an outburst about Mark Clattenburg. But in each case the offence took place on the pitch, not in the media.
Indeed, the FA leaves itself open to accusations of hypocrisy if it issues a ban. And not solely for repeatedly setting disciplinary precedents when dealing with United.
Last week an FA disciplinary committee warned Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez after the Spaniard ridiculed Phil Dowd’s eyesight in a post match press conference. The Spaniard, who is not immune to criticising officials, mockingly put on his glasses when asked what he thought of Dowd’s performance in the Scousers’ 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in August.
At the hearing the FA told Benitez that his actions were “objectively offensive” and found him guilty of misconduct but conspicuously failed to issue any punishment.
When the FA, as is inevitable, issues Ferguson with an extended touchline ban in early November then the organisation must explain why questioning a referees fitness is so much more serious than suggesting an official is blind.
It’s a question of hypocrisy that the FA is unlikely to concern itself with answering.