FA blow it: Ferguson allowed to resume abusing referees unabated

Ferguson free to rant again; Photo by Austin Osuide

Alex Ferguson is a very good manager. But he also brings the game into disrepute with his constant abuse of match officials. There was a glimmer of hope that the Football Association was starting to get serious about managers and players intimidating referees when Ferguson was given a 2 game touchline ban with 2 more games suspended for remarks about referee Alan Wiley.

The suspension of the final two games was supposed to serve as a check on Ferguson’s antics, but in two successive weeks the Man U manager has gone back to his typical tirades and the FA have given him a complete pass. Instead of being a deterrent, this episode has just given Premier League managers the green light to whine, complain, and otherwise abuse match officials making a mockery of the FA’s “Respect Campaign.”

Ferguson got into trouble for questioning whether Alan Wiley was actually fit enough to referee Premier League matches, claiming that the pace of the game in a 2-2 draw with Sunderland in October was too much for him. Many were surprised, me included, when the FA handed Ferguson the ban and fine and criticized him for “grossly improper and wholly inappropriate” comments. There was hope after FA actually punished Ferguson, but even more because they also included a mechanism that was designed to keep him from returning to form after the original 2 game suspension. It was assumed that Ferguson would have to curtail his regular rants after United lose or draw. Or not.

On January 3, Man U lost a famous FA Cup 3rd round match to League One side Leeds 1-0 at Old Trafford – the first time the club had gone out of a knockout competition to a lower league team during Ferguson’s 25 years at United. Of course, Ferguson fixed the blame on the referee for only awarding 5 minutes of extra time at the end of the match. Only 5 minutes, seriously. The red-faced manager described the decision of referee Chris Foy as an “insult to the game and the players out there.” The FA apparently looked at those comments and decided they did not warrant the imposition of the further two game ban.

On January 10, Man U drew against Birmingham 1-1 and had midfielder Darren Fletcher sent off for two bookable offenses. Predictably, Ferguson directed his ire at the referee, “It’s absolutely ridiculous, really. I’ve been watching Mark Clattenburg this season. He did the Arsenal-Tottenham game – you had to have someone hit with an ax before he’d book anyone in that game, and he sends a player off here.” But Clattenburg wasn’t alone, “the linesman gives offside for our goal – it’s an own goal, and he gives offside!” After this second offense in as many matches, and FA spokesperson said, “No action will be taken in relation to Sir Alex Ferguson.”

Ferguson’s comments against Clattenberg were unbelievable – he’s been watching him – and clearly calculated to send a message to other officials. We are likely now to see much more of this boorish behavior from Ferguson as United continue to lose and draw games because their team just isn’t as good as it has been in the past.

This episode has left the FA in a worse position when trying to prevent abuse of match officials than they were before the initial Ferguson ban. The Scot has called their bluff about keeping his rants in check and every other manager and player will have noticed. Question, criticize, castigate the referees; but whatever you do, don’t call them fat!

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