Earlier today, an Independent Regulatory Commission handed Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson a touchline suspension for three matches and a fine of £30,000. This followed Ferguson’s comments about Martin Atkinson’s performance in the Chelsea-United game two weeks ago when he questioned Atkinson’s ‘strength’ to referee games of this intensity.
The Commission also invoked a two match suspended touchline ban relating to a previous charge of ‘improper conduct’ in relation to media comments (i.e. referee criticism) made in October 2009.
Therefore Sir Alex Ferguson will be serving a five match touchline ban commencing on Tuesday 22 March 2011. This makes him available for the Bolton game but unavailable for the next four Premier League games (West Ham, Fulham, Everton and Arsenal) plus the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City.
That’s the background. Now for some thoughts:
1. The FA will send a written version of the decision to Ferguson within the next 24 hours, after which he has 48 hours to make an appeal (if he chooses). Given Ferguson’s statements on the charges made by the FA, I would be surprised if he didn’t appeal this decision. That could result in an extended suspension, and given how the public opinion is strongly against the United manager on this one, an appeal is unlikely to sway FA or the Commission.
2. Missing 5 games is harsh, and while Ferguson’s criticisms of the referee had some merit, he’s experienced enough to know better than to rant about it, even if it was to MUTV. There are far more appropriate (and effective) channels for communicating these issues than the front of a television camera. Ferguson deserves the ban, even if the motivations for it are driven by public opinion.
3. This is just a touchline ban, so Ferguson will be allowed in the dressing rooms. In effect it will mean handing the mid-game tactics / substitutions to Phelan / Meulensteen, but I doubt it will create a strong enough obstacle for United to start losing games. It’s more of a public admonishment / embarassment for the club, calculated to make an example out of the longest-serving and most powerful manager in English football.
4. The core issue remains unsolved – referees not making the right calls at crucial times and more importantly, unassisted by technology and off-pitch staff to help them deal with key incidents. This lack of assistance – although I’m sure the FA and the referees association will disagree – also stems from inconsistent application of the rules handed to referees. The decisions made in the last 3 United-Chelsea matches have been flawed – and Fergie is right when he says you hope that you get a strong referee for these games.
As the BBC points out:
The veteran manager may consider himself a little unlucky about the severity of the punishment as he did temper his remarks in the MUTV interview by changing his initial comment about wanting a “fair referee” to the less contentious “strong referee”.
But the FA has clearly taken into account the final warning he was effectively given last season for criticising Wiley and the fact he contested these charges.
And when talking about other punishments handed out to managers:
In terms of how the punishment compares to other touchline bans handed out in British football, it is the longest of Ferguson’s career but three games less than the two consecutive bans Celtic manager Neil Lennon is currently serving in Scotland.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was given a 12-game ban from the dugout for pushing a fourth official in 2000 but that was reduced to one game on appeal.
5. Ah yes, Arsene Wenger. It will be interesting to see what treatment he gets from the FA after the Sunderland comments or from UEFA after the Barcelona tie.
6. For United, it’s best to move on from this quickly and focus on the challenge of winning the league (or at least their next few league matches). The siege mentality at the club will be strengthened by this ban and the unjustness of the world collaborating against Manchester United, but if it is to work in their favour, everyone at the club (including Ferguson) needs to move on and focus on winning the next game.