Five-game ban leaves Ferguson stunned
Red Devils boss to miss key clashes with Arsenal and Manchester City
Alex Ferguson is to discuss with advisers at Manchester United today whether to appeal against a five-match touchline ban and £30,000 fine that have left him furious and stunned.
Ferguson received the punishment for criticising referee Martin Atkinson and will now be banished to the stands for United's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Wembley next month -- which is understood to be central to his fury with the Football Association regulatory commission's verdict.
Ferguson's attempts to escape a touchline ban for comments relating to Atkinson's performance in the 2-1 defeat against Chelsea this month backfired spectacularly when the FA hearing dismissed his argument.
With Ferguson's FA crime sheet including a two-match suspended touchline ban for claiming Alan Wiley was "unfit" to referee in October 2009, the four-man commission, which was chaired by an independent barrister, was duty bound to apply that outstanding penalty to the three-match touchline suspension delivered as punishment on this occasion.
And having received fines of £5,000, £10,000 and £20,000 for criticising officials, the £30,000 fine was imposed because of his repeat offending. Following the Chelsea defeat, during which Atkinson awarded the home side a penalty and sent off United captain Nemanja Vidic, Ferguson condemned the West Yorkshire official's performance by saying: "We need a fair referee and a strong referee and we didn't get one."
Ferguson also claimed that he "feared the worst" when learning of Atkinson's appointment for the fixture, a season after the same referee had angered the United manager during a 1-0 defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Those comments, given to United's in-house channel, MUTV, prompted the charge of improper conduct which has now resulted in Ferguson's heavy punishment.
Should the 69-year-old accept the five-match touchline ban and heavy fine, his suspension will start with the Premier League clash with Bolton at Old Trafford on Saturday.
He will then be banned from the dugout for the league game at West Ham on April 2, the home fixture against Fulham on April 9, the semi-final against Manchester City on April 16/17 and the Old Trafford encounter with Everton on April 23.
Ferguson could return for the Everton game if the trip to Newcastle, which clashes with the FA Cup semi-final, is rearranged, as planned, for April 19 or 20. However, Ferguson has 48 hours in which to lodge an appeal against the commission's judgment and, should he choose to fight the verdict, he will be free to patrol the technical area against Bolton this weekend.
The fear of receiving an additional game to his ban, which could mean he is banned from the touchline for the potential title-decider against Arsenal at the Emirates on May 1, is expected to influence his decision on whether to appeal.
Ferguson and advisers familiar with the FA's disciplinary process will receive a written explanation of the commission's findings today.
Ferguson's defence during the three-hour hearing centred on his belief that his comments about Atkinson had been misconstrued and misinterpreted and that his claim that United wanted a "fair referee" was not intended to cast aspersions on the official's integrity.
The commission proved unsympathetic to his explanation, however. Ferguson is expected to speak publicly on his suspension for the first time when he holds his pre-match press conference ahead of the Bolton game at United's Carrington training ground this morning.
After being charged by the FA, Ferguson imposed a nine-day media blackout, claiming that the "spotlight was burning on us so brightly that the best policy at that point was least said, soonest mended."
In his programme notes for United's FA Cup tie at home to Arsenal last Saturday, though, Ferguson gave a detailed explanation of his plans to defend himself at his disciplinary hearing.
"I will be defending myself strongly when my FA appeal hearing comes up," he wrote. "I felt aggrieved and I now face an FA charge for what, to my mind, was simply telling the truth.
"In fact, I am looking forward to the challenge because I have not said anything out of place, however much the media urge the FA to take action. I won't be on the back foot when I put my case to the FA. I don't think sticking up for my team makes me a villain, especially when you consider that Manchester United have one of the best disciplinary records in the country." (© Daily Telegraph, London)