Suspension futile in light of the reality
For those Manchester United fans complaining Alex Ferguson did not deserve to be punished for his comments about Martin Atkinson, well he hasn't really. Unlike Uefa's version, the FA's touchline ban is not a proper spell on the naughty step.
Five games appears a lengthy stretch but FA restrictions are actually few. Ferguson can address his players before kick-off. He will not need to be smuggled into the United dressing-room at half-time in a laundry basket or disguised as Fred the Red.
Ferguson can walk from his seat in the directors' box, wander through the stand, a free man. He can enter the tunnel area, stroll into United's lair, deliver his usual interval talk and administer any tactical tweaks. Uefa's touchline ban is far more stringent, exiling the manager from his players.
When news broke yesterday of Ferguson's five-game ban, effectively three plus the suspended two for questioning Alan Wiley in 2009, there were a few oohs and aahs, even glowing commendations of the FA's apparent toughness.
At last, and not before time, it seemed the authorities were clamping down on the sort of serial dissent and post-match derision from managers such as Ferguson that makes some referees consider taking up a less stressful occupation, like lion-taming.
The FA's intentions are admirable enough: to protect referees by removing the miscreant manager from the officials' working environment. The blazers want to minimise Ferguson's contact with officials but not stop him working with his players.
So Ferguson cannot set foot into the technical area. Yet he can bump into referees in the tunnel before the game, at half-time and afterwards. According to the FA, the onus is on Ferguson not to interact with officials.
Self-policing in modern football. Ambitious. This is not a proper punishment for Ferguson; this is a minor re-jigging of his match-day seating arrangements.
As for that £30,000 fine, which incredibly the FA believes is a strong one, it will never be a deterrent to a multi-millionaire such as Ferguson.
If the FA seriously wanted to tackle outbursts it considered damaging to the integrity of referees then it would ban the manager from the stadium on matchday. That would have an impact on the manager's ability to manage. For a second offence by the manager (with the same club) the FA should deduct a point. But it won't because the Premier League is too powerful, and club lawyers too sharp.
So are United harmed? Not really. The FA has unwittingly given Ferguson and United a cause. The Scot will be using this FA sanction to stoke United's fire even more. Always beware a team driven by a sense of injustice. Ferguson will drive them hard. (© Daily Telegraph, London)