Sir Alex Ferguson will plead guilty to the charge of improper conduct laid against him yesterday by the Football Association but remains convinced that he can keep the punishment limited to a fine.
Referees have insisted that Ferguson should be handed a touchline ban — a punishment unprecedented for a manager who is brought before the FA for media comments — after his suggestions that Alan Wiley was physically unfit to referee United's match against Sunderland at Old Trafford on October 3.
But the United manager remains confident that the FA will not go that far and that he can keep the damage strictly financial.
The FA have given Ferguson two weeks to respond to their charge and do not expect a response from him until that deadline, regardless of his plea. Though a contested hearing seems improbable, it is likely that he will see a personal hearing to put forward his own mitigating case to the independent regulatory commission which the FA will convene. The commission can expect to hear Ferguson's fiercely held view that a fair trial is impossible, given what he sees as a campaign being waged against him through the media by the refereeing fraternity and by Prospect, the referees' union, in particular.
Ferguson will discuss his next move with the club when he returns from United's Champions League groups stage tie in Moscow but his belief that he will receive only a fine flies in the face of demands from Prospect for something more severe and sug
gestions that Wiley should pursue the United manager through a civil court for libel of a ban of some description is not meted out. Either way, some substantial controversy appears to be stored up for next month, with media comments not yet subjected to the same fast track procedures as touchline behaviour in the FA's disciplinary system.
First, Ferguson has the tricky obstacle of CSKA Moscow to negotiate. United have not won in five encounters against Russian opposition.