The referees' union last night accused the Football Association of “flunking” an opportunity to make an example of Sir Alex Ferguson, despite him becoming the first manager to be banned from the touchline for making post-match comments about officials.
Ferguson will miss two games for his declaration that Alan Wiley “just wasn't fit enough” to take charge of United's 2-2 draw with Sunderland last month and he faces a further two-match ban suspended until the end of next season.
But the Prospect union, which had hoped to see Ferguson banned for as many as five matches, attacked the judgment of the FA's four-man tribunal.
“From our point of view it is disappointing. The Football Association had a chance to make a point and they flunked it,” said Alan Leighton, national secretary of officials' union Prospect. “To question the fitness of a referee is to question his ability to do the job and his integrity. We don't think this is sending the right message out to other managers.”
Ferguson is understood to be satisfied both with the two-and-a-half hour hearing in London and the ruling, which will also see him fined £20,000 and he has no intention of appealing it.
That he will not be doing so is mildly surprising, given that Peter Griffiths QC, who chaired the Football Association regulatory commission revealed last night that Ferguson had been discriminated against — and handed a stiffer penalty — because of who he is.
“Each member of the commission (which includes former Northern Ireland international Colin Murdock, now a trainee solicitor) recognised Sir Alex Ferguson's achievements and stature within the game,” he said. “Having said that, it was made clear to Sir Alex that with such stature comes increased responsibilities.
“The commission considered his admitted remarks, in the context in which they were made, were not just improper but were grossly improper and wholly inappropriate. He should never have said what he did say.”
And Leighton also suggested that Ferguson's “stature within the game” should have led to a heavier penalty.
“This is not a personal vendetta against Sir Alex but he has [a] stature and if he is seen to be getting off lightly other managers may think what he said was not beyond the pale. What is interesting is that the commission thought the comments were not just improper but were grossly improper and wholly inappropriate.”
Ferguson's touchline ban begins when United's Premier League campaign resumes after the international break with a Saturday evening kick-off against Everton on November 21.
He will return to the dug-out for the Champions League encounter with Besiktas four days later before having to sit in the stands at Fratton Park, Portsmouth, the following Saturday.