Sir Alex Ferguson has been branded a “bully” over his latest verbal onslaught on a referee and warned that Manchester United could face a backlash from outraged match officials.
The Football Association (FA) has asked Ferguson to explain why he labeled referee Alan Wiley as “unfit” after United’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The move represents the first step toward a possible charge of improper conduct that could result in the Scot being fined or banned from the touchline for a number of matches.
Ferguson’s comments, widely interpreted as being designed to distract attention from a sub-par display by his side and the latest in a string of errors by goalkeeper Ben Foster, have caused outrage among leading English referees.
That fury was articulated by Jeff Winter, now retired but until recently one of England’s top match officials, who said he would not be surprised if Wiley decided to sue the United boss over the damage he had caused to his reputation.
“It was a cowardly attack — Sir Alex wouldn’t have said it to Alan Wiley’s face,” Winter told the Guardian newspaper.
“Every game Alan Wiley takes charge of now where he makes a decision which upsets some fans is going to result in chants of ‘You’re not fit to referee,’ he’s going to be known as the ‘unfit ref,’” Winter said. “Sir Alex won’t care though. He’s a knight of the realm and he thinks he’s untouchable, bullet proof.”
“But he’s also a bully. He spoke at Sir Bobby Robson’s memorial service a couple of weeks ago and said he’d learnt a lot from Sir Bobby. But he hadn’t, they were totally different, Sir Bobby was a gentleman. He was humble and had respect for people,” Winter added.
Winter predicted that the anger among referees would affect how they handle future matches at Old Trafford.
“I think Sir Alex may have overstepped the line this time and he may be about to get his come-uppance,” Winter added. “I think referees will be so incensed about this that Sir Alex may find that United no longer get the benefit of the doubt on certain decisions.”
Wiley’s handling of the United match on Saturday had not resulted in any particular controversy but Ferguson nevertheless criticized the official in a post-match interview with the club’s in-house television station.
“He [Wiley] was not fit enough for a game of that standard,” Ferguson said. “The pace of the game demanded a referee who was fit. He was not fit. It is an indictment of our game. You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher’s dogs. We have some who are fit. He wasn’t fit. He was taking 30 seconds to book a player. He was needing a rest. It was ridiculous.”
At 49, Wiley is one of the oldest referees officiating at the top level in England but his supporters have stressed that his fitness, like that of other officials, is subjected to weekly monitoring and a demanding annual assessment.
The Times reported that Wiley ran more than 11km during the match — more than most of United’s stars.
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