Football: FA charge may bring long ban for Wright

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Ian Wright is facing the prospect of a lengthy suspension from the game after he was charged yesterday by the Football Association with misconduct.

The England striker was charged along with his Arsenal team-mate Patrick Vieira, the club's assistant manager Pat Rice and the Leicester City player Steve Walsh after the 3-3 draw at Filbert Street on Wednesday ended in ugly scenes. Where Wright stands apart from the others, however, is that he is already on probation after two indiscretions last April.

After fining Wright pounds 15,000, the disciplinary committee warned him then that it was his "last chance". That hearing was only two months ago and now a heavy financial penalty and a long suspension seem inevitable. On the basis of what he has said before, such a punishment could lead to Wright walking away from the game.

Brilliant and inflammable as a firework, Wright has trod a well worn route to Lancaster Gate since he was fined pounds 1,500 six years ago for spitting at and making obscene gestures to Oldham Athletic supporters. Now he has to account for Wednesday night, when he ran from the Arsenal substitutes' bench to confront first the referee, Graham Barber, and then Walsh. The two players appeared to square up to each other and to exchange angry words before they were dragged apart by team-mates and club officials.

Arsenal players had confronted Barber after the referee had played almost six minutes of injury time. In the 95th minute Walsh headed Leicester's equaliser in a 3-3 draw.

Barber reported Wright, Walsh and Vieira for "adopting an aggressive stance towards each other after the game". Rice is in trouble for "a conversation" afterwards in the referee's room.

Wright's case is likely to be severely undermined by the fact that he had been substituted in the 77th minute and was in the dug-out when the match ended. It was more than a quarter of an hour after his removal from the action that he ran 40 yards to sign his own disciplinary warrant.

Wright has sufficient regret about his past actions that he has undertaken counselling to curb his temper. However, before the FA gave him his last chance he had talked openly of "doing a Cantona" and retiring if the national association had come down hard on him.

"Opponents know I will always be in their face," he said a fortnight ago, "eyeballing them, on their backs. That is Premiership football. But I'm fighting hard with my image now." Not hard enough, it would seem.

Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, tried to defend his wayward striker, but even he appeared to lack true conviction. "I can say that Ian Wright was not one of the dirty players on the field," he said. "Maybe it would be too much to punish him.

"He cannot say anything or lift an arm without referees booking him now and I don't feel he deserves that. I don't think what happened was something important and I've seen more serious things on the field in the last few games."

In the summer it was suggested Wright might be banned for up to 12 games if he transgressed again. However, Martin O'Neill, Leicester's manager, said last night: "If Ian Wright was to be banned for 12 games for what happened on Wednesday it would be very, very harsh. Ian Wright is a bubbly character, but if he wasn't also a very good player there wouldn't be that much said about him. He is a character because of the ability and bravado that comes from within him. Yet if that was all he was we would consider him a clown, which he isn't.

"Ian is a great player. He's 33 but playing as well as he has ever done in his career and he is good for the game. Nobody wants to condone misbehaviour, but from what I saw of it the whole thing seemed a lot more scary than it really was."

O'Neill, who said he felt the referee had been justified in playing nearly six minutes of injury time, added: "From what I'd heard I expected to watch the television and see all sorts going on, but there were no fists flying, no physical contact, even if the players were pulled apart."

It was only three weeks ago, at the start of the season, that Alex Ferguson, Manchester United's manager, remembered Wright's flare-up with Peter Schmeichel last season and commented: "I couldn't believe it when the FA used him for their advertising campaign."

The disciplinary committee at Lancaster Gate will also be wondering about the wisdom of that this morning.

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