Ferguson fumes at Hackett's Chelsea meeting

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The Independent Online

Premier League officials reacted with a mixture of bemusement and anger last night after Sir Alex Ferguson described Keith Hackett's decision to hold a personal meeting with Jose Mourinho later this month as "absolutely ludicrous".

The Manchester United manager had said: "What is going on in this world? Does he ever go and meet Arsène Wenger or Rafael Benitez or this old guy here? Is the preference going out to Chelsea because they have had a bad decision against them?"

The Premier League's response was that Hackett, who heads the Professional Game Match Officials Board, always "had his door open" to any manager who wanted to talk. Moreover, he met Benitez just three weeks ago and Ferguson last season.

"Keith believes in communication with managers because it leads to better communication with officials," said a Premier League source. "Jose Mourinho is not getting any special treatment."

In addition, there are pre-season managers' meetings, which have become virtually compulsory, some clubs having sent junior coaching staff in the past. This, and Hackett's regular personal and telephone communication with managers, ought to be enough but in the modern game every club is seeking to gain an edge.

Ferguson further underlined the way managers are always looking to shape events by influencing individuals when he both praised Poll - and then doubted him. Asked whether he would like Poll to be in charge for Chelsea's visit to Old Trafford on 26 November, Ferguson said he was concerned the row might affect the appointment.

"I would in a way [like him to referee]. Graham Poll without question is the best referee we have got. Yes, he has got an arrogance and a cockiness about him at times, but when our players have got that we think it's good. When referees have it we think he's a big-headed so and so. We have had terrible decisions from him in the past and so have other clubs but that is because referees can make mistakes.

"He is the best at making the big decisions and that's why he gets the big games. But with all this controversy, I don't know whether it would be a good thing for him [to take charge]."

Ferguson also ridiculed suggestions that Poll might be prejudiced against Chelsea, pointing out that Poll was the referee in Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on 30 September and, in Ferguson's interpretation, he should have sent off Claude Makelele for fouling Juan Pablo Angel as the Villa striker went clear on goal.

"He should have sent Makelele off but didn't. They could have lost that game and had Makelele suspended. That maybe would have made a difference."

Poll is understood to be privately unhappy at the lack of public support from the Football Association to date but, yesterday, Brian Barwick, the chief executive, finally added his voice.

"It is not acceptable for referees to be subject to abusive and confrontational behaviour," he said. "The long-term health of football at all levels relies on recruiting and retaining referees. Without a referee, there is no game. Referees do a very difficult job professionally and objectively under often very difficult circumstances."

Barwick added the subject of respect for referees would be discussed at the regular meeting between the FA, leagues and referees next week.

Hackett said he could not say whether Poll would referee the Old Trafford match because the decision would only be made the Monday prior to the match "based on a number of criteria including form". But he did give Poll a ringing endorsement.

Referring to Poll's midweek dismissal of James McFadden, who admits he swore at Poll but claims he did not call the official a cheat, Hackett said: "If one uttered those words ['you're fucking shite'] to a policeman what do you think he would do? We're grown up about these things but there's a tolerance level and players have to be aware they have a responsibility to operate within the rules.

"Whatever way you look at the laws of association football, insulting language is a red-card offence. If you are operating as a professional player within this great game of ours you have to be aware of this responsibility."

Hackett added of Poll: "He will remain strong as a referee. We are talking about one of the top referees in England. He has just completed 300 Premier League games and is highly regarded in Europe. I want my top referee, who is performing well, to be available and he will be on duty [at Manchester City] today."

This should bring some relief for Poll. Stuart Pearce, City's manager, never criticises referees and Glenn Roeder, his Newcastle equivalent, rarely does. Poll will hope he gives them no reason to change.

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