Ian Herbert: FA is caught between a rock and a hard place

A touchline ban would set a precedent that damns Ferguson purely for who he is

It was a classic Ferguson distraction technique, of course. Manchester United had just spent much of the early evening labouring against Sunderland, requiring a large slice of fortune and an even larger deflection off Anton Ferdinand for an equaliser in a game which illustrated the deficiencies which we know more about now, a month or so on. They're why United are five points off the top of the Premier League table.

The comments the manager offered in the aftermath were more unpleasant and visceral than many he has delivered before and since at referees. To suggest Alan Wiley was unfit was the obvious, easy hit. He's 49 – only Peter Walton is as old among the refs – and he happens to be short and stocky, which doesn't mean fat and slow. The indignation Ferguson has prompted is justified, but consider this: would it be anywhere near as furious if another manager had made the comments? No. Had Sam Allardyce, David Moyes or any other referee who questions officials made the claim then they would be fined this morning, just like every other manager bar none who has overstepped the mark in the media in the past. Making Ferguson the first manager to be banned from the touchline would be a precedent which damns him purely for who he is.

The FA is certainly damned if it does not. The referees' union has talked of a libel suit if a ban is not laid down and there has been rumour of a five-game exclusion. Let the referees sue, in that case. If a successful libel suit is waged and managers face the same threat of slander as all other individuals who speak their mind without thought, then they really would think before they jump in.

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