James Lawton: Ferguson must not be beyond the law

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The Independent Football

I'm told that it will take a combination of the best brains of the Inns of Court and perhaps even the Society of Jesus to bring a satisfactory conclusion to the dispute between Sir Alex Ferguson and his erstwhile racing patron John Magnier over the breeding rights of the great miler Rock of Gibraltar.

Less challenging is a verdict on Ferguson's touchline behaviour at St James' Park at the weekend, when it was alleged that he accused a referee's assistant of cheating. Ferguson, a knight of the realm and an elder statesman of the game, was plainly out of order at every level including the basic one of allowing the nation such easy lip-reading of his liberal use of the F word. What Ferguson cannot be allowed to get away with, despite the provocation of the truly awful decision not to penalise the Newcastle defender, Andy O'Brien, for a blatant last-defender foul, is any sense that his achievements have put him beyond the football law. He stepped badly over that line when he accused his old bête noire, David Elleray, the Harrow housemaster, of dishonest officiating, and the Football Association are bound to act strongly if a similar offence is proven.

The link in these controversies, of course, is Ferguson's fierce jealousy of his rights. In both cases his sense of grievance is high, and the fact that in one case millions of pounds are involved and in the other merely a passing quirk of imperfect football justice is quite beside the point. You do not mess with Ferguson's concept of how the world should work. It will always be his first article of war.

Roeder pays price for making two mistakes

Not too much sentiment should be expended on the fall of Glenn Roeder. No doubt he showed great determination in coming back to work at West Ham after serious illness, but it was work he frankly never truly mastered, and it is probably fair to say that Harry Redknapp was not the first to commiserate. Redknapp gave Roeder a job, then watched him step smartly into his own shoes while raising question marks against the squad he inherited - one which, frankly, was strong enough to make relegation seem more or less unthinkable.

It is the way of football, of course, and if Roeder has any recriminations now they should be directed at himself. He made two crucial mistakes. He didn't construct the beginnings of an adequate defence. And he didn't insist on ridding himself of the shocking, self-serving dressing-room and terrace influence of Paolo Di Canio.