Mark Fleming: Scorn for officials damns Manchester United

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson and his players became obsessed with the position of referee Martin Atkinson when Chelsea scored the winning goal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. They should have been more concerned about the position of goalscorer John Terry.

Three United players have criticised Atkinson, but where were they when Terry was heading Chelsea into a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League? The only person who challenged Terry when Frank Lampard curled the ball towards the Manchester United goal was his Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka. The nearest man in a red shirt was John O'Shea, who did not contest Terry for the ball.

There is a theory that sometimes Ferguson whinges on and on about referees to mask the failings of his own team, a theory that his reaction to Sunday's defeat only added to. Rather than accept United defended poorly at the goal, Ferguson couldn't wait to pillory Atkinson.

Ferguson's serial whinging about officials is in danger of tarnishing the legacy of his glorious reign that has incorporated 11 league titles. While he was charged for his criticism of Alan Wiley in September, more often than not he is allowed to get away with his low level, carefully worded grumbling.

The FA's decision not to charge Ferguson for his comments at Stamford Bridge gives weight to the belief that the rules are somehow more elastic when they concern the United manager. But then for years Ferguson has been allowed to do things differently from other managers.

Ferguson's scorn for officials has infected the whole game, and in its failure to censure him the FA has effectively doomed its own Respect campaign.