Blind loyalty on show at the lawyers' circus

Draconian. Savage. Unprecedented. The adjectives sprayed from the mouths of Rio's Friends, both m'learned and otherwise, once they had managed to close them sufficiently to react. Even those of us who had advocated that the England centre-back and his most vociferous defenders - his club and the Professional Footballers' Association - should stand back, breathe deeply and (while continuing to argue in his mitigation) accept any sanction and adopt a positive stance on anti-doping procedures, had to do a double-take at this punishment.

During a career in which any player's shelf-life is limited, eight months is a severe sentence, if judged in the context of the usual litany of mischief on which it falls upon Barry Bright and his disciplinary committee to pass judgement. In Ferdinand's case, the more so, because it will deny him his chance to represent England at Euro 2004, assuming an appeal proves futile. But this is something completely different. This involves far more than the mixed bag of managers swearing at referees' assistants and malevolent challenges from players.

Whether through naïveté or sheer arrogance, neither United nor the PFA's Gordon Taylor have apparently appreciated the gravitas of an issue which affects the moral foundation not just of football, but any sport. And most other sports, it must be stressed, those who don't permit these lawyers' circuses to dominate affairs, will regard Ferdinand's ban as a laughably indulgent outcome.

From what we can discern the club and the players, through their union, still don't get it. Even now. Still don't comprehend that with the awesome power they wield comes responsibility; not merely the right to dismiss contemptuously any action which doesn't gain their approval.

There is something to be said for Ferguson's declaration that "it is very unfortunate that a man in Sepp Blatter's position should want to interfere in the way that he has done", and indeed that could be applied to the sundry observations from those with a doping perspective around the world. Yet, would they have deemed it necessary if Ferguson and his club had faced up to their responsibilities from the start?

Upon reflection, Manchester United may come to realise that they have done their player, about whom one feels a degree of sympathy, no favours whatsoever by creating an impression that it is us against the world. That we don't just possess right, but might.

Cynical the rest of us may be, but it is impossible not to gain the impression that United's prime motivation was protecting a £30minvestment. A more reasoned approach would have been for the club to have displayed some humility, fronted up to the charge, yet argued - as they would seemingly have had a decent case - for improvements in the system.

Instead their reaction has provoked outpourings from every sporting mouthpiece from here to Mount Olympus. There is the feeling of an element of pour encourager les autres here. The suspicion is that Ferdinand may have his sentence commuted on appeal. Whatever the outcome, and let us not forget the suspension could be extended, that should be the end of it. A court case - and Sir Alex Ferguson is surely involved in enough litigation at present - would reduce all the parties involved, and that includes the FA to ridicule. Not to say contempt. A London Olympics in 2012? You're having a laugh.

As yet, we do not have the benefit of the rationale behind the verdict. If it is not forthcoming at some stage, it certainly should be. Clearly, the Independent (surely something of a misnomer) FA Commission required an inordinate amount of time to assess the evidence. Presumably, any appeal commission, equipped with the same facts, would arrive at a roughly similar finding.

There will be political fall-out, of course. The testing system was evidently not perfect. The FA's appointment of Seb Coe to review the testing programme can only benefit the game. The disciplinary process, including the revelation of Ferdinand's name, inevitable given his non-inclusion in the England squad to face Turkey, was unfortunate, and it is to be hoped that Brendon Batson's blueprint will enhance that aspect.

Perhaps Manchester United will, even at this belated stage, ponder their whole stance and understand that overwhelming public opinion may just have it right this time. Maybe Gordon Taylor, once regarded a voice of reason, should remind himself, as any of us who have been entrusted with trade union office, will attest, that blind loyalty serves his members no purpose whatsoever. You suspect they will not. So, be it.

However, for all their faults, the FA must remain resolute in their absolute determination to deal with this most crucial matter on their terms.

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