Sir Alex Ferguson was unrepentant about Wayne Rooney's conduct yesterday, claiming that the Football Association had changed its disciplinary system in mid-season to impose a two-game ban on the player, as part of a deliberate and systematic attempt to victimise Manchester United.
In an all-encompassing attack on the establishment, with targets as varied as a Wolverhampton police superintendent, the Football Association, the media and – though it wasn't easy to tell – possibly the referee Lee Mason, Ferguson declared he "didn't even need to say" that Rooney's two-game ban for screaming obscenities into a television camera proves his club are being victimised, suggesting that "there's an obvious trend at the moment".
The Manchester United manager's press conferences this season have been characterised by a general unwillingness to engage in any meaningful discussion, though all the old devices were back, first revealing themselves in a withering put-down of Superintendent Mark Payne who had said he would expect his officers to lock up someone behaving like Rooney if they encountered them on the street.
The officer declared in a blog that "the aggressive stance, the bulging eyes, the foul-mouthed rant, fists clenched, surrounded by his mates, all cheering him on" was a Rooney-inspired sight his officers will be dealing with many times in Wolverhampton tonight. Ferguson recast this as Supt Payne suggesting all those who swear would be locked up; proof, he said, that the officer was one of a new breed of people who "feel the need to be noticed". He went on: "Maybe people don't know he's there. It's a need-to-be-noticed world we're in and I refuse to believe that in the middle of Wolverhampton on a Saturday night his police don't get abuse and that people are arrested. Wolverhampton must be an interesting place on a Saturday night."
When the officer's precise argument was put to Ferguson – "Isn't the policeman saying that footballers are role models and that it can start from that and lead to really bad behaviour?" – he fell back on the media. "From what I've read in this morning's paper, he's said that he would expect his officers to arrest somebody who swore. That's what he said. His quote in this morning's paper was that and I'm responding to that alone."
The West Midlands force stood by the officer's comments yesterday, insisting that an outburst in which abusive language was connected to aggression would bring probable arrest under sections four or five of the Public Order Act.
The media was not such a reliable aid when stories of Sir Clive Woodward criticising Ferguson's handling of Rooney were cited. "The media go to people and approach people," said Ferguson. The credibility of his argument would perhaps have been helped by the same acknowledgment that Rooney's conduct could not be condoned. But beneath the outrage there was an interesting sense that the goal celebrations Ferguson is seeing in players like Rooney, who also enjoys forming the shape of the cross after scoring, do not delight him.
Rio Ferdinand argued after the midweek win at Chelsea for greater freedom of expression after goals, including the right to remove a shirt. Ferguson, who first saw this cult of individualism in David Beckham, suggested not. "Celebrations have changed," he said. "You see time and time again players knocking their team-mates out of the road so they can get personal adulation. They run and do certain ways of celebration. Some take off their shirt, others have a T-shirt underneath with messages on it. The world has changed in terms of celebrations."
The United manager, who may recall Anderson to midfield and also has John O'Shea and Wes Brown back to face Fulham today, suggested that the FA had jeopardised referee Mason's career, though there also seemed to be a veiled message for the official, whom Ferguson suggested had been leant on to support the FA case. "Obviously he was put under pressure – there's no doubt about that. He did put himself in the spotlight. If he doesn't send a player off for swearing the question will be, does he have double standards? It's a difficult position the lad is in. I feel for him, I really do. I don't know how his career is going to go now but I think he was put under pressure."
The FA denied any such suggestion, or Ferguson's claim that they had changed the rules in the season's "mid-stream", which as he put it "seems a bit stupid when you've got the meetings yearly."
Gary Neville also argued yesterday the "harsh, dangerous precedent" which has undoubtedly now been set might store up future problems for referees. Rival managers disagree. "It was more down to the aggressive attitude towards the camera than inappropriate language," Arsène Wenger said yesterday. "Rooney understands that I think."
The only individual beyond reproach for Ferguson was the cameraman into whose lens Rooney screamed. "There's not a great deal of space between the touchline and terracing at West Ham," he said. And, of course, the only beneficiary of all this is United's team spirit, as Ferguson uses a perceived injustice to rally his side for a run-in to a possible treble. United "can't do a thing" about the ban now, Ferguson concluded. "But we can use it. The support will be fantastic now. You watch it. It will be absolutely magnificent. And the players are absolutely brilliant."
Given five-match ban and £30,000 fine after criticising referee Mark Atkinson's display at Chelsea.
Accused FA of hampering England's World Cup chances by not introducing a mid-winter break.
Described the Football Association "a dysfunctional unit" that has "no consistency" after Rio Ferdinand received a four-match ban for elbowing.
Labelled referee Alan Wiley "unfit" after game against Sunderland. Given four-match ban and £20,000 fine.Reuse content