The Football Association will decide this morning whether it has the nerve to go to war with Sir Alex Ferguson – or see its Respect for referees' campaign collapse in ruins.
This is the choice for the governing body after the Manchester United manager's savage assessment on the suitability of leading official Alan Wiley to officiate "top" Premier League games following Saturday's 2-2 draw with Sunderland. Ferguson charged that Wiley, at 49, is simply not fit enough to do his job.
It is potentially the most damaging attack on a match official since Jose Mourinho's accusations about referee Anders Frisk in 2005 effectively led to the retirement of the Swedish official.
Ferguson, angered by Wiley's time-keeping at Old Trafford, said: "I was disappointed with the referee. He didn't add any time for the [second United] goal. He played four minutes and two seconds. He was also walking up the pitch after the second goal needing a rest. He is not fit enough for a game of that standard. The pace demanded a referee who was fit. He was not fit.
"You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher's dogs. We have some who are fit. He wasn't fit. He was taking 30 seconds to book a player. He was needing a rest. It was ridiculous."
FA disciplinary and governance officials will this morning examine Ferguson's comments before deciding whether or not to charge him. The ruling criteria comes in three sections, forbidding comment before matches, claims against integrity and impartiality, and personal attacks. Ferguson, who could also be seen harranguing the fourth officail Mike Dean during the match, could well be deemed liable in the third category.
Mourinho suggested, erroneously, that Frisk had talks with the Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard in the referees' room before sending off Didier Drogba in a Champions' League tie in 2005. When death threats came in the wake of the then Chelsea manager's remarks, Frisk decided to retire at the age of 42.
Ferguson has not challenged Wiley's integrity but it could be concluded that, at the very least, he has made the rest of the referee's season extremely problematical.
The scale of Ferguson's attack was surprising in that in a fast game Wiley's only contentious decision was the dismissal of Sunderland's Kieran Richardson when he was given a second yellow card for kicking the ball away, a decision not challenged by Steve Bruce.Reuse content