Rio Ferdinand's long-running missed drugs test saga will not be concluded for at least another month after his legal team presented the Football Association with a 125-page appeal document last night.
Ferdinand is contesting the eight-month ban imposed on him for failing to take the test at Manchester United's Carrington training ground on 23 September.
The 25-year-old England defender will officially be banned from today. He has chosen to begin his suspension immediately in the hope that a reduction in his punishment would allow him to play in this summer's European Championship.
However, any hope that the case the length of which has already angered Sepp Blatter, the president of the game's world governing body, Fifa will be concluded swiftly appears misplaced. Under its own regulations, the FA has 21 days to respond to Ferdinand's appeal.
While it had been hoped by all sides that a new three-man panel, which would also have the power to increase the punishment, could be set up to review the evidence before the end of the month, it is understood that the sheer scale of the document presented at Soho Square makes this impossible.
In all likelihood, the FA will require three weeks to analyse the counter-claims United have made. A suitable hearing date then has to be agreed between both sides' legal teams and a non-FA aligned QC to chair the new panel needs to be found, which means it could be the end of February before Ferdinand learns his fate.
"The FA has received an appeal from Rio Ferdinand against the decision of an Independent Disciplinary Commission on December 19, 2003, and against the sanction imposed," an FA statement said. "A date for an appeal will be set in due course. As there has been no request to set aside Rio Ferdinand's suspension, it will start on January 20, as ordered by the Commission."
Ferdinand might have struggled to make Sunday's FA Cup tie at Northampton anyway after suffering a knee injury during the defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. However he now knows he will miss United's next three League games, against Southampton, Everton and Middlesbrough, and an FA Cup fifth-round tie should United come through their first trip to Sixfields victorious.
If the case drags on for another five weeks, Ferdinand will also be ruled out of the first leg of United's last 16 Champions' League match against Porto.
In reality, Ferdinand has no chance of featuring in these games and must hope the new panel takes a less severe view of his case. While Ferdinand has never tested positive for any banned substance, it has been reported that there were clear inconsistencies in his evidence.
There is apparently some discrepancy over the precise time when he was reminded of his requirement to take the test, and although Ferdinand offered to return to Carrington from Manchester city centre when one of the FA-sanctioned testers was still on site, his offer was turned down because the temporary testing station had been dismantled.
Sir Alex Ferguson can console himself in the knowledge that Wes Brown, whom the United manager believes has the potential to become one of the best central defenders in the country, is back to fitness after his second cruciate knee ligament operation.Reuse content