Ferguson faces ban for latest referee jibe

FA may enforce two-game suspended sentence after criticism of Fletcher's red card
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The Football Association is to consider activating Sir Alex Ferguson's two-match suspended touchline ban following his attack on Mark Clattenburg's refereeing after the dismissal of Darren Fletcher in Manchester United's 1-1 draw against Birmingham City.

The FA believes the United manager's comments bordered on a personal attack, Ferguson having suggested that the "absolutely ridiculous" dismissal followed Clattenburg's officiating in the Arsenal v Tottenham derby on 31 October in which "you had to have somebody hit by an axe before there was a booking".

By drawing an earlier Clattenburg match into his analysis, Ferguson is certainly close to having breached the third criteria for an improper conduct charge: making an attack of a personal nature. Ferguson was banned for two games in November and fined £20,000 after an attack on Alan Wiley's fitness and was warned that repeated behaviour would trigger a similar time in the stands. "You'll not see a softer sending-off than that," Ferguson said of the Fletcher dismissal. "For a start he's not that kind of player. He clips the boy [Cameron Jerome.] The boy actually stumbles. He didn't even go down. I think it was a terribly soft sending off."

Clattenburg believes nothing of the sort. The official from Tyne and Wear said yesterday that Fletcher had "cynically tripped the Birmingham player" having been warned about dissent and then booked for a tackle on Lee Bowyer. "There were two yellow cards for Fletcher," Clattenburg said. "In the first half he's been bollocked for dissent. I warned him for dissent. Then he was cautioned before half-time for a foul." The United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak suggested Clattenburg was correct in showing Fletcher a second yellow. The booking was "for sure, a foul," he said.

Clattenburg's decision-making for United's 63rd-minute equaliser certainly seems to be unimpeachable, despite Ferguson's barbs about the way it, too, was handled – with linesman Stephen Child flagging Wayne Rooney offside when the ball drilled in by Patrice Evra deflected off Scott Dann and into the Birmingham defender's own net. Though Child could not see Dann's deflection, Clattenburg did and the current offside law states that Rooney could only have been in an "active" position affecting the defender if he had actually made contact with him.

"What you expect in that situation is for the linesman to flag because he is not 100 per cent sure who scored but I could clearly see it was an own goal," Clattenburg explained. "Basically, [Rooney] can only be active in that situation, if there is contact between him and the defender – but there was no contact. The defender slid in to try to clear the ball." Clattenburg was unwilling to respond to Ferguson's comments on the Fletcher dismissal. "You'll have to ask him. That's not my business," he said.

TV replays showed Rooney was in fact not offside, though Dann argued the striker's presence affected him and suggested that the big calls in matches went with United. "Maybe the big teams get more of the rub of the green," he said. "It's unfortunate for us, and unfortunate for me that the goal stands, because, other than that, I don't think we would've conceded so it's really disappointing. I think that [Rooney's presence affected me] and everyone else does but apparently not. It's harsh when it happens against you but whether it's the right one or the wrong one, the referee's made it."

Fletcher's dismissal adds to the controversy the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger created in August by implying that the Scottish midfielder was creating an "anti-football" culture by purposefully fouling players.

If charged again, Ferguson would appear before an FA independent commission and may have his ban extended beyond two games.

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