United attack Evra ban but avoid appeal

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The Independent Football

Manchester United were last night at loggerheads with the Football Association after the club described the four-match ban for Patrick Evra as "flawed", "extremely harsh" and "a very poor decision" but said that they would not appeal against the ruling. The unprecedented attack on the governing body came just as FA officials flew out to Japan where United are preparing for their first match in the Fifa Club World Cup.

In a hard-hitting statement, United left the FA in no doubt as to their feelings over Evra who was disciplined for his part in a brawl with the Chelsea groundsman Sam Bethell in April. A United spokesman said: "We retain the view that the suspension is extremely harsh, but appealing it would only prolong the process as we enter the second half of the season."

The dispute between the FA and United comes at an awkward time for the FA who are hoping to begin laying the groundwork for its 2018 World Cup bid when the Fifa executive committee meets this week in Tokyo. Yesterday the FA's corporate affairs director, Simon Johnson, flew to Japan as the head of the delegation.

The FA will have hoped to have made a virtue of the fact that one of England's most famous clubs would be in Japan at the same time as influential Fifa executives. However, relations between the FA and United would now appear to be strained again after the club picked apart the ruling by the independent commission, headed by Nicholas Stewart QC. Evra was given a four-match ban and a £15,000 fine for his part in the unedifying scenes on the pitch during the warm-down after the game. Chelsea were fined £25,000 for Bethell's behaviour but cleared of allegations that the groundsman racially abused Evra. United took issue with the main contention of the report, that Evra struck Bethell on the side of his head. United said: "Patrice accepts the suspension, but categorically denies hitting anyone. Since playing in the Premier League, he has enjoyed a good disciplinary record, having never been dismissed – something which the panel acknowledged.

"It is abundantly clear that no reference was made to previous sentences imposed for improper conduct and other charges, which in the club's view is unfair and unduly harsh on the player, the club and its supporters. To serve a ban which is longer than one imposed for a career-threatening tackle or throwing an object into the crowd indicates that the disciplinary commission made a very poor decision."

Having initially described the judgement, announced on 5 December, as "one of the worst decisions ever", Ferguson suggested that United would be appealing. It is understood that having seen the full text of the judgement, the club have changed their mind on that.

Now in Japan, where they play Gamba Osaka tomorrow, Rio Ferdinand said that he believed Arsenal were already out of the title race. The club also said that goalkeeper Ben Foster broke a finger in training last Thursday.

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