United provoke Blatter's anger in dispute over Ferdinand ban

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The Independent Football

The possibility of Fifa seeking to impose a draconian punishment on Rio Ferdinand grew yesterday as Sepp Blatter, the president of the world governing body, responded angrily to criticism of him by David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive.

At the weekend, Blatter expressed surprise that Ferdinand had been allowed to continue playing while under investigation for failing to take a drugs test on 23 September. He intimated that United should be docked any points gained with him in their team. On Monday, Gill responded by describing Blatter's comments as "incomprehensible".

Blatter, in Germany for tomorrow's World Cup 2006 qualifying draw, reacted icily. "It is not me who made the threat," he said. "It is the organisation of which I am head." Referring to today's Fifa executive committee meeting, he added: "It will be discussed and we will have something very interesting to say after the meeting. I have read the comments attributed to Manchester United and seen my comments were described as 'incomprehensible'. All I can say is their comments do not seem to me to be in the spirit of fair play."

In playing Ferdinand United have not infringed the FA rulebook and they would have a very good case in law should Fifa try to deduct Premiership or Champions' League points from them. However, Fifa may be able to extend any ban imposed on Ferdinand, whose case will finally be heard on 18 and 19 December at Bolton's Reebok Stadium.

The expectation is that Ferdinand, who claims he forgot to take the test, will then be fined and banned for around three months. A longer ban could affect his participation in the European Championship.

The G-14 group of Europe's leading clubs warned Fifa that the conflict over compensation for clubs when players are on national duty will worsen after Blatter's refusal to negotiate.

Blatter had said that the group has "no official standing", and yesterday a G-14 statement responded: "The majority of the conflicts which have appeared between club football and national team football will now deteriorate ever more." The group deplored "Mr Blatter's apparent understanding that dialogue should stop whenever opinions differ".

The G-14 originally consisted of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Milan, Internazionale, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Marseilles, Paris St-Germain, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Porto. Last year, Valencia, Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen and Lyon all joined.

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