Manchester United will consider his timing calculated to cause them maximum embarrassment, but yesterday Arsène Wenger called for a major crackdown on drug-taking in domestic and European football.
The Arsenal manager stated that while he believed the use of performance-enhancing drugs in English football was rare, he was more concerned about the use of social drugs. He complained that some of his players had never been tested in the six years he had been at Highbury and said that at a meeting of European football's governing body, Uefa, in Geneva, his call to raise the number of tests in Champions' League fixtures had been supported by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Manchester United manager said yesterday he had no comment to make on the Rio Ferdinand case until the Football Association decides whether to charge the England defender for failing to take a routine drugs test last month. A decision is likely early next week.
"I think, deeply, that the football authorities have a responsibility to keep the game clean," said Wenger. "At the moment, they are not doing that, either in England or Europe. The testers come just once a year to the training ground and draw out the names of four players. That could be four players from the youth team. We have players here who have not been tested like that in six or seven years."
The FA is committed to ensuring that each Premiership club is tested half a dozen times a season, either at the training ground or after a match. However, Wenger argued that recreational drugs, like cocaine, were a problem which had to be addressed urgently. "I don't think we have a problem with performance-enhancing drugs but with social drugs you don't know and can read some scary stories.
"The responsibility of the FA is to make sure there is no problem at all, so they have to make sure the process changes. We want a clean sport and to get that you need more tests."
The FA is under pressure from Fifa, the world governing body of football, and the World Anti-Doping Agency to take a tough line on Ferdinand, who met the FA's compliance officer, Steve Barrow, on Monday to have the case against him outlined. The Association has decided to wait until after this afternoon's game at Leeds before deciding whether to lay charges. It is thought that the FA believed it unfair to charge the 25-year-old immediately before his return to Elland Road, where he is guaranteed a vile reception for opting to join Manchester United last year. Ferguson stated that he at no time considered leaving Ferdinand out of the fixture.
"He got the abuse last year and that's not going to change. There's only so much voice in a person's body," Ferguson remarked. "It will be the usual reception at Leeds that we always get and we have usually handled it well. The focus and concentration is the important thing. You will have the frenzied approach from the Leeds fans and it's similar to what we will get at Rangers on Wednesday."
If Ferdinand is charged, much will depend on the wording. A charge of wilful avoidance of a drugs test carries with it an automatic ban which United will use every legal avenue to oppose. The charge of simply avoiding a drugs test gives the three-man committee the option of imposing a fine.
Fifa are thought to be lobbying for a three-month ban to be imposed on Ferdinand, while Richard Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, a body to which neither the FA nor Fifa is affiliated, has urged a six-month suspension which would effectively rule Ferdinand out for the remainder of the season.
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