Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was deemed to be free to face Manchester United at Old Trafford last Sunday after avoiding a suspension for violent conduct following his clash with Michael Brown during the 4-1 Anfield defeat of Portsmouth. Referee Stuart Attwell insisted that he had witnessed the incident, hence his decision to award a free kick to Portsmouth leaving the FA’s disciplinary unit unable to take further action against Gerrard.
Sir Alex Ferguson remains angry at the FA’s decision to suspend Rio Ferdinand for four games earlier this season following an off the ball incident with Hull City’s Craig Fagan, especially with Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano also escaping suspension for a virtually identical clash with Leeds forward Jermaine Beckford in September.
The FA cited key differences between the cases, with referees Attwell and Alan Wiley claiming they had seen the Liverpool incident and Steve Bennett having to review the Ferdinand incident on television after missing the clash during the game. But Ferguson labelled the FA’s compliance unit ‘dysfunctional’, claiming the Gerrard case supports his claims that Liverpool are lucky with disciplinary matters.
Ferguson said: “I didn’t expect Gerrard to be charged, simply because it is a dysfunctional unit at the FA. I don’t think they know what they are doing. There is no consistency, so you don’t expect to get any but I’m not bothered. They can do whatever they want down there, it’s crazy at times.
“But I certainly think that, if it was a Manchester United player, he would have been done, as was the case with Rio Ferdinand. “Liverpool do all right, they are lucky like that, maybe one day we will get lucky as well” Despite Ferguson’s comments, the FA admitted privately that they would not be seeking an explanation from the United manager for seemingly questioning the integrity of the disciplinary panel.
Ferguson insists, though, that the FA should shake up its compliance unit by turning to former managers for help He said: “There are about 20 redundant managers around who have had a good experience of the game, have good knowledge and have played the game. They could get involved. You could ask every manager in the league every week and they will tell you about inconsistency. So therefore I wonder if it’s worth exploring the managers who don’t have a job at the moment taking over that department. We could have maybe a body of four sitting every week, assessing the TV issues of the weekend.”
United defeated Liverpool 2-1 on Sunday therefore Gerrards let off made no difference in the end but Ferguson was commenting on a matter of principle. Last season’s 4-1 humbling at Old Trafford almost cost United the Premier League title, but Liverpool have failed to build on their form from their run in 12 months ago with Sir Alex suggesting Rafael Benitez’s team peaked last year.
He said “Their challenge last year was obviously championship form but you sometimes peak with a particular team and it’s difficult to do it again. They had an exceptional season, but I thought it would be difficult to achieve that again. Everyone expected Liverpool to go one better this time but they are not and the challenge for them is to get that fourth spot.”
Ferguson insists United are driven on by the prospect of becoming the first team to win four successive titles and has welcomed the return to action of Owen Hargreaves in the reserves, but he warned the 29 year-old to put club before country saying “There’s nothing wrong with talking about the World Cup but he should be concentrating on United, and I have no doubt that he will do that”
Ferguson had every right to complain about double standards shown by the FA in the Ferdinand and Gerrard incidents. The referee made a mistake in not spotting any offence leaving Ferdinand to be handed a three match suspension by the FA disciplinary unit. On the other hand, the referee also made a mistake in not handing Gerrard a yellow card for his offence which would have seen him suspended. Referee mistakes occurred in both cases yet one player and his club got heavily punished for it while the other got away with no penalty whatsoever! Ferguson was totally correct in making such a completely valid point.
Is Ferguson right to accuse the FA of being dysfunctional?