Ferguson accepts improper conduct charge

LONDON: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has accepted a charge of improper conduct following his comments on the fitness of referee Alan Wiley.

Ferguson criticised Wiley following his team's 2-2 Premier League draw with Sunderland at Old Trafford on October 3, saying the official was not fit enough to keep up with the pace of the match.

Those comments infuriated many referees who claimed it was unwarranted and would leave a lasting stain on Wiley's reputation.

The referees' union Prospect subsequently called for Ferguson to be given a lengthy touchline ban.

Ferguson later apologised to Wiley, by saying: "I apologise to Mr Wiley for any personal embarrassment my comments may have caused and to the FA for going public with my views.

"In retrospect I accept that they could be deemed as expressing those views in an inappropriate form. It was never my intention to bring the focus of intense media interest on Mr Wiley."

And Ferguson insisted he had never questioned Wiley's impartiality," adding: "I would wish it to be noted that I have always respected Mr Wiley's integrity and that I did not state or imply that Mr Wiley is a bad referee, that he was in any way biased, that decision-making generally during the game was poor, or that he missed any key incident during the game.

"My only intention in speaking publicly was to highlight what I believe to be a serious and important issue in the game, namely that the fitness levels of referees must match the ever increasing demands of the modern game, which I hope will now be properly addressed through the appropriate formal channels."

Many critics accused Ferguson of undermining the 'Respect' campaign of the Football Association (FA), designed to encourage better behaviour towards officials at all levels of the game, and retired referee Jeff Winter said the Scot's criticisms of Wiley were a "cowardly attack".

Despite the furore, Ferguson had no qualms about criticising the performance of referee Andre Marriner after United's 2-0 loss to arch-rivals Liverpool at Anfield last weekend, questioning whether the official had "enough experience" to handle such a high-profile game.

The 67-year-old Ferguson has requested a personal hearing with the FA and a date has yet to be set.