Premier League managers are like fine wines, they only get better with age. This is obviously a false proverb, but how ironic is it that the second-oldest manager across all of the English Football League also happens to sit atop the 92-strong pile? Sir Alex Ferguson comes second only to Dario Gradi of Crewe Alexandra in terms of age, but the 69 year-old Scot has never shied away from his sideline limitations. At the edge of his managers’ area, his gum-chewing and instruction-bellowing is still a sight to be seen every match day as it always has. So, in what are assuredly tumultuous times for Manchester United, how will they cope with their figurehead being in the stands for the next five games?
The ban was given after a Football Association tribunal, that decided Ferguson was guilty of improper conduct. However, a two-game ban that was suspended in 2009 has been brought back up concerning Fergusons’ critical views on the fitness of referee Alan Wiley. The recent comments against referee Martin Atkinson are also warranting three games in the stands, completing the five-game ban. Appearing on MUTV after the disappointing 2-1 loss to Chelsea, Ferguson stated “You want a fair referee”, however quickly checked himself and added the less disputable, “or a strong referee anyway – and we didn’t get that”.
During the match, several controversial decisions were made, or in Sir Alex Ferguson’s opinion, not made. It was argued that Chelsea should have played the last twenty minutes of the match with ten men, as their January addition David Luiz hacked down Wayne Rooney, having already been on a yellow card. Chris Smallings’ foul on Yuri Zhirkov was also contentious, leading to a penalty, as well as the decisive goal.
The five-game ban could, therefore, indeed be described as harsh. Even opposition manager, Carlo Ancelotti has commented that the punishment may be a tad too much, saying “I know what he said after the game. Obviously it was not good behaviour but five games is too much.” So, considering the Chelsea manager and one of your fiercest rivals for the past two years is even on your side, one would think Sir Alex Ferguson will be appealing the decision in an attempt to get it reduced.
The timing of this suspension is another huge factor for the season of the Manchester outfit, and how they will finish come seasons’ end in May. March 22nd is the date that the ban will begin and if it remains at five games, will keep Ferguson out of reach for some massive fixtures. West Ham, Fulham and Everton are all games that Mike Phelan could certainly deputise for, and would still be considered winnable even given the absence of a manager. However, the 16th April is definitely a date the morale-boost of Ferguson could be essential, as his team revive a derby never to be missed in the F.A Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
Another obstacle to overcome within the period of the suspension is Arsenal. A six-pointer in every sense of the word, the defensive woes of Manchester United can only be worsened with Champions’ League quarter finals occurring in April. Rio Ferdinand has just been unveiled as a possible absentee for the remainder of the season, and with the hamstring strains suffered by both John O’Shea and Rafael in the midweek tie against Marseille, strikers will need their shooting boots on, and above fully functional if the club are to escape a decline in goal difference.
So, will a five-game ban have a bearing on Manchester United’s title challenge you ask? Undoubtedly. They’re still in the driving seat, for sure, but this league is theirs to lose.
Looking ahead to the Arsenal game as the league-decider would be a mistake for anyone. It’s paramount now, that United take this league one game at a time and don’t drop silly points in the build-up to bigger ones. Arsenal will have entire focus on the Premier League now, being knocked out of all other competitions, and the timing couldn’t be worse for Ferguson. The aim now, will be to get this makeshift defence working like a well-oiled machine and create a Smalling-Brown centre back partnership that forwards will be afraid of.
Luck seems to be against the club as of late with injuries galore, being in multiple tournaments, and did I mention they’ve got a lot of injuries? However, who would be better to battle against the fates than a team conveniently nicknamed ‘The Red Devils’?