LONDON, Nov 13 – Sir Alex Ferguson was given a four-match touchline ban for improper conduct by the Football Association (FA) here on Thursday following an outspoken attack on referee Alan Wiley.The Manchester United manager, who admitted an FA charge of improper conduct, publicly labelled Wiley as "unfit" after his Premier League champions were held to a 2-2 draw by Sunderland at Old Trafford on October 3.
But on Thursday he was banned for four games, of which two are suspended until the end of the 2010/11 season, fined 20,000 pounds (33,148 dollars) and warned as to his future conduct following his "grossly improper and wholly inappropriate" comments about Wiley.
Peter Griffiths, chairman of the regulatory commission which decided Ferguson’s punishment, said after Thursday’s hearing: "Each member of the commission recognised Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements and stature within the game.
"Having said that, it was made clear to Sir Alex that with such stature comes increased responsibilities.
"The commission considered his admitted remarks, in the context in which they were made, were not just improper but were grossly improper and wholly inappropriate. He should never have said what he did say."
Ferguson, who will receive the commission’s full findings on Friday, has the right of appeal.
But should he accept the ban, Ferguson is now set to be barred from the dug-out for United’s Premier League matches later this month at home to Everton and away to Portsmouth
The commission said the suspended sanction would be automatically activated should the 67-year-old Scot be found guilty of a similar charge before the end of the 2010/11 season on top of any sanction imposed for that offence.
Ferguson accused Wiley of not being "fit enough for a game of that standard" and of "walking up the pitch for the second goal needing a rest".
Alan Leighton, national secretary of officials’ union Prospect, accused the FA of "flunking" the issue by not imposing a harsher punishment upon Ferguson and so undermining their own ‘Respect’ campaign, designed to encourage better behaviour towards referees at all all levels of the game.
"From our point of view it is disappointing. The Football Association had a chance to make a point and they flunked it," he said. "We don’t think this is sending the right message out to other managers.
"This is not a personal vendetta against Sir Alex but he has a particular stature within the game and if he is seen to be getting off lightly other managers may think what he said was not beyond the pale."
Ferguson, soon after the original incident, apologised to Wiley by saying: "I apologise to Mr Wiley for any personal embarrassment that my remarks may have caused and to the FA for going public with my views.
"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."
Following his side’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool last month, Ferguson questioned whether Andre Marriner, who took charge of the game at Anfield, had the required experience for a match of such significance.
He also accused Martin Atkinson of being in an "absolutely ridiculous" position when he awarded Chelsea the free-kick that led to their winner against United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.