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Ferguson crossed the line with ref rant

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Alan Wiley
Referee Alan Wiley had his fitness questioned by Sir Alex Ferguson.
(Michael Regan/Getty Images)

If, as they say, a minute is a long time in soccer, then 14 days must be a lifetime. So would it appear to be in the world of Sir Alex Ferguson, where time and timekeeping seem to be the primary conduits of his mood.

The Manchester United manager's ire was fully cranked on Saturday when he launched into a bitter rant against referee Alan Wiley. Ferguson claimed that Wiley was lacking in sufficient fitness to manage an English Premier League game and that he had conspired to take extra time to yellow card a player in order to allow himself to "rest."

As a result, according to Ferguson's garbled logic, his United players were denied additional time to attempt a winning goal and had to settle for a disappointing 2-2 home draw against Sunderland.

Sniping at match officials is common practice in soccer around the world, yet Ferguson's comments about Wiley went way overboard.

"I was disappointed with the referee, I must say," Ferguson said. "He just wasn't fit enough for a game of that stature. The fitness of both sets of players, the pace of the game, demanded a referee who was fit. He's not fit. I don't think he's fit.

"We've got some good referees in our country who are fit. But he wasn't fit. He didn't add any time on for the goal we scored. He played four minutes and two seconds' injury time. There should have been another 30 seconds. But he was actually walking up the pitch after the final goal, needing a rest.

"He was taking 30 seconds to book a player. He was taking a rest. I think he's taking a rest, writing down the names on his card and taking 30 seconds for a booking; it's ridiculous."

Ferguson's criticism could be read as a direct accusation of professional incompetence against Riley, as referees are obliged to maintain certain fitness standards that are ratified by a governing body for match officials. Riley passed the required tests prior to the start of this season.

If Ferguson genuinely felt Riley's levels were not up to EPL standard, he should have taken his complaint to the refereeing committee. By simply spouting off to the media, he comes across as merely attempting to deflect blame for a substandard performance from his team.

And his comments are made to look even more crass when we look back just a fortnight to United's derby victory over Manchester City.

On Sept. 20, Ferguson was full of the joys of life celebrating Michael Owen's winning goal in the sixth minute of injury time that clinched a controversial 4-3 victory. After Owen's strike sparked a flurry of protest from City and provided one of the most memorable derby finishes in history, Ferguson could be seen laughing and joking with the match's fourth official.

A man named Alan Wiley.

Fourteen days … a lifetime in soccer.

Ferguson exacts stringent standards from his players, the officials and those around him. Similar controls on his own reactionary comments would be very welcome.

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