Sir Alex Ferguson has spent much of the past 25 years getting in trouble with soccer authorities, but his latest brush with officialdom may be the most bizarre of his career.
The Manchester United boss has had a love/hate relationship with English Premier League referees for as long as anyone can remember. However, was this episode love or hate? Ferguson was handed a formal warning Tuesday for breaking with the habit of a lifetime and praising a leading ref.
Before United's 2-1 victory over Chelsea on May 8, a result which all but guaranteed that the Red Devils would regain the EPL title, Ferguson spoke extensively and positively about the abilities of official Howard Webb.
"We are getting the best referee, there is no doubt about that," Ferguson said. "But getting a bad decision is definitely our big fear. We just hope it is our turn for a bit of luck."
After a series of stinging criticisms from the 69-year-old Ferguson throughout the season, including a fierce verbal attack on Martin Atkinson that saw Ferguson banned from the dugout for five games, it might have been expected that the Football Association's regulatory commission would be relieved that he had changed tack and praised Webb.
Not so. The commission ruled that Ferguson had breached regulations by speaking about Webb, even in a positive sense, before an important match – an action that is frowned upon for fear it could pressure the man in the middle.
"This rule was brought in at the start of the 2009-10 season and this was reiterated to all clubs again on 21 October 2010," said the FA in a statement. "This is a clear breach of the rule and it is the first time such a matter has been placed in front of a commission.
"As a result of this charge the commission was aware of other occasions where pre-match comments were made by other managers. In this case it was considered to be a minor breach, but a breach nevertheless, and it should be taken as a warning to all managers in the future that any such breach, even positive comments, are likely to result in a charge by the FA."
Webb is one of the most respected referees in soccer and took charge of last summer's World Cup final, although he did fail to send off the Netherlands' Nigel de Jong for a brutal challenge on Spain's Xabi Alonso.
The warning to Ferguson may be little more than a token gesture, but it will do nothing to improve relations between the United chief and the hierarchy of English soccer. Ferguson was so incensed by the initial charge that he refused to attend the hearing, with United's club secretary simply sending a letter informing the panel that he would not be responding.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti received a warning for similar comments leading up to the same game, and in a rare show of unity among rival coaches, he and Ferguson were publicly backed by Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.
Either way, it is unlikely that Ferguson is going to change his approach any time soon, whatever attempts are made by the authorities to regulate his comments and behavior. The older and more successful he gets, the more that famous stubborn streak kicks in.
And with United having clinched the club's 19th title last week and sitting just one win away from the Champions League trophy, the Old Trafford powers are happy for Ferguson to keep on keeping on.
- Sir Alex Ferguson