Sir Alex Ferguson's latest anti-referee rant is set to spark a campaign aimed at stamping out verbal attacks on match officials.
Leading English referees were incensed when Manchester United boss Ferguson appeared to question the impartiality of Martin Atkinson following United's 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday night.
Prospect, a wide-ranging trade union that represents refereeing interests, is planning a formal approach to the English Football Association and the English Premier League to discuss ways to improve conditions for referees and make it harder for managers and players to criticize them in public.
"There is a general feeling that this sort of thing has to stop; it really does," a senior referee told Yahoo! Sports. "With the pressure and intensity and focus of the Premier League, it is unrealistic to expect someone to do their job in a situation where they are defenseless against these kind of unsubstantiated attacks. Hopefully, now we will see some progress."
Ferguson has never pulled punches, but his remarks about Atkinson may have crossed the line. Several British newspapers reported that Ferguson had vented his ire during an interview with United's in-house television channel, MUTV.
"It was a major game for both clubs and you want a fair referee," he is quoted as saying. "When I saw who was refereeing it, I feared the worst."
Ferguson was angered by Atkinson's second-half decision not to send off Chelsea defender David Luiz for what looked to be a clear second bookable offense – and for the penalty award that allowed Frank Lampard to clinch the victory for Chelsea.
If the FA decides to charge Ferguson over his remarks, he could face a ban from the touchline for some of United's forthcoming EPL matches.
"The ball is in Sir Alex's court," Alan Leighton, Prospect's national secretary, told the Daily Mail. "I am less interested in whether he is charged than removing the stigma from [Atkinson]. The referees are saying that if one is questioned, then it questions them all. None of them want their integrity impaired."
Refereeing standards have recently come under scrutiny like never before. A series of mistakes during last summer's FIFA World Cup bolstered calls for video replays to be used in key situations – proposals which are being considered by world governing body FIFA.
While criticism of decisions may be impossible to remove, what referees want is for comments questioning the fairness and ethics of an official to carry a large enough punishment to act as a deterrent.
- Sir Alex Ferguson
- Martin Atkinson
- David Luiz
- English Premier League
- English Football Association