Sir Alex Ferguson has ignored the advice of Manchester United's legal team by pleading not guilty to his Football Association charge of improper conduct, risking a five-match touchline ban in the process.
Ferguson met the club's representatives on Friday morning, when it was recommended to him that he admit the offence, but the United manager made it clear that he felt he had a legitimate case to fight the charge.
The club have informed the FA and a hearing is being scheduled for Ferguson to explain his post-match criticisms of the referee Martin Atkinson after Tuesday's 2-1 defeat at Chelsea, in particular his complaint that the occasion did not get a "fair referee". The implication was of Atkinson showing bias towards Chelsea but United's defence team will present the FA with video footage highlighting what they consider to be mistakes in favour of the London club, not just from this fixture but also the corresponding game last season.
Ferguson has two matches of a four-game touchline ban hanging over him as a suspended sentence for his criticisms of Alan Wiley in 2009, when he alleged the referee was physically unfit to officiate in the Premier League and had been stopping to catch his breath during breaks in play.
With that in mind, the United manager was advised that he would probably receive a three-match ban from the dugout if he admitted he had gone too far in his criticisms of Atkinson but that the punishment could be extended to four or five games if he denied the charge and it was proven.
A brooding Ferguson did not make himself available for the usual Friday press briefing at United's training ground, refusing to discuss Sunday's game at Liverpool even with MUTV, the club's television station with which the offending interview took place. He has, however, spoken to Sirius XM's The Football Show and used the New York-based station to have a thinly veiled dig at Rafael Benítez. "Winning the European Cup gave Benítez some leeway for a few years," he said of the former Liverpool manager. "The European Cup is very important for Liverpool – they've won it five times – and that's why Rafa survived as long as he did, because the fact is they had a lot of bad results at the time."
Darren Fletcher, the United midfielder, has followed Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick by signing a new contract, tying him to the club until 2015.
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