Sir Alex Ferguson has derided the thinking behind plans to increase the Respect campaign, criticising the scheme before it has begun and taking a thinly veiled swipe at the Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, in the process.
Ferguson is unimpressed by Scudamore's announcement that greater efforts need to be taken to punish managers and players for "unacceptable behaviour" towards match officials from next season, a decision based in part on the controversies that have attached themselves to Manchester United's manager.
The Football Association has charged Ferguson with disciplinary offences five times in as many years and he is serving a record five-match touchline ban for saying Martin Atkinson should not have been appointed for United's game at Chelsea last month because the match deserved "a fair referee".
Ferguson continues to feel aggrieved that he was punished unduly and there was a withering response when he was asked about Scudamore's proposal to toughen up the scheme.
"Richard Scudamore has not got a lot to do, has he?" Ferguson remarked pointedly. "I do think Richard is jumping off a high board here – a high diving board – without thinking about it. He is trying to elevate the Premier League and fine; that's good and that's his job but I don't think that managers do disrespect referees.
"I got done for what I consider to be fair comment. They [the FA] didn't and I got a five-match ban and that's fine but that is not to say we don't respect referees. It's a difficult job and we all know that. You wouldn't referee a game, would you? Neither would I and we do need them."
Ferguson will serve the second match of his ban at West Ham on Saturday in a game in which he may be forced to play Fábio da Silva, a reserve left-back, at right-back because of an injury pile-up that he admitted had been "causing me nightmares".
There are similarities with United's visit to Upton Park last season when they were left with eight injured defenders and Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs all played emergency roles in the back four. The situation is not so dire this time but Rafael da Silva, Wes Brown and John O'Shea are definitely missing and, though there is a more positive diagnosis of Rio Ferdinand's calf problem, his return is likely to be against Fulham next weekend, with a marginal chance of his being involved in the Champions League quarter-final at Chelsea on Wednesday.
Ferdinand had been aggrieved by Ferguson's recent assertion that he might miss the rest of the season when, as the Guardian revealed, the injury is not as serious as had been made out.
Fletcher, who can fill in at right-back, is still troubled by a virus while Jonny Evans is suspended, the luckless Owen Hargreaves is recovering from damaging his shoulder and Gary Neville's retirement – the club are talking to Juventus about an end-of-season testimonial – has left United short of other options.
Raymond Verheijen, a Dutch fitness conditioning expert working with the Wales national team, with previous spells at Manchester City and Chelsea, recently spoke of his belief that United's fitness staff have "messed up". Ferguson, however, believes it is "bad luck" rather than maltreatment that left him with 11 players injured at one point a few weeks ago.
When United won the Treble in 1999 they had a virtually injury-free squad but Ferguson said: "The kind of games Manchester United are playing today are far more competitive than they were in 1999. The speed of the game has increased, the standard of training and pitches has improved, so everything's faster. The game is quicker and therefore you run the risk of injury because of that."
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