Sir Alex Ferguson has broken his silence on the Luis Suárez affair, describing the Liverpool striker's eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra as "the right decision" and indicating that the Anfield club should accept the guilty verdict.
Liverpool's vigorous defence of the Uruguayan, including the controversial decision to warm up for their game at Wigan in Suárez T-shirts, has led to widespread criticism throughout the game. Ferguson was not willing to talk about Liverpool's protest statement, in which they described Evra as "not reliable" and called on the Football Association to issue a separate charge against the Manchester United defender, but he made clear that the Premier League champions felt vindicated.
"Our support of Patrice was obvious right from the word go and that's still the same. The matter is over and I think we're satisfied that they [the FA's independent commission] found the right decision. This wasn't about Manchester United and Liverpool at all. It was nothing to do with that. This was an individual situation where one person was racially abused."
Liverpool maintain that was not the case, despite Suárez reportedly admitting using the word "negro", and are now waiting for the commission chairman, Paul Goulding QC, to deliver his full written findings before deciding whether to lodge an appeal.
That risks an even longer ban and Ferguson drew a parallel with the way United reacted when Evra was banned for four matches in 2008 for becoming embroiled in a post-match fight with Sam Bethell, a Chelsea groundsman. The club, he pointed out, had accepted the verdict.
"Patrice got that suspension for the incident down at Chelsea when no one was there, just a groundsman and our fitness coach. He got a four-match ban and we had to wait two weeks for the evidence to come through. We were quite astounded at that. A four-match ban? We thought it was well over the top for a trivial incident. But it happened and there's nothing you can do about it, you know."
The insinuation was that Liverpool should accept Suárez's guilt but there is no sign of that from Anfield, with Kenny Dalglish maintaining he had no regrets over the T-shirt protest and aggressive wording of their statement.
"The club have issued a statement and the players have made their statement both visually and verbally," said Dalglish. "The statement couldn't have caused anybody any trouble. I don't think the players have caused any trouble with the FA either with their statement or by their support with the T-shirts. If we are not in any trouble, we will just leave it at that before we do get into any trouble."
Dalglish said "it might be weeks" before the commission's findings are made public and believes the verdict and the reasons for it should have been released simultaneously. In the vacuum, the Liverpool manager fears opposition crowds will declare open season on Suárez, as was the case at the DW Stadium on Wednesday.
He said: "I wouldn't think it is helpful to anybody that it [the verdict] is done before we have seen the written documents. If that's the way they have always done it then we cannot complain. I wouldn't know because I have never been involved in anything like this before.
"They [the Football Association] run the game; we don't, do we? Whether you agree with it is another matter. In another walk of life, they would have walked away and waited until they had it ready. But this is what happened. I think where they have to be more supportive is the reaction from people – and the antagonism of the crowds – towards Luis. That is the great problem."
The Liverpool manager believes the fallout from the complex case will be far-reaching for the FA. "It would be helpful to everyone if someone gave us some guidelines about what you can and cannot say," he argued. Yet despite his concerns over the hostility towards Suárez, who is also facing an improper conduct charge for allegedly making an offensive gesture towards Fulham supporters at Craven Cottage on 5 December, Dalglish is adamant the 24-year-old can handle the scrutiny.
"Obviously he would be better off without it, but he is a strong enough character and he has handled it very well up to now so I wouldn't expect him to show anything other than total strength. If Luis is fit and well, he will be considered for the matches until such time that he is under sanction."
Ferguson is clearly unimpressed with the lengths to which Liverpool have gone, including Dalglish's decision to wear a Suaárez T-shirt during a television interview on Wednesday. "I don't need to talk about it," he said, before adding pointedly: "I'm happy with how I run my club."
The United manager was asked whether he fears it will worsen the rivalry between the two clubs. "This is the biggest derby game in the country," he replied. "It's never needed anything to light the powder keg; it's always there."
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image: © Andrea Sartorati