Sir Alex Ferguson's touchline ban will begin next weekend in Manchester United's home match against Bolton Wanderers if he is found guilty of his Football Association charge of improper conduct.
The FA has not confirmed the date of Ferguson's hearing, saying only that it will be before 25 March, but plans have been put in place for it to be held next week, with both parties wanting it to be arranged as quickly as possible after the Champions League tie against Marseille on Tuesday.
Ferguson already has a suspended two-match touchline ban hanging over him from a previous charge and, if the latest case is proven, his decision to plead not guilty is likely to stand against him when it comes to determining the length of time he is made to watch games from the stands.
A possible four-game ban would incorporate the Bolton game, plus a trip to West Ham followed by matches at home to Fulham and away at Newcastle. A fifth game could possibly mean he faces the indignity of not being allowed in the dug-out area for an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
The case against Ferguson is that he alleged bias on the part of the referee, Martin Atkinson, by saying that he should not have been appointed for United's game at Chelsea earlier this month because the occasion demanded "a fair referee". Ferguson, who had been incensed by Atkinson's officiating of a 2-1 defeat for the Premier League leaders, has decided to fight the charge against the recommendation of United's legal advisers.
United's manager has scheduled his first press conference on Friday since the recent controversies surrounding the club and, though unlikely to discuss his fifth disciplinary charge in as many years, he is expected to address the challenge from Jamie Carragher that left Nani with a badly gashed left leg during the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday.
The wound has now been stitched up but Nani faces an enforced spell out of the team and the Portugal winger, who rejected Carragher's attempts to apologise after the match, wants his club to speak on his behalf and condemn the Liverpool defender.
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