Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has apologised for calling referee Alan Wiley unfit following the Red Devils' surprise 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Old Trafford last week.
Following the Premier League clash on October 3 Ferguson accused the Staffordshire official of "not being fit enough'' to do his job and of not adding on enough injury time following United's late equaliser.
"I was disappointed with the referee,'' said the United boss. "He didn't add on any time for the goal. He played four minutes and two seconds. He was also walking up the pitch for the second goal needing a rest. He was not fit enough for a game of that standard."
The attack outraged referees, who have put the Football Association under pressure to take tough action when they review the case and have asked Ferguson for an explanation. But having had time to cool down, and with a possible FA charge on the horizon, Feguson has said sorry for putting Wiley in a difficult position.
"I apologise to Mr Wiley for any personal embarrassment that my remarks may have caused and to The FA for going public with my views," Ferguson said in a statement. "In retrospect, I accept that this could be deemed as expressing those views in an inappropriate forum."
"It was never my intention to bring the focus of intense media attention on Mr Wiley. I intend to contact him personally after I return from a trip overseas during this international break.
"I would wish it to be noted that I have always respected Mr Wiley's integrity and that I did not state or imply: that Mr Wiley is a bad referee; that he was in any way biased; that decision-making generally during the game was poor, or that he missed any key incident during the game.
"My only intention in speaking publicly, was to highlight what I believe to be a serious and important issue in the game, namely that the fitness levels of referees must match the ever increasing demands of the modern game, which I hope will now be properly addressed through the appropriate formal channels."
Only two weeks previously Ferguson had been seen joking with Wiley on the touchline immediately after Michael Owen's controversial winner in the six minutes of added time against Manchester City.