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Oct 13, 2009

Benitez escapes FA punishment

ESPN Soccernet can reveal Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has escaped with a warning as to his future conduct by the Football Association.

Benitez faced three allegations of making a personal attack on referee Phil Dowd - and was found guilty, not for his post-match remarks, but for his glasses joke that backfired.

ESPN Soccernet can also disclose that the FA Commission were critical that Neil Warnock was not similarly charged, when in the same weekend he put his fingers around his eyes in front of the referee, as if to suggest he needed glasses too, after Crystal Palace were not awarded a goal.

The FA Commission didn't name Warnock, but he was the manager incensed when the ball entered the net but the goal wasn't given.

The FA verdict was "not proven" on the two accounts of Benitez making comments about Dowd's penalty decisions and his overall performance. But the Liverpool manager was given a stern warning as to his future conduct, and any more attempts at making fun of referees will not be tolerated.

When asked in his post-match press conference what he thought of the referee's performance, Benitez reached for his glasses case, took out his specs and looked at them. That brought howls of laughter from the gathered media, and the audio and video recordings of the incident were played at the FA commission.

The disciplinary commission stated: "A regulatory commission of the FA has found Mr Rafael Benitez guilty of misconduct in relation to a breach of FA Rule E3, arising out of a gesture made by him during a post-match briefing. The commission concluded the gesture was objectively offensive.

"The commission noted Mr Benitez's previous exemplary disciplinary record over 23 years as a coach and manager at the highest level of the sport. Taking into account all relevant factors, the commission concluded that the appropriate penalty was to warn Mr Benitez as to his future conduct with regards to interviews and press briefings."

Liverpool insisted, however, that the commission accepted Benitez was merely trying to be funny.

The club said in a statement: "The commission accepted that a gesture made with a pair of spectacles was 'in a non-malicious and humorous manner' and, taking into account Mr Benitez's previous unblemished record, warned him about his future conduct. No fine was imposed or costs awarded against the Liverpool manager.

Graham Bean, whose company Football Factors specialises in defending such high profile managers, accompanied Benitez at the hearing.

Bean told ESPN Soccernet: "It seems the only people who suffered a sense of humour failure was the compliance office at the FA! Everybody else thought Rafa's gesture was hilarious.

"But I think that is reflected in the punishment: a warning, no fine, not even an order for the costs of the case."

Bean's next mission is to try to defend Sir Alex Ferguson in his fitness jibe at Alan Wiley, and the FA are likely to show even less of a sense of humour in that hearing.

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