Sir Alex fears being made an example of
Sir Alex Ferguson's camp claims that the Manchester United boss might be unable to gain a "fair hearing" from the Football Association over his attack on referee Alan Wiley. He was officially charged with improper conduct by the FA on Monday over the comments made after the draw with Sunderland.
Sir Alex had until Friday to deliver a written explanation of his remarks about the official. ESPN Soccernet has been told that despite three apologies, the first on the United official website, the second in a letter to the FA and a third he is ready to make direct to Wiley, the FA felt there was no choice but to charge him.
The comments came in an ESPN interview with Rebecca Lowe after Manchester United and Sunderland drew 2-2 at Old Trafford, with Sir Alex furious over Wiley's fitness.
"The pace of the game demanded a referee who was fit. He was not fit. It is an indictment of our game," said Ferguson. "You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher's dogs. We have some who are fit. He wasn't fit."
Sir Alex , who flies out to Russia with United on Monday for Champions League action on Wednesday tea-time against CSKA Moscow, will have the statutory 14 days to respond before the FA sort out a date for a hearing.
The FA said in a statement: "Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been charged with improper conduct.
"The charge relates to media comments made by Ferguson about referee Alan Wiley following United's match against Sunderland at Old Trafford on October 3. He has until November 3 to respond to the charge.''
Ferguson apologised to Wiley a week after making the remarks having concluded his attack was ill-judged. He said then: "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.
"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.''
A source close to Sir Alex told ESPN Socccernet: "I don't believe Sir Alex can now get a fair hearing. The Referees' Association has been putting undue pressure on the FA demanding that they inflict severe punishment against him.
"Yet it is unprecedented for any manager to receive a touchline ban for making post-match press comments."
But with new rules on comments about match officials and the FA's tough stance on the Respect campaign, there are growing fears in Sir Alex's camp that they will have to make an example of someone - irrespective of their status in the game.
The source added: "It will be at the discretion of the commission to decide the punishment, so anything is possible, but talk of a five-game ban is just ludicrous."
If there is any draconian punishment, then Sir Alex is sure to appeal, and the United manager has the full backing of his union, the League Managers' Association.
ESPN Soccernet has been told that the LMA and PFA are now engaged in monthly summit meetings with the referees and FA, to remove the chasm that exists between mangers and officials
After the incident with Sir Alex, the wider issues of referees' fitness and indeed their overall competence is now back on the agenda.
Sir Alex's criticism of Wiley's fitness levels has reopened a debate surrounding managers' deep concerns over the standard of refereeing in this country.
The LMA have taken the opportunity of Sir Alex's outspoken attack to insist that a long list of recommendations they issued back in March need to be implemented to improve standards of refereeing overall.