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THE PUBLIC debate over Sir Alex Ferguson’s five match touchline ban has been fascinating. the anti-Manchester United brigade on one side and the realists on the other. But the fact remains that Fergie was only telling the truth. And his defiance is actually for the good of the game.

Sir Alex has been harshly punished for critcising referee Martin Atkinson over a diabolical performance that cost United defeat by Chelsea in one of the biggest matches of the season. As the Boss says, football is the only industry where you get punished for telling the truth.

“Fergie Fury Ban” The Sun

It is disappointing to hear influential journalists like Henry Winter of the Telegraph declare that Fergie has been ‘let off lightly’. Former Chelsea midfielder turned pundit Andy Townsend  told ITV viewers United’s manager has ‘crossed the line.” And football phone-ins have been full of so-called experts declaring the 5-match ban is fair enough for doubting the referee’s integrity.

But football owes Sir Alex a debt of gratitude for challenging the outdated rule that the referee’s decision must not be questioned. Why on earth not? As I have said before, in this modern age football is a laughing stock when the watching world can instantly see the match officials have made a gross misjudgmenet.

Ferguson swiftly apologised to clarify that he was not questioning the referee’s integrity. Surely Ferguson and any other manager in the game is entitled to state his opinion when he believes the referee has made a mistake – as Arsene Wenger did when Rob Van Persie was disgracefully sent off in Barcelona and Avram Grant did at the weekend after West Ham’s FA Cup defeat at Stoke.

Both Wenger and Grant are now in the dock and facing punishment (which if football’s governing bodies are going to be consistent will be similarly severe, but that is another story!). But Ferguson, Wenger, Grant and the countless other managers who criticize referees are not doing anything unlawful.

This is 21st Century Britain where we pride ourselves on freedom of speech and fair play. What the Football Association should be tackling is how to improve refereeing standards and introduce technology to make the game fairer for all.

Alex Ferguson criticizes referee Martin Atkinson

Rival football fans often ridicule Sir Alex for pointing to his watch and insisting that injury time is added at the end of matches. But they all have  United’s manager to thank because he is largely responsible for the official introduction of injury time being announced at the end of all matches. And that is far better than the old system when no-one knew how much time would be added on.

Hopefully one day the game will find a way of stamping out bad refereeing decisions and not take the easy option of punishing a manager for telling the truth.

As former manager Kevin Blackwell said on BBC Radio this morning: Fergie was right and if he is being honest even Martin Atkinson will admit he made bad decisions in the Chelsea match.

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FABIO CAPELLO may have been a successful club manager in Italy – but the England job is just too big for him. And the latest embarrassing saga of whether or not John Terry will replace the injured Rio Ferdinand as skipper is the last straw.

Capello's latest error of judgment has embrassed Rio Ferdinand

Capello’s latest error of judgment has embrassed Rio Ferdinand

The way Capello – who got it so hopelessly wrong at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa – has been manipulated by the media proves it is time for him to make way for Harry Redknapp, the outstanding English manager of his generation.

Even thinking about handing the captain’s armband back to John Terry on a permanent basis is a disgrace. But to chew the matter over with the press and appear to write off Ferdinand before he has discussed it with the player is shameful.

The England captaincy has become a big issue for Capello following February’s friendly against Denmark when Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Ashley Cole all wore the armband at different stages of the match because Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard were both out injured.

“I was really upset about what happened in Denmark, when I saw the players saying ‘who is the captain?’,” said Capello. “After one year of punishment, it was not the best moment for John Terry to see this. For that reason, I need to make a decision – and it will be a permanent decision, not just one game.”

Terry was stripped of the captaincy in February 2010 after reports surfaced that he had an affair with the former partner of England team-mate Wayne Bridge. Ferdinand, 32, was made captain. But has since made only four appearances for England and will miss the upcoming game against Wales because of problems with his back and calf.

Capello wants Terry back - how Daily Mail broke the story

Capello wants Terry back – how Daily Mail broke the story

Now it seems Capello has been persuaded to re-think his stance by “certain London-based media” close to the Chelsea skipper. England’s bungling boss revealed his thinking over an espresso in an Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge on Monday. His camp now insist no decision has been made but admit Terry is being considered.

He may be an experienced player. But Terry is past his best and has lost respect within the England team for a series of errors of judgement. World Cup skipper Steven Gerrard was undermined by Terry’s arrogant and ill-advised attempt to hold a players’ meeting to discuss their failings in South Africa.

Now Ferdinand has every right to be upset over the way Capello has managed the situation by floating his idea of re-instating Terry in public. It is not the first time the Italian has embarrassed one of his stars in this way. Last August he told the media David Beckham was finished as an England international and admitted in the same interview he had not even discussed it with the player.

Now it is time for the Football Association to tell Capello that he is finished. And the sooner the better.

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WHISPER it quietly around the Southern-biased media, but Manchester United are edging closer to a repeat of their famous Treble of 1999.

While certain sections of the media continue with their mindless obsession of looking for ways to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s relentless boss just keeps on driving his club forward in the quest for honours.

1999 re-visited: anti-Manchester United media will not stop Fergie's insatiable quest for silverware

1999 re-visited: anti-Manchester United media will not stop Fergie’s insatiable quest for silverware

The Reds will take some stopping now in the FA Cup after condemning Arsenal to their third Cup exit in 13 days. Even the prospect of a pivotal trip to the Emirates in the race for the Premier League is no major concern for the men from Old Trafford.

A bigger test for Fergie is how to avoid a lengthy touchline ban following his remarks about referee Martin Atkinson after last week’s controversial defeat by defending champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

There is no doubt the FA are under pressure from an anti-Manchester United media to dish out a severe punishment for the alleged improper conduct. But United’s boss will rightly fight his corner because he has “not said anything out of place.”

Arsene Wenger – also in the dock after his attack on the referee who disgracefully sent off Robin Van Persie in Barcelona – will never be subjected to the kind of venom directed at Sir Alex.

But Wenger’s underachievers are consistently put on a pedestal by the infatuated Southern media who seem to think the Gunners are the Premier League’s Barcelona.

Unlike Barca, Ars-elona have not won a trophy for six years. And United know they have the beating of their only realistic challenge for the title.

The most difficult leg of the Treble will of course be the Champions League where United are in good shape to overpower Marseille on Tuesday night after a goal-less first leg in France.

Barcelona – currently on a different level from every other team on the planet – are staking their claim to be hailed as the greatest football team in the history of the game.

Real Madrid also look formidable Spanish opposition in a twin threat from La Liga that the bookies are expecting to trump the best of British.

But as we all know, any team is beatable in football. And there is still time for United to find the form to match their latest merciless march towards silverware.

The odds are United are destined to fall short of repeating their remarkable feat of 1999. Manchester rivals City fancy their chances of halting the red machine in the FA Cup.

And yet there is something about Fergie and his insatiable desire to win everything that keeps United fans believing nothing is impossible.

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ROBBIE SAVAGE is the star of BBC Radio Five Live’s Football Phone-In – and tonight’s banter with special guest Ryan Giggs was priceless.

Robbie Savage: “Ryan Giggs is the best ever Premier League player. And in the Top 10 the world has ever seen.”

The repisote from Giggs when Savage described Man Utd’s 1992 youth team as the best ever:

“Yeah we played in the best ever Youth team – and then there was you!.

Giggs is a genious and a comedian.

Twenty-four hours earlier it was entertainment of the highest order when another Manchester United legend Paddy Crerand made a passionate defence of Sir Alex Ferguson over the FA charge of improper conduct for criticising referee Martin Atkinson.

The Old Trafford boss is in the dock after saying he “feared the worst” when Atkinson was appointed for the Chelsea match which United controversially lost 2-1.

“You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway – and we didn’t get that,” said Fergie.

As MUTV’s brilliant presenter and pundit succinctly told the listeners. “What happened to free speech. Everyone who watched that match knows the referee had a shocker. It’s not good enough in a big match like that with so much at stake.”

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WHEN IT COMES to picking a role model there has never been any footballer greater than Ryan Giggs – and it is hard to imagine any athlete in the history of sport with more longevity at the top level than the Manchester United legend.

As Sir Alex Ferguson says: “You run out of words to describe Ryan Giggs. He is a marvellous player and a wonderful man. To have the desire and the ability to play at the top level in such a physically demanding position at his age requires a special person. He is still turning in man of the match performances and his experience is so vital for the younger players in the squad.”

Giggs, on course for yet another remarkable milestone, has signed a one year extension to his contract, in a deal that will see him complete his 21st season as a first team player.

And what is so great about the Welsh wizard is that he still has much to contribute to the team. As the great man himself acknowledges: “It is great to know I’m contributing to the team’s success. I feel I’ve still got a lot to offer.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is play for United and I’ve been lucky enough to do that for 20 years. This is an exciting time to be involved with so many good young players coming through.”

Giggs has made more than 850 appearances for the club and recently played his 600th Premier League game.

Ryan Giggs in action in the mid 90s - he made his debut in March 1991. Photo: Copyright visionsport.TV

Ryan Giggs in action in the mid 90s - he made his debut in March 1991. Photo: Copyright visionsport.TV

He signed professional forms with United in 1990, making his debut in March 1991. In that time he has made a club record 862 appearances, scoring 158 goals. He has won 11 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, one Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Club World Cup.  Published by visionsport.TV

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WHAT IS truly delicious about the Wayne Rooney saga is the way Sir Alex Ferguson has turned hysterical media speculation about the end of his empire into another spectacular triumph that will re-ignite United’s challenge for trophies.

Make no mistake this is one of Fergie’s greatest achievements. And all the so-called experts in the media did not see it coming – especially the Southern-biased critics who desperately want United to fail.

We're here to win - Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney celebrate a new 5-year deal designed to keep the England striker at Old Trafford until 2015

We’re here to win – Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney celebrate a new 5-year deal designed to keep the England striker at Old Trafford until 2015

By the end of the season the doubters will be eating their words yet again because this is another reminder that it is much more than money can buy that makes Manchester United the greatest club in the world.

As Fergie proudly declared this afternoon: “It’s a big day for Manchester United and it’s also a message for all our players and all our fans that we are the biggest club in the world. And we should never forget that.”

In a masterful performance that ranks alongside the way he brought Eric Cantona back from the brink, Sir Alex has not only dumbfounded all the critics waiting like vultures to write off the most successful football manager of the modern era. The Manchester United manager has laid the foundations for yet another bid for glory. And he has done it with the style and class that demonstrates why there is plenty of life left yet in this wily Glaswegian.

In less than 72 hours, talk of the end of an era has been replaced by the powerful motivational challenge to prove that passion, skill and good management can outclass the richess of teams like Chelsea and the even more opulent Manchester City.

In a season when United could easily have stumbled to oblivion if the players had started to believe what the media was telling them, the manager has whipped up the psychological recipe for a new goal that could deliver one of the greatest prizes in the club’s history.

While arch rivals Liverpool, the only club in Britain that comes even close to matching United’s stature, staggers out of the clutches of Hicks and Gillette into a relegation battle, Fergie’s men have their eyes on a record-breaking 19th League title.

Clearly, a powerful Chelsea in pole position are the favourites to deny United, while City are equipped to mount their strongest challenge since the 60s. But this is exactly the type of challenge that stimulates the great players to step up and fight for glory.

Itching to show the world he has what it takes to become a true great, an apologetic Rooney declared: “This is the right club for me to be at and the club is going to continue being successful and winning things.”

Make no mistake, this is the week that Sir Alex gave his troops the ammunition they need to reach for the stars. Rooney has something to prove. And the battle is about to begin.

Get ready for the next chapter – The Empire Strikes Back

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Savage is right: Celtic and Rangers would not even win the Championship!

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After watching Watford demolish Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road on Saturday I had to agree with Robbie’s Savage’s post-match rant on the radio about the poor state of the SPL.

Gordon Strachan - shopping in Scotland is not good enough

Gordon Strachan - shopping in Scotland is not good enough

The link is Gordon Strachan. The Boro boss has insisted on shopping in Scotland in his attempt to build a team equipped to return to the Premier League.But the harsh reality is that players like Kris Boyd, who could not stop scoring for long periods at Rangers, is no better than the average striker in the Championship. And Boro are no nearer a winning formula than they were under Gareth Southgate.

Strachan collected three SPL titles in a row with Celtic and never won over the fans who thought his brand of football was too boring.

The difference is at Middlesbrough the fans still don’t like him, but his team is nowhere near good enough to win the Championship.

That brings us to the aforementioned Savage whose post-match banter on BBC Radio 5 Live’s football phone-in has become compulsive listening.

The veteran now plying his trade with Derby County said what a lot of experts are privately thinking when he insisted Celtic and Rangers are a long way short of being good enough to compete in the Premier League.

Rangers may have claimed a goal-less draw against Manchester United in the Champions League last week when they parked the bus at Old Trafford.But as Savage so eloquently argues the Glasgow giants are not even good enough to think about winning the Championship.

My bet is that teams like Watford, Queens Park Rangers, Cardiff and even newly-promoted Millwall would have a good shot at winning the SPL


September 26th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Rampant Rangers the talk of the Town

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As I predicted in my match report in the Sunday Mirror a month ago QPR are going to take some stopping in the Championship this season.

Top of the Table

Top of the Championship – 14 September 2010

Tonight’s 3-0 win at promotion rivals Ipswich Town sends Rangers three points clear at the top with 16 points from a possible 18 after the opening six matches.

What is even more impressive is a goal difference of plus 15 with 17 goals scored and only two conceded. And the emphatic win at Portman Road was against an Ipswich side unbeaten in their previous eight matches in all competitions this season.

After playing musical chairs with a string of managers over the past couple of seasons the impatient Rangers board look like they finally have the right man for the job with Neil Warnock in the hot seat at Loftus Road.