Give the managers somerope
about his actions by the Football Association, and it was said he got off lightly. How so? We all want respect for referees, but it has to be balanced with respect for managers; for their freedom to deliver an honest opinion. In the fall-out from Sir Alex Ferguson’s criticisms of Alan Wiley, we are in danger of over-reaction. It cannot be right that 76,000 people in a stadium are allowed to express a view and the one man who is not is the guy with most at stake. There are boundaries, certainly in incendiary language implying cheating or corruption, but it is wrong to deny a manager his voice: certainly in an age when the worth of his words can instantly be assessed with an action replay.
More than any fine or ban, the greater penalty for Benitez was that once the baseless nature of his protests had been established, it made him look foolish. He became a man looking for excuses to distract from a poor performance by his side and his error in losing Xabi Alonso. Once the Prozone statistics revealed that Wiley had run further than all but four Manchester United players during the match with Sunderland, Ferguson’s criticism of his fitness backfired spectacularly and he was widely called to account as a manager trying to deflect from the inadequacies of his team.
The real punishment for a manager falsely bad-mouthing a referee is loss of credibility, just as a player who is identified by television as a diver loses out in the long run because even legitimate fouls are ignored amid suspicion.
The FA does not need to bring back hanging on this one, they just need to give managers enough rope. Martin Samuel is the chief sports writer of the Daily Mail, where his column appears on Monday and Wednesday