The Rational Ref

Alex Ferguson's complaints about fairness are totally unfair

United manager's scheduling complaints ahead of Champions League match in Madrid just another strategic ploy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 4:59am

Not for the last time that mercurial mischief-maker and masterfully meticulous Alex Ferguson has cried wolf, claiming "there's no fairness at all".

This came just prior to Manchester United facing two crucial back-to-back matches, one at home against an in-form Everton side and the other away against a dazzling array of Real Madrid stars.

So what does "fairness" mean in the ceremonial context of Fifa's Fair Play" and Uefa's Financial Fair Play, let alone the everyday sense of playing fair? Ferguson has claimed the English Premier League gave Real Madrid an advantage ahead of their Champion's League first-leg encounter at the Bernabeu.

"It's ridiculous to think that we play on Sunday and Real Madrid play on Saturday with that extra day's rest. We're not giving our teams a chance to be successful in Europe. Leagues in other countries make sacrifices for their teams," he said.

Followers of soccer know three days between matches is standard, which is what Manchester United had. Even during the EPL's congested festive period, teams had three days between matches.

Anything less is "odd", as Australia coach Holger Osieck remarked in December when he discovered his squad had only two days between matches - his team played four games in seven days - during the East Asian Football Federation qualifying tournament in Hong Kong.

Specifically, Ferguson implied La Liga was doing Spanish teams a favour. Real Madrid had a Saturday league fixture and therefore received an extra day's rest over Ferguson's side before Wednesday's draw in the Champions League.

However, Valencia also played on Saturday before playing three days later in the Champions League on Tuesday against opponents Paris Saint-Germain, who last played on Friday. PSG therefore had an extra day's rest. So, Ferguson's claim is utterly bogus. La Liga did not give Valencia special treatment.

Ferguson is fortunate to have a fantastic squad of players with enough depth to field two teams to have more than a "fair crack" at honours in both England and Europe.

Even the evergreen Ryan Giggs admitted this after he helped secure United's 2-0 win over Everton: "We've got players on the bench or not even getting on the bench who would walk into any other team. The squad is really strong, but you never take anything for granted."

Similarly in this week's Lunar New Year Cup at Hong Kong Stadium, reigning Thai champions Muangthong United were expected have a decent squad. However, they only brought two recognised goalkeepers for their two scheduled matches. Their first-choice keeper was injured during the first match and then their reserve keeper was sent off early in the second half for blocking a goal-bound shot using his hands while outside his penalty area.

Since this denied Shanghai East Asia an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, referee Tong Kui-sum was correct in awarding a red card, thus leaving Muangthong with no recognised goalkeeper. The words of Giggs resonate and ring true: "You never take anything for granted."

So why did Ferguson insist there is no fairness for Manchester United? If anything, any "lesser" team competing in the Champions League has a legitimate right over Ferguson to claim "there's no fairness at all". In this light, Ferguson's fakery is clearly evident.

His mischievous comments are typically aimed to give his side an edge. Rational Ref is glad the FA fined Ferguson for some of his unfair comments toward match officials. However, stiffer sanctions are needed.

That's because he initially denied the charges, further delaying the process. And the fine was just £12,000 (HK$143,000), a pittance compared with his £7.6 million annual salary. In this light, who would begrudge EPL match officials who claim "there's no fairness at all"?

Match officials understand "fairness" because they have the task of ensuring fairness for everyone, without fear or favour. A fundamental refereeing skill is knowing what is a fair and unfair challenge. Most players and coaches do not know how to define a foul.

Furthermore, they find it difficult to explain whether a foul deserves a card or not, and of what colour. Therefore, more than anyone in soccer, referees have a better sense of fair play, neutrality and reliability.

But because of this attention to fairness, referees will always be vilified by at least half the people at a match. Is that fair?