Ferguson could face backlash

MANCHESTER - Sir Alex Ferguson has been branded a "bully" over his latest verbal onslaught on a referee and warned that Manchester United could face a backlash from outraged match officials.

MANCHESTER - Sir Alex Ferguson has been branded a "bully" over his latest verbal onslaught on a referee and warned that Manchester United could face a backlash from outraged match officials.

Ferguson has been asked by the Football Association to explain why he labelled referee Alan Wiley as "unfit" after United's 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The Scot faces a possible charge of improper conduct that could result in a fine or touchline ban.

Ferguson's comments, widely interpreted as being designed to distract attention from a sub-par display by his side and the latest in a string of errors by goalkeeper Ben Foster, have caused outrage among leading English referees.

That fury was articulated by Jeff Winter, now retired but until recently one of England's top match officials, who said he would not be surprised if Wiley decided to sue the United boss over the damage he had caused to his reputation.

"It was a cowardly attack. Sir Alex wouldn't have said it to Alan Wiley's face," Winter told the Guardian.

"Every game Alan Wiley takes charge of now where he makes a decision which upsets some fans, is going to result in chants of 'You're not fit to referee'. He's going to be known as the 'unfit ref'.

"Sir Alex won't care, though. He's a knight of the realm and he thinks he's untouchable, bullet-proof. But he's also a bully."

Winter predicted that the anger among the referees would affect how they handle future matches at Old Trafford. - Sapa-AFP

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