Ferguson's mob rantings - We've seen this type of rhetoric before

Last updated : 19 October 2004 By Alan Kirwan
Fergie: Plot = Lost
....that they were worse than Cantona's attack on a Palace fan in 1994 or so. And that one of the reasons they were worse is because they were caught on live TV.

Let's rewind the time clock a bit. Roughly February 2002 if memory serves. In December 2001 Thierry Henry had been so incensed with Graham Poll following the conclusion of a match at Highbury which Newcastle won 3-1 (thanks partially at least to some questionable decision making on Poll's part) that he berated Graham Poll somewhat forcefully, albeit verbally and without the use of bad language. By February Henry's charge of improper conduct had yet to be heard by the FA and Sir Alex in his wisdom chose to remind the FA how appalling Henry's behaviour had been and that the mists of time and its passage should not cloud the FA's vision and recollection of how Henry's reaction was the worst he had ever seen from a player to a referee.

On reflection what Thierry Henry had done was in truth no worse than the sort of abuse referees get from players week-in, week-out, whenever a decision angers a side or an individual player sufficiently. The main difference was that it was after a match had finished, so there was no further play to concentrate on.

Outcome? Henry was suspended for three games (ironically two of them cam in the FA Cup fifth round against the very same Newcastle United team) with only one of them being in the league. Ultimately Arsenal went on to win the League and FA Cup double with the game that clinched the title taking place at Sir Alex's own theatre of (broken) dreams!

Ferguson was rattled in February 2002. He knew that one of the only ways he might manage to rein Arsenal in that year was to deny them, through means of off the pitch verbal jousting, and not on the field football, their top scorer for as much of the title run-in as possible. It didn't work then. He has become rattled by October this season. Not only are his own side not firing on all cylinders, but Arsenal have been in overdrive for most of the start of the current season. The gap is already 11 points with the appalling vista of a 14 point gap arising if Man Utd fail to prevent Arsenal's quest to reach 50 games unbeaten in the league.

Let's be honest about Ferguson's comments. What happened between Manchester United and Arsenal last year at Old Trafford was not even close to the worst scene at a football match. The battle of Old Trafford between the same sides in 1990/1991 was worse. As recently as this season we saw worse at Fulham v West Brom. Last season Blackburn and Southampton served up much tastier fare in terms of an on pitch battle. The season before Leeds and Chelsea had a fight worthy of the name and the season before that Chelsea again were involved in much worse with Tottenham Hotspur in a Premiership game.

The comparison with the Cantona incident is laughable. Cantona attacked a fan … with physical force! Far more force than was applied by any Arsenal player towards a Man Utd player last year. And the comments that Arsenal's actions were worse because they were seen by millions is even more risible. Players should be treated on the basis of their actions - not based upon whether they were seen by more or less people. With no disrespect to the Championship or Nationwide league their players should not be judged on different standards because they are seen on TV or at Stadia by less people.

Ferguson is doing nothing more than trying to stir things up off the pitch in order to distract Arsenal on it. He is also sewing the seeds of thought in Mike Riley's head regarding Arsenal's on field conduct. Which does deserve scrutiny. After all Arsenal's unbeaten record is only surpassed by Arsenal's appalling number of sending offs under Wenger. Or is it? Lets look at some other facts regarding Arsenal's discipline. Independent figures. Last season Arsenal won the Premiership fair play award judged on UEFA criteria. The season before that Arsenal were third. Last season Arsenal came eighth out 20 teams in the Premiership table of red and yellow cards based on the three points for a red and one for a yellow scoring system. The season before that they were also eighth. They are currently for this season exactly half way in the table - 10th. This is not the conduct of an undisciplined side, this is the form of a side that has at worst an average record, and at best could be described as better than most of the teams in the Premiership.

Alex Ferguson is clutching at straws, just like he did in February 2002. It didn't work then and it won't work now. Arsenal go into the 50th game of their unbeaten run in the form of their lives. Man United do not. If Man Utd are to halt the run, they will need to do it where it counts - on the pitch, and not in the media. Sir Alex should devote his energies to focussing on that task and not making malevolent barbed jibes at the team his side is facing.