Sir Alex Ferguson defends right to 'fair comment'

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Ferguson was forced to sit in the stands for United's win against Bolton

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson says managers should be free to discuss performances of officials, providing any criticism is justifiable.

Ferguson was given a five-match touchline ban and £30,000 fine by the Football Association in March for criticising referee Martin Atkinson.

The Scot told ESPN: "If you speak your mind it's a problem in the game. The FA are very strong in supporting referees.

"In a way I totally agree with that, but there's got to be fair comment."

Ferguson was found guilty of improper conduct after he expressed his anger at Atkinson's display in the 2-1 Premier League defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 1 March.

"You want a fair referee - or a strong referee, anyway - and we didn't get that," he said immediately after the match.

The 69-year-old was furious that defender David Luiz was not sent off for fouls on Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney after the Brazilian defender had already been booked. He was also angry about the decision to award Chelsea a penalty when Yuri Zhirkov fell under Chris Smalling's challenge.

Craig Moore, chairman of the FA commission that punished the Manchester United manager, wrote that Ferguson had "undermined the FA's Respect campaign" and added: "Respect for referees' integrity is essential for the integrity of football."

Despite his punishment, Ferguson has again risked the wrath of the FA by bemoaning the performance of officials in recent fixtures.

"I think the last few games we've had terrible decisions against us and you've just got to be careful you don't have paranoia about it," said Ferguson, who opted not to contest the FA's ruling.

The five-match touchline ban began with United's 1-0 win over Bolton at Old Trafford on 19 March.

Ferguson will also have to watch from the stands for the games against West Ham, Fulham and Everton, as well as the FA Cup semi-final meeting with Manchester City at Wembley on 16 April.

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