The Football Association's decision not to punish Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson for his Boxing Day tirade sends the wrong message to Premier League managers and clubs about discipline along the touch line.
By failing to report the incident, referee Mike Dean has allowed for the possibility of future abuse from furious managers.
That's true, in theory at least. In practice, with big names like Manchester United and Ferguson involved, those decisions also prompt one to wonder whether justice is blind to stature and reputation.
The incident in question occurred Wednesday during Manchester United's thrilling 4-3 victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford. Newcastle took a 2-1 lead late in the first half through a Jonny Evans own goal.
The goal was initially ruled out by the linesman for offside on Newcastle's Papiss Cissé. Cissé did not touch the ball, but put pressure on Evans in United's box. Moments later, Dean awarded the goal, ruling that since Cissé had not touched the ball, he had not been in an active position—thus he was not offside.
Dean's decision angered Ferguson. The 70-year-old Scot remonstrated along the sideline in the officials' area before and after halftime. During the break, Ferguson confronted Dean on the pitch.
"He said it was an own goal. But if you see it again, and the referee can't, the guy is in an offside position, then he pulls Evans's arm," Ferguson said (via BBC Sport). "If that is not interfering, what is? I think it was a bad decision."
Whether or not Ferguson is right is immaterial. Both viewpoints can draw support from sound arguments. The issue here is Ferguson's conduct toward Dean.
Ferguson overstepped his bounds when confronting Dean. He harassed and showed up multiple match officials, undermining their authority while the match was still going. For those actions, Ferguson should receive a punishment, but he won't.
As The Guardian reports, Ferguson will face no disciplinary action from the FA. Dean did not report any of Ferguson's actions and English football's governing body has confirmed it will not pursue any disciplinary measures against Ferguson.
For all but the most hardened United fans, this boggles the mind.
Ferguson has a right to question controversial calls, but he should do so in civil fashion—whether that's during or after the match. Ferguson clearly took his protests too far.
By its own laws, the FA should act. In its regulations concerning misconduct in the technical area (Rule E3), the FA says it shall consider the following factors before bringing charges:
(a) The nature of the behaviour of the individual concerned;
(b) Any dissent, disrespect or abusive behaviour;
(c) The public nature or otherwise of the reported behaviour;
(d) The duration of the incident;
(e) Disciplinary action taken by the Match Referee as a result of the incident
Surely Ferguson's actions fall into this area at some point.
The final point could be used to argue against disciplining Ferguson, but the Scot's actions clearly showed dissent and disrespect. He also carried out that dissent in a highly public manner and multiple incidents of that dissent made for a long duration.
By the FA's rules for standard penalties, a violation of Rule E3 by a non-player calls for a one-match touch line ban and an £8,000 fine. Ferguson will face neither. That is simply absurd.
Wenger did not confront Dean as Ferguson did, but he did overstep his bounds with his farcical reaction upon reaching the stands. For his actions, Ferguson ought to face at least a similar penalty.
That Ferguson won't face any penalty suggests the FA and Dean do not dole out discipline consistently. That is neither right nor fair, and any and all managers and clubs in the English game will immediately take notice.