EIGHT MONTHS IT IS THEN
United are ready to advise Rio Ferdinand to accept his eight-month and drop plans to appeal. The final say will rest with the England defender, but well-placed sources at Old Trafford have confirmed that the mood in the boardroom has shifted significantly in the past couple of weeks.
Ferdinand has until Monday to inform the Football Association if he wants to appeal and the centre half held more meetings with lawyers and advisers yesterday.
They have waded through the huge report from the disciplinary panel explaining his sentence and the player has received legal advice that he has grounds to contest the length of the ban, even if he accepts the guilty verdict.
But while the lawyers believe they have a case, within Old Trafford there has been a growing realisation that an appeal might be damaging.
Maurice Watkins, the solicitor and club director, said immediately after Ferdinand’s hearing on December 19 that an appeal was “inevitable” because of the “savage and unprecedented” punishment, but wavering in the boardroom could, according to more than one source, lead to a reversal of policy. “It has gone from a definite appeal to 50-50 and weakening,” one said.
The reasons are plentiful and they are not based purely on self-interest. From the start, some of the United hierarchy have said that the club should adopt a more conciliatory tone, but Watkins and David Gill, the chief executive, opted to go on the attack. Standing down now might look like surrender, but Gill has been advised that it is not too late to do the right thing.
There are also practical reasons to drop the appeal, not least because the sentence is almost certain to be ratified by the FA and there is a real prospect of having it increased, given that the maximum ban is two years.
Moreover, the governing body is under huge pressure from Fifa, the sport’s world governing body, and drugs agencies not to be lenient.
United are also aware that, if a ban was to start immediately, Ferdinand would be back in action in September. An appeal process could take another few weeks, in which case his suspension could bite into next season’s Champions League campaign and a significant chunk of the domestic season.
The player might decide that a delay of several weeks will not make much difference, but if there is little prospect of success, the club would prefer to have him back as soon as possible.
The issues will be thrashed out over the next two days because, after strong criticism of the way they have handled the case, United want to resolve the issue before the eleventh hour.
The team is due to fly to Dubai on Monday for a four-day winter break before the FA Cup fourth-round tie away to Northampton Town, which is another reason to determine their plans by the end of this week.