Ferdinand may play on until March


Paul Kelso

Manchester United yesterday received written clarification from the English FA of the reasons for Rio Ferdinand's eight-month ban for failing to take a drugs test, kick-starting an appeal process that could see him playing on until March.

Ferdinand's ban is due to start on Monday but, under FA rules, the punishment will be set aside pending the outcome of the appeal.

The player has 14 working days in which to lodge an appeal. Ferdinand's solicitor, the Manchester United director Maurice Watkins, has already said an appeal is "inevitable" and has until January 25th to notify the FA.

The document clarifying the disciplinary committee's decision was finalised over the weekend by the panel chairman Barry Bright, assisted by John Mason, the Birmingham-based barrister retained by the committee.

Given United's approach to the Ferdinand case, which has been characterised by antagonism towards the FA, it would be a surprise if they were to lodge the appeal significantly ahead of the deadline.

It is in the club's interest for Ferdinand to play on as long as possible, given that even in the best-case scenario United expect the defender to face a ban of some sort but hope to reduce it by up to five months.

On receipt of United's notice of appeal the FA will begin scheduling an appeal hearing, a process that could take several weeks despite Soho Square's desire to deal with the case expeditiously.

The hearing will examine Ferdinand's grounds for appeal and any new evidence United bring on his behalf but is unlikely to hear from any witnesses in person.

Meanwhile, Bolton have signed Javi Moreno (29) on loan from Atletico Madrid until the end of the season, subject to a medical.

The Czech international goalkeeper Petr Cech is close to signing for Chelsea. The 21-year-old, who plays in France for Rennes, is valued at between £6 million and £8 million.

PSV Eindhoven have accused Alex Ferguson of underhand tactics in attempting to smooth the potential transfer of the Holland winger Arjen Robben to Manchester United.

The PSV chairman Harry van Raaij was incensed to learn that the 19-year-old, whose father Hans acts as his agent, had visited Manchester last Friday with his parents.

Van Raaij, while admitting regular contact with the United chief executive David Gill and promising not to report United to UEFA, is infuriated with Ferguson's role in luring Robben.

"I have had good relations with Manchester United in the past over the Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam transfers but bad relations with Ferguson," said the PSV chairman, who was annoyed by the United manager's tactics in luring both Dutch internationals from his club in 1998 and 2001.

"I recognise here exactly the same actions as when he approached them both. It is Ferguson's way of doing business but it is not my way. You can look back and see similarities to what happened with Stam and Van Nistelrooy. It just seems that, with Ferguson, a leopard never loses its spots."

Van Raaij added: "United approached us some months ago about their interest in Arjen but then I heard today that Robben was in Manchester last week and I didn't know anything about that. There was absolutely no contact from any United delegate and we are unhappy that we did not know one of our players was visiting another club without our permission.

"I have spoken to David Gill since I learned of the visit and he was a little embarrassed and said that the initiative was taken by Robben's parents. But we are not going to report United to UEFA. They had approached us in the past to say that they were interested."

Former Chelsea and Newcastle boss Ruud Gullit is confident the Dutch football association will not stand in the way of his return to club football after Feyenoord announced him as their new coach for next season. Gullit is currently manager of the Dutch under-19 team.

Guardian Service