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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Punishing players the proper way
By Tom Fordyce

Patrick Vieira shouts
Vieira has the worst disciplinary record in Premiership history - nine red cards
The way English football deals with footballers in trouble is likely to change, regardless of any action taken against Arsenal and Manchester United players.

The primary concerns over the present system centre on how long it can take the Football Association to act once an offence has been committed.

In theory a player or manager, once they have been charged with misconduct, has 14 days to answer the charge. In practice it can take much longer to resolve.

Critics of the FA claim that it is possible for clubs to delay disciplinary hearings to their own advantage.

If several first-team players from the same club are facing bans at the same time, a club can play the FA system to stagger any potential bans and still be within the letter, if not the spirit, of the law.

By waiting the full 14 days before answering any charge a player buys himself a certain amount of time. If they then request a personal hearing, the process is set back still further.

Under FA rules a personal hearing can only take place on a date that is agreeable to the player, referee, assistant referees and FA committee members.

That can take months. And it is highly unlikely that several hearings will all take place on the same day - meaning bans are less likely to run concurrently.

Arsenal see red

Sol Campbell is still awaiting a personal hearing with the FA after being charged with violent conduct for kicking United's Eric Djemba-Djemba at the Community Shield.

The actual incident took place on 10 August - but a month and a half later the process is still to reach a conclusion.

Arsene Wenger in serious mood
Wenger's Arsenal have received 52 red cards in seven years

Two seasons ago Sir Alex Ferguson accused Arsenal of deliberately prolonging procedures in an attempt to reduce the possible punishments handed out to Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.

Henry faced charges relating to a post-match outburst at referee Graham Poll on 18 December 2001, but did not go in front of the FA until 6 March 2002.

Similarly, Vieira was accused of elbowing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink during a Premiership game on 26 December 2001 but did not face a hearing until 14 March 2002.

If the five Arsenal players (Lauren, Lehman, Cole, Parlour and Keown) are finally punished after the fracas at Old Trafford last Sunday and receive bans at the same time, the club could be missing seven first-team regulars for the game against Chelsea on 18 October.

Vieira is already out of that match after his dismissal at the weekend, while Campbell has that three-match ban still hanging over him.

There are influential men at the FA who feel that, should all the players in question be found guilty of improper or violent conduct, the club should have to deal with the consequences, even if that means losing more than half their first XI.

And the longer the hearings drag on, the more damage is done to football's image.

Hit in the wallet

FA chief executive Mark Palios is also keen that punishments handed out to players and clubs reflect the seriousness of the charges.

The size of some of the fines that have been imposed is somewhat laughable when compared to the income of those being penalised.

Dennis Bergkamp was fined just 5,000 - about a day's wages to the Dutchman - after stamping on Blackburn's Nils-Eric Johansson in October last year.

Match bans are seen as a more effective way of hitting both player and club, and the FA has the power to extend them as they see fit.

While a charge of violent conduct results in a three-match ban, more serious offences can incur more severe embargoes.

Roy Keane was banned for five games after admitting in his autobiography that he deliberately hurt Alf-Inge Haaland in April 2001, while Eric Cantona was banned from football for nine months following his kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons in 1995.

Arsenal players have missed 148 games because of suspensions in Wenger's seven years at Highbury.

While this is punishment enough for some, the total red-card count under Wenger - 52 and counting - compares very badly with United's 20 dismissals in the same period.

It is this persistent offending that may have warranted the FA's more concerted action.

BBC Sport's Gordon Farquhar
"A fine looks likely for Arsenal"

How should Arsenal be punished if found guilty of failing to control their players at Old Trafford?
No punishment
Player suspensions
Docked points
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Eight charged after bust-up
24 Sep 03  |  Premiership

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