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Signs a club no longer cares about a player: Ferdinand/Ferguson edition

Manchester United v Stoke City - Premier League

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United warms up before during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 20, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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21. You’re considering a disproportionately large fine over an issue you would have previously overlooked.

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Yesterday, I had my first say about Alex Ferguson’s threats. Today, it’s getting worse. Reports out of England have Manchester United considering a large and hugely significant fine for Rio Ferdinand, one that could represent a breaking point between player and club. If the fine happens (and right now, the reports are nothing more than informed speculation), it will signal a surprising amount of disregard for player who has been a club figurehead for over a decade.

When did Manchester United stop caring about Rio Ferdinand?

It bares repeating that this is all speculative. Manchester United has yet to sanction Ferdinand, but given manager Alex Ferguson has already hinted his veteran defender will be punished, it’s fair to discuss the potential implications. At least one decent source feels comfortable saying the fine could be over $350,000 (£220,000). Don’t expect Ferdinand to overlook the fact John Terry received an identical fine for the racial abuse of this brother, QPR defender Anton.

Rio ardently supported his brother, his public backing a potential factor in his exclusion from England’s Euro 2012 squad. Those same principles were in play when Rio decided to forgo his show of support for “Kick It Out,” declining to wear the T-shirt all players were asked to adorn during this weekend’s pre-game warmups. That Alex Ferguson had guaranteed (on Friday) his players would wear the endorsement left the manager’s with egg face. How dare one of his players defy him.

Had Ferguson not so capriciously hit out at Jason Roberts (the first player to say he wouldn’t wear the T-shirt), this controversy could have been avoided. Why was Ferguson speaking about Roberts, exactly? Presumably because he’d been asked, but his comments showed an amazing level of callus candor, a level of arrogance shocking for even an elite manager. In a profession that requires its members to be hyper-confident, Ferguson transcended self-assurance to disregard.

Why didn’t it occur to him that Rio Ferdinand was likely to join in Roberts’ stance? Or worse, if it did occur to him, why did Ferguson choose to create a test of his players’ loyalty, pitting principle against club?

When did Alex Ferguson stop caring about Rio Ferdinand?

Whenever it happened, it was also the likely starting point of Ferdinand’s exit from Manchester United. This course can still be changed, but if Manchester United fines Ferdinand - and fines him as much as John Terry was docked for attacking Anton - it’s hard to see Rio staying with the club. This is a man whose outspoken principles probably cost him a spot at Euro 2012. It’s a man who refused to wear a mere T-shirt that would counter those principles. He’s not a man that’s going to see this fine as tenable.

And Manchester United should know this. Alex Ferguson should know this. Why is the club taking such a strong stance, one that could be construed by some as an endorsement of accepting half-measures to tackle racism in soccer? As Ferguson persistes with a prideful defense of some offhand remarks, he’s cast Manchester United as disloyal, insensitive, and intolerant to one of their players’ views.

It may be time for United’s higher-ups to step in (as if there is anybody “higher up” than Alex Ferguson). A year ago, as then-Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish stubbornly (but loyally) persisted in his misguided support of Luis Suárez, the Anfield bosses came in and established a new course. The defense stopped. The debate ended. United’s bosses need to do the same. They need to tell Ferguson that this conflict can’t stay on in the public space.

There’s still time for Ferguson to walk back from this, and he can do so in a way that doesn’t have to admit fault or confess his arrogance. Tomorrow, the club could issue a statement saying that the issue is an internal matter, and further discussion in the media will only serve to complicate what is becoming a sensitive topic between two important Red Devils. ‘No comment’ will become the club’s public face, letting people assume Ferguson will have his way behind closed doors (even if he forgoes the fine).

If Ferguson persists with fining Ferdinand? Not only does he deserve the controversy, scrutiny, and derision from voices louder than this one, he deserves to lose Rio Ferdinand. Perhaps we’ll see Ferdinand at White Hart Lane in three months. The club, if they don’t step in, they deserve to be considered enablers. As much as Liverpool’s critics wanted to brand the club after the Suárez affair, Manchester United will deserve to be judged for condoning Ferguson’s actions.

Hopefully, none of those actions will take place, but even if there’s an abrupt change of course, Ferguson’s actions of the last three should be remembered. And not for the right reasons.

When did Alex Ferguson stop caring about Rio Ferdinand?