Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson apologized to referee Alan Wiley on Saturday for questioning his fitness during last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland.

Ferguson, who was also involved in a furious rant at the fourth official during the game, said in post-game interviews that he thought Wiley was not fit enough for a game of that importance and that the official occasionally walked because he needed a rest.

In a statement released on the Manchester United Web site, Ferguson said he was sorry for making the comments but maintained that the fitness levels of referees did not match the demands of the modern game.

“I apologize to Mr. Wiley for any personal embarrassment that my remarks may have caused and to the FA for going public with my views,” he said. “In retrospect, I accept that this could be deemed as expressing those views in an inappropriate forum.

“It was never my intention to bring the focus of intense media attention on Mr. Wiley. I intend to contact him personally after I return from a trip overseas during this international break.”

Ferguson said he had no problems with Wiley’s ability to make the right decisions.

“I would wish it to be noted that I have always respected Mr. Wiley’s integrity and that I did not state or imply: that Mr. Wiley is a bad referee; that he was in any way biased; that decision-making generally during the game was poor, or that he missed any key incident during the game,” Ferguson said.

“My only intention in speaking publicly, was to highlight what I believe to be a serious and important issue in the game, namely that the fitness levels of referees must match the ever increasing demands of the modern game, which I hope will now be properly addressed through the appropriate formal channels.”

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