The past week has seen football embroiled in more unsavoury incidents regarding racism, a topic that has continued to rear its ugly head over the past year.
The incident involving Mark Clattenburg and Chelsea’s Jon Obi Mikel has filled up the majority of the column inches across the country for the past week, and sadly took the gloss off what was a superb week of football, with dramatic Premier League and Capital One Cup action unable to take centre stage.
The Friday before this weekend’s fixtures, Sir Alex Ferguson sat down to his pre-match press conference and simply added more fuel to the fire. A press conference that was supposed to build up to Manchester United‘s crucial clash with Arsenal, was overshadowed by his comments on the Clattenburg incident.
“I refuse to believe it. I think it’s unthinkable. Simple as that. There is no way a referee would stoop to that, I’m convinced about that,” Ferguson said.
“How they [Chelsea] have got themselves into this position I don’t know, but they are going to have to unravel themselves out of it somehow.
“I have had my run-ins with referees over the years. I have been fined a few times but I just think that what has happened over the past week is unthinkable. It’s an accusation which, even in the heat of the moment, shouldn’t be made. You can’t do that.”
The main headlines on Sky Sports news proceeded to centre around his comments, and of all the footage broadcast there was barely a mention of the huge clash with Arsenal the following day.
Ferguson is not entirely to blame; he was asked the question by those desperate to make the story as big as possible. I am simply disappointed that for football’s sake he did not choose to avoid it, and wonder as to what his motive could be for having his say on the matter?
While his club were involved in the fixture where the incident took place, it did not directly involve Manchester United or any of Ferguson’s players. It is not an incident that concerns his club in any way, shape or form.
Perhaps I am being cynical in thinking Ferguson didn’t make the comments in a bid to stand up for referees around the country? I think it is simply a cheap shot to try and derail Chelsea even further, as they have so far this season looked United’s biggest threat to the Premier League crown.
Irrelevant of whether Clattenburg did make the comments he was accused of making, from Chelsea’s point of view, if one of their players comes forward with such an allegation it is the club’s duty to take it seriously.
When Patrice Evra came forward with a complaint of racist abuse, firstly from a member of the Chelsea ground staff following a league fixture in April 2008, and then from Luis Suarez in October 2011, Manchester United made their complaint the same day, and it was made public immediately.
People can argue whether Chelsea went about it in the right way by making it public so soon, but it should be taken into account that this is a strange and isolated incident. There is no handbook or guide on the correct procedures to follow if a referee allegedly racially abuses one of your players.
Roberto Di Matteo is adamant Chelsea have behaved in the correct manner, and was quick to respond to Ferguson’s comments.
“We believe we behave correctly and will try to continue like that,” he said.
When asked whether Ferguson’s comments had proved unhelpful, he added: “I have to say that it happened in the past as well. Everybody has a different approach. Some people talk about other clubs and clubs’ issues and some don’t. People comment about the way we play, the way we deal with issues.
“It’s nothing new. It’s been happening for years. I’m not playing a victim here. Every team that is successful will be talked about. We continue on our road. We will fight against any kind of discrimination.”
As a football fan, I find it sad and frustrating that stories such as this continue to take centre stage. Chelsea has made their complaint to the authorities, and they will deal with it accordingly. In the meantime, it would surely be better for everyone if the situation was left alone and football took centre stage once more.
A man with all of Sir Alex’s experience should look to be making this situation possible, and would do well to leave incidents that don’t concern his team well alone.