Another racism controversy for Chelsea

Referee Mark Clattenburg and Chelsea are at the centre of a controversy surrounding allegations of...

Referee Mark Clattenburg and Chelsea are at the centre of a controversy surrounding allegations of racism. (REUTERS)

JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:10 PM ET

When your owner is one of the richest men in the world, when you’re champions of Europe and the team has just been re-invigorated with the quality of such as Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Brazil’s Oscar, there should be no shortage of reasons why for the last week you have dominated each day of the English sports agenda.

Unfortunately Chelsea has been doing it for quite the worst of them.

The hardening conclusion is that they are hell bent on establishing themselves as the leading representative of all that is cheap and despicable in the world’s most popular game — and, most worryingly of all, that their oligarch patron Roman Abramovich really doesn’t give a damn.

Certainly he has worn his impassive face as implacably as ever since Chelsea stepped firmly back into the middle of another racism controversy last Sunday afternoon.

With John Terry, the apparently immovable captain of the club, sitting in the stands while serving his four-match ban for racially abusing an opponent, the assumption was that Chelsea would be intent on re-building a reputation shredded by Terry’s behaviour, the club’s refusal to remove him from the leadership of the team, and the charge that officials had cynically manipulated evidence submitted to the racism trial.

Such redemption was in the air when Chelsea fought back to equality in a superbly pitched Premier League contest with Manchester United — but only briefly.

By game’s end Chelsea were threshing their way back into the dock as soccer’s public enemy No. 1.

The new crisis erupted when 37-year-old referee Mark Clattenburg felt obliged to make two decisions which devastated Chelsea. First he showed a red card to Branislav Ivanovic when he collided with United forward Ashley Young. The incident appeared accidental but under the laws of the game Ivanovic, the last defender as Young bore down on goal, had to go. Then Clattenburg showed a second yellow card to Chelsea striker Fernando Torres for diving. TV runs suggested there had been contact, albeit extremely faint, from United defender Jonny Evans.

Nine-man Chelsea raged at Clattenburg and especially angry was Nigerian midfielder John Obe Mikel.

Mikel stormed into the referee’s room after the game and two hours later English football was back in the middle of another racism row.

At first Chelsea claimed that Clattenburg, a highly rated official who was in charge of this summer’s Olympic final between Mexico and Brazil, had used inappropriate language to two of their players, Mikel and Spanish midfielder Juan Mata.

Soon enough the Mata complaint was dropped but after a lengthy meeting with lawyers Chelsea persisted with the charge that Clattenburg had indeed uttered a racist slur which, if proven, would surely signal the abrupt end of a meteoric career.

One problem, though, was the thinness of the evidence. Mikel did not hear the word ‘monkey,’ nor apparently did anyone else except his Brazilian teammate Ramires, who has only a smattering of English. Clattenburg was said to be both amazed and angry about the accusation but utterly confident that he would clear his name. The referee’s colleagues, two linesmen and a fourth official, were all wired for sound and they all insisted that they had heard nothing untoward.

By this weekend Chelsea were besieged by criticism that they had once again utterly mis-read a delicate and potentially devastating situation. Such iconic figures as Manchester United and Arsenal managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger deplored Chelsea’s hair-trigger reaction, with the former claiming that he could never believe that a referee like Clattenburg would throw away his career, whatever the pressure.

This was considerable, with Mikel particularly voluable, but what many considered most startling was Chelsea’s rush to report the episode when the evidence was almost risibly questionable.

This provoked much comment on the huge gap between Abramovich’s toleration of gaffes occurring in the front office and bouts of poor form on the field. Such distinguished coaches as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Big Phil Scolari, winners between them of the greatest prizes in the game, were all ruthlessly cut down.

Yet the Chelsea hierarchy of chairman Bruce Buck, a New Yorker and a brilliant business lawyer, chief executive Ron Gourlay, a former sports equipment executive, and secretary David Barnard appear to be insulated against any number of public relation own goals.

Meanwhile, English football waits, with some fatalism, to know the extent of the latest damage.

 

James Lawton writes for The Independent in the U.K.


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