Today has been a busy day in the office for Chelsea Football Club. On the one hand, Rafael Benitez has been confirmed as the new interim manager of the club after the sudden (yet completely unsurprising) departure of Roberto Di Matteo, whose luck ran out following Tuesday nights thrashing at the hands of Juventus in Turin, but the bigger headlines in tomorrow mornings newspapers are likely to be made by the Football Associations announcement that no further action will be taken over the incident involving referee Mark Clattenburg after the clubs Premier League match against Manchester United last month.
If the appointment of Benitez had become little more than an open secret within hours of Di Matteos departure from Stamford Bridge, there had also been an air of open secret concerning the Clattenburg incident. Although the hunch was not based upon anything particularly solid, there were few who believed that anything would come from the allegations made by the club. From the outlet, it seemed scarcely credible that a Premier League referee would have made the comments against Mikel John Obi that Clattenburg was alleged to have made. Such were the nature of the seriousness of the allegations, however, that the Football Association had to investigate, and the sort of delays that come with this have a tendency to allow rumour, conspiracy and innuendo to fester.
There are criticisms of the way in which Chelsea acted over this which do deserve to be heard out. While a story of this nature was always going to attract massive interest in the press, the haste with which the club seemed to push the story into the public domain allowed the viewpoint to form that they were doing so in order to pursue some sort of agenda. With the benefit of hindsight, we could consider that it might have been wiser for the club to act with a little more circumspection, to understand the seriousness of the allegations that were being made and to pass the details of the allegations to the Football Association in confidence. Such a scenario surely shouldn’t be unthinkable, after all. The clubs case seemed further undermined by the way in which the precise allegations being made seemed to have so little consistency about them, and in some respects it could be argued that the decisions taken by both the police and the Football Association that there wasn’t too much of a case to answer in this case is something of an embarrassment for the club.
The case for an apology, then, might appear strong. It seems unlikely that this story will be completely forgotten quickly and Mark Clattenburg, an innocent party in all of this, will have to deal with whatever the ongoing fallout from it turns out to be. There will, undoubtedly, be a tiny minority who are insistent enough to believe that the allegations were true enough to keep repeating them, and there will likely be a larger number who will consider repeating them to be an acceptable form of gamesmanship in the ongoing battle between referees and, it frequently seems, the entire rest of the game to try and get some sort of influence over their decisions in the future. For better or for worse, the Premier Leagues referees list will quite possibly be distorted by Clattenburg not officiating at Stamford Bridge for some time to come, and conspiracy theorists will interpret that as they wish.
Having said all of that, however, there is a case for saying that the incident should now be set to one side. The FA has already stated that Ramires had made the claims in good faith and Chelsea believed they had a duty of care to the player to take such allegations seriously. And this, of course, is absolutely true. As employers, the club had little option but to report the incident to the FA – what, we might wonder, have been the reaction of Ramires and/or Mikel been had they not done so? – and if those looking in from the outside are content enough to accept the verdict of FA investigations on other subjects, then the assumption can only be that they have acted correctly in this case as well. There is an increasing tendency on the part of football supporters these days to allow their partisanship to cloud every element of the way that they think about football these days. A little even-handedness, however, is the only way that the game in England can drag itself from the sorry mess of accusation and counter-accusation that has made for such a galling spectacle over the last thirteen months or so.
So, should Chelsea apologise to Mark Clattenburg? Well, yes and no. In the sense that the club had little choice but to put forward its allegations, then clearly not. However, it would be nice if, just for once, a football club actually took an admirable and honorable stance over a situation such as this rather than one which said just enough to cover its own backside for legal reasons. If Chelsea were to issue a statement which acknowledged the distress that this incident has caused the referee, explained coolly that it was left with no option but to take the action that it did and stated that it comprehensively and vehemently disagrees with all of those that choose to see conspiracy in Premier League refereeing where none exists, it would earn deserved commendation from many quarters. We will have to wait and see whether this happens, but – and this is not a reflection on Chelsea Football Club itself, rather it is a reflection on the extent to which no football club seems able to see beyond the end of its own nose these days – there is little to suggest that any such statement will be forthcoming.
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