Chelsea’s only option is to apologise to Clattenburg and move on

Originally published for Goal UK on 23rd November 2012

Tuesday’s loss in Turin almost certainly eliminated Chelsea from the Champions League; it definitely brought about the end for Roberto Di Matteo, and on Wednesday Rafa Benitez was hired as his replacement. Thursday saw the positive spin on such a remorseless sacking emanating from Stamford Bridge bloodied by news of the Football Association’s decision to drop the charges Chelsea made against Mark Clattenburg. This has been an eventful week, let alone season, and what a fall it has been from the highs of Munich six months ago.

The problem now, is where next? There are a number of parties who must decide how they want to proceed. Chelsea’s statement reluctantly accepted the decision, which may just end what had seemed a personal vendetta against the FA. Should the FA hit Chelsea with more than just a slap on the wrists for making public such a monumental accusation with baseless evidence? What about Clattenburg? He has more than enough material to sue the west London club for slander.

It is, much like the John Terry saga that shrouded the game for the last 12 months, a bit of a mess. The irony though, is that while Chelsea could issue an apology to the official and wash their hands of the event, Clattenburg is about to embark on an unfair and impossibly difficult period of his career.

He is, lest we forget, one of an elite band of referees across the globe. Whatever your view on his ability, and yes, there have been some memorable mistakes in his career, it only takes one or two idiots to mouth off to send an entire company of fans into an abusive serenade. The hope is that fans up and down the country will recognise the bogus claims for what they were and avoid falling into such a Neanderthal trap.

The responsibilities of being the man in black carry enough pressure as it is and knowing the problems this has caused Clattenburg in the last four weeks – he hasn’t refereed a game since the allegations arose – are indefensible. Chelsea acted thoughtlessly and recklessly on a unique issue that was always likely to draw scrutiny and vast condemnation. It was always a bizarre accusation, but made particularly sour in the haste with which it was made public.

Clattenburg received support in the aftermath from refereeing bodies, leading managers and figureheads in the game who provided strong character references and pointed to impressive man management skills. But you were left hoping Neil Warnock was wrong when he said: “I’m sure he might have said a few things but are you telling me if Chelsea had won that game that there would have been one iota of a complaint?”

One hopes that right is not lost amongst the madness of last month’s events. As Clattenburg said in his statement: “this experience should not discourage those to speak out if they genuinely believe they are a victim of abuse.” Forget the way Chelsea reacted, players must still feel confident in the complaint system or else we risk losing much of the progress that has been made with relationships between all those involved on the pitch.

The most striking aspect of the allegations was eventually the brittle nature of the evidence Chelsea and an outside party felt was strong enough to pursue the John Obi Mikel case. The “inappropriate language” Clattenburg used was alleged to be “shut up you monkey”, but this came only by way of Brazilian midfielder Ramires. Mikel, who was stood closer to Clattenburg, admitted he hadn’t heard anything.

That such an allegation was aired publicly before the club had a chance to properly assert the particulars of the incident showed complete contempt for Clattenburg’s career and future. Though he has been cleared by the FA and had a legal case against him dropped, the ramifications of being placed in the public eye with such a damaging slur hanging over him are still to be fully realised.

And it is a pity that Chelsea have sullied their name once again. This is a club that, despite many deriding them for having ‘no history’, sit in the upper echelons of the modern British game. Their Champions League triumph pushed them further and they have played the best football on these shores this year. It is a pity therefore that their reputation is festered by misdemeanours.

With Benitez at the helm and another era underway, Chelsea should treat this as a new beginning, a fresh start.

By acting on impulse and without consideration for Clattenburg’s career and livelihood, Chelsea made an almost irreparable mistake and for that the only action they must take is to issue an unreserved apology to the official and hope that is the end of the matter. This is no longer about a war between the club and the FA, it is about rebuilding the reputation of an innocent official.

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