BY JOHN GUBBA

When it comes to tackling racism, Chelsea Football Club have a lot to learn – but that is not the reason there is a feeling within the game that the Premier League leaders have overstepped the mark in the Mark Clattenburg saga.

By destroying the reputation of one of the most experienced officials in the game with accusations that appear to be backed up by little evidence – and more than a suggestion of sour grapes after losing at home to Manchester United – the West London club have not only once again trashed football’s image, but their actions will have consequences.

Arsene Wenger was first to question the way Chelsea publicly accused the referee of racially abusing John Obi Mikel during Sunday’s 3-2 defeat by declaring the accusations should have been dealt with privately. And Sir Alex Ferguson has weighed in by stating he is “convinced” the official is innocent

United’s boss insisted: “I don’t believe Mark Clattenburg would make any comments like that. I refuse to believe it. I think it is unthinkable in the modern climate. I just don’t believe it – simple as that. There is no way a referee would stoop to that, I am convinced of that.”

It has also emerged that Mikel and the Blues’ manager Roberto di Matteo allegedly breached protocol by storming into the referee’s room immediately after the match in which Clattenburg sent off two Chelsea players. Under FA rules, there has to be a 30-minute “cooling down” period after a game. There can be little doubt their hasty reaction was fuelled by a sense of injustice.

A cynic would suggest the West London club have deliberately sidelined the referee, who has been stood down from officiating this weekend, because of their displeasure at the decisions he made in the dramatic contest that saw United inflict the home side’s first Premier League defeat of the season.

With all the other match officials who were able to hear the mic’d up ref  dismissing Chelsea’s claims, it is hard to see where any evidence will come from that will condemn Clattenburg. In the meantime, the 37-year-old’s reputation has arguably been damaged beyond repair and, as any lawyer will tell you, Chelsea’s failure to prove their allegations will surely dictate that the official must sue for libel.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are already in the dock after one of their own supporters was pictured appearing to make a monkey gesture at Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck during the midweek League Cup game. And the club is still defending themselves over their handling of the John Terry affair, refusing to strip their captain of the armband after he received a four match ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

As for Blues boss Di Matteo, his response to the criticism from Wenger and Ferguson has been to declare: ‘It’s a free country where everybody has the freedom of speech. We’ll take into consideration what other people say and use it as a motivational tool for ourselves.’ What he may fail to realise is that many of their opponents will be driven by a desire to punish them for their selfish actions.

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