Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United, yesterday denied that his goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel had racially abused the Arsenal striker Ian Wright and described the accusation as a "slur" on the club.
Ferguson was responding to claims by Wright in the Sun newspaper that the scuffle with the Danish international in the tunnel at the end of Wednesday's highly-charged Premiership game at Highbury had been provoked by racial abuse.
The pair had earlier clashed on the pitch when a two-footed lunge by Wright left Schmeichel clutching his ankle.
"We can categorically deny any racist remark whatsoever from Peter Schmeichel, I can assure you of that," Ferguson told Sky Sport. "There is no question of that, so it's very disappointing to read that. He's very upset. He's got a family to think about too, his family back in Denmark reading all this."
Ferguson considers the accusation as a "slur" on the reputation of United, who are a "worldwide institution". He pointed out that the club frequently spread the football message overseas.
"Two years ago we were coaching in the townships of South Africa," he said. "And Peter was part of that. We have supporters everywhere in the world. We place great store in our reputation, so it's a big slur on us"
Schmeichel's reputation is already under threat from the possibility of criminal charges relating to alleged racist abuse arising from an incident with Wright when the teams met in the Premiership at Old Trafford in November.
Ferguson's defence of his keeper was echoed by Arsene Wenger's assertion that Wright's tackle on Schmeichel did not rate in his top 30 worst tackles this season. The Arsenal manager insisted that it was the media and public's reaction that was over the top and not the striker's attempt to win the ball from the keeper.
"I have seen many tackles and punches that have not been judged or seen by the referee and nobody talks about them," he said. "I can show you 30 worse tackles since the beginning of the season in the Premier League that nobody spoke about.
"Is it a foul or is it the personalities of the two people involved, or is it the game? I think there is a little bit of all of that, more than the foul."
As the clamour for the Association to charge Wright grew, Wenger added: "I think it looked worse than it was. Maybe it was so spectacular because he jumped high but he touched the ball with two feet. I think it was a foul but I am really surprised [at the fuss] because the referee has made his decision. I am surprise that people still speak about that."
Wright has denied that he deliberately went over the ball. "I admit I lunged in, but I landed on the ball, not the man," he said. "The referee did not book me and there was no intent to hurt anyone."
Of the tunnel scuffle, Wright said: "I wouldn't have reacted like that if it was an ordinary insult. It was racial and completely out of order."
Wenger attempted to defuse the situation by suggesting a novel way of ending the feud.
"I think it will be good to bring this to an end because I think so much has been created from such a small thing," he said. "Maybe they will meet before the next game and sort this out, and kill each other!"
Ruud Gullit, Chelsea's dreadlocked manager, also resorted to humour when he disclosed how he keeps his temper when insulted on the pitch.
"If someone calls me a black so-and-so, I don't take it as a racist thing because I am black!" said Gullit, whose team play Manchester United in another vital title game at Stamford Bridge today. "Take it as a compliment, it means they are probably afraid of you."
As one of the most gifted players of his generation, the Dutchman with a Surinam background was confronted by all kinds of abuse from opponents desperate to unsettle him.
"The key is that there is emotion in the game and if someone is red, you'll call them a red whatsoever," he said.
"The best thing always for every player, wherever he comes from, is to just try to play well and play your own game and then all these things vanish.
"If people are swearing at me that means they are afraid of me. That gives me a sort of superiority over them."
However, he draws the line at organised racism. "When Ajax played in Hungary the crowd made jungle sounds all the time when the black players had the ball. That is abusive," he said.
"That had nothing to do with the football game, it had nothing to do with emotions, it wasn't funny."
West Ham's pounds 50m price tag, page 21Reuse content