Sir Alex Ferguson today attacked Chelsea for accusing accusing referee Mark Clattenburg of racially abusing abusing John Obi Mikel during last Sunday's match at Stamford Bridge, declaring that he simply did not believe the player's claim.
Ferguson defended Clattenburg in the strongest possible terms, declaring that no official in the modern game would "stoop" to the kind of abuse that the Nigerian claimed after the game in which the official sent off two Chelsea players, as the club went down to a 3-2 defeat.
"I don't believe Mark Clattenburg would make any comments like that," Ferguson said. "I refuse to believe it. I think it's unthinkable in the modern climate. I just don't believe it - it's a simple as that. There's no way a referee would stoop to that and I'm convinced of that.
"I think if you compare the modern the game with the game 25 years ago it's completely changed. I've played myself and I know the banter that goes on between referees and players is different today [to what it was] 25 years ago. I've never heard of a player ever coming to me in the last 15 years saying a referee has sworn in a game. Ever. So that's where I stand. I don't believe it."
Ferguson's comments during his weekly press conference at United's Carrington training ground this morning were effectively a statement on the issue. They contributed to a growing sense within the game that Chelsea may have stored up problems for themselves by their rapid and public accusation against the Tyne & Wear official, who has been withdrawn from duties this weekend. Yesterday, Arsene Wenger, whose Arsenal side meet Ferguson's at Old Trafford tomorrow, suggested Chelsea should have kept the matter private "rather than going public with little proof."
The latest twist in the racism in football story also led the Prime Minister David Cameron to declare today that the Football Assoication should be doing more to tackle racism. That prompted Gary Neville, the England coach and Sky TV pundit to take to Twitter to declare that the game was doing enough. Neville said that politicians should stick to their own jobs and that racism was a "societal" issue.
Asked about whether racism was a concern specific to football or a broader problem in society, Ferguson replied: "In what way? I don't know… It's wider issue but I'm not even concerned about that. You asked me a question about last Sunday and that's what I think."
The United manager also responded to the question of whether too much pressure was being put on young players like Tom Cleverley and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere by their clubs and England. "If you're asking me about England, it doesn't stop at just young players. The pressure on all players is too much. They are expected to win the World Cup and European Championships and it's just not going to happen. It's not easy."
Ferguson said Arsenal were a "different, more physically constructed team" than the one which United beat 8-2 at Old Trafford last season. Of the rapid acclimatisation at Old Trafford by Robin van Persie, who faces his old side tomorrow, Ferguson said: "He's a mature player. That helps. The experience he has got of playing eight years in England. The fact he's been playing in England makes it easier for him to jump to an English club. It's been very satisfying for us, a fantastic start. Let' s hope he keeps it going."