Ceasefire at United hampers FA action

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The Independent Online

Manchester United and Arsenal have brought a close to the seemingly interminable row over their Premiership match at Old Trafford on 24 October.

Manchester United and Arsenal have brought a close to the seemingly interminable row over their Premiership match at Old Trafford on 24 October. As it became clear yesterday that the FA could not investigate complaints against Arsenal's Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, it is also appeared that itsinquiry into off-field events could draw a blank for the want of hard evidence.

Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, yesterday alluded to a ceasefire between the clubs when he said: "The clubs have spoken at the highest level and agree the matter is now closed."

The deal was brokered in a telephone conversation on Sunday between Dein and United's chief executive, David Gill. The pair are believed to have discussed the events of 24 October from two angles: on-pitch incidents, and post-match incidents in the tunnel areas, where United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was hit by flying food.

Despite reports that Ferguson has been compiling an extensive dossier of evidence about Arsenal's alleged on-field transgressions, there is no prospect any Arsenal player will face charges for any event during the match.

Ferguson had described one tackle by Henry on Gabriel Heinze as "terrible" and added: "We shall present that to the FA and see what they do." He also reportedly added an alleged elbow by Dennis Bergkamp on Alan Smith to his video-nasty plans. Yet United's hours spent in the editing suite will be in vain.

Under FA procedure, clubs have 48 hours after a match to report on-pitch incidents with which they are unhappy. That deadline expired a week ago. United privately acknowledge that Henry and Bergkamp will not be charged, unlike Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who was charged, within the time limit, for kicking Ashley Cole. The Dutchman accepted a three-match ban.

Only in exceptional circumstances, such as to comply with a police investigation, is the 48-hour time period extended.

Another factor against United is that the referee was well placed to view the Henry and Bergkamp incidents and saw no reason to take action at the time or since. Henry and Bergkamp are now effectively in the clear.

United are now unlikely to mention the incidents to the FA because of the "ceasefire" and because they know the FA will take no action. More intriguing is what each club will tell the FA when submitting evidence about the tunnel incident. With Dein apparently so confident that "the matter is now closed", it seems improbable that Arsenal will provide any kind of evidence to implicate any of their employees - or indeed any of United's - in the tunnel fracas.

If United take the same approach, the FA would be unable to make any charges owing to a lack of evidence. It cited the same reason for not charging David Beckham for his "brainy" decision to get himself booked, despite all manner of camera angles and a public admission in a national newspaper. Quite what evidence it would require to take action about "Soupgate" - an incident which senior executives want to put behind them - is unknown. DNA swabs of pea gazpacho, perhaps? "The FA has asked for our observations and we are obligated to respond to the request," a United spokesman said.

It is understood that United's evidence will arrive at Soho Square in the form of a letter, perhaps of a few pages, rather than anything that could legitimately be described as a "dossier". It will not be accompanied by video footage of the tunnel incident as United now say there is none.

Sceptics will no doubt suspect a whitewash. If no more charges arise, Dein and Gill would probably prefer to consider it dry cleaning.

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