Manchester City officials were angry last night that Newcastle United had written to the Football Association complaining about Nigel de Jong's leg-breaking tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa, claiming that the two clubs' staff met amicably after the match on Sunday when no reservations were raised by Newcastle over the incident.
City believe that Newcastle have only acted in the last 24 hours as outrage has grown over the challenge on Ben Arfa, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken left tibia and fibula. Privately they say that Roberto Mancini's assistants Brian Kidd and David Platt had drinks with Newcastle staff on Sunday evening and did not complain about De Jong's tackle.
Having learnt the severity of Ben Arfa's injury on Monday, Newcastle yesterday took the step of announcing they had written a "strongly worded letter" to the FA asking it to take the "appropriate action" against De Jong. The saga now has a momentum of its own, with Jose Enrique, Johan Cruyff and Samir Nasri among those yesterday condemning the tackle that has prompted the Netherlands coach, Bert van Marwijk, to drop De Jong from his squad.
City feel "under siege" according to one club source and believe that Newcastle's letter to the FA has been sent in order to maximise the strength of public feeling currently running against De Jong. Newcastle described the tackle as "unnecessary" and using "excessive force".
As far as the FA is concerned there is no further action that can be taken against De Jong because the match referee Martin Atkinson witnessed the incident and, in his view, dealt with it at the time. The official, who also made questionable decisions on two penalty claims, is likely to be dropped from this weekend's match list.
The FA is bound by Fifa's rules which stipulate that retrospective punishments are reserved for off-the-ball incidents that were not witnessed by the referee. Only on very limited occasions can the FA act retrospectively. It needed special leave from Fifa to punish Ben Thatcher for his elbow on Pedro Mendes in August 2006 after Greater Manchester Police threatened to charge the player.
Mancini said that he "wholeheartedly" supported De Jong. He said: "I wish to say that whilst he is naturally competitive, Nigel is first and foremost a great player as well as being honest and loyal. I also want to take this opportunity to wish Ben Arfa, who I rate very highly, a speedy recovery and I hope to see him back in action soon."
The Newcastle defender Enrique called upon the FA to ban De Jong until Ben Arfa had recovered from his injury and accused it of bias against non-English players. He said: "De Jong shouldn't be allowed to play football. His tackle was criminal. He injured another player [Stuart Holden at Bolton] last season. If it was Rooney who was injured instead of Ben Arfa, they would make an example of him. I think it's very good that the Holland coach has left him out of the squad. But Newcastle have been left with just two wingers until the January transfer window. It's hurt us. The referee was the worst I have seen. He didn't even give a foul. De Jong is one of those players who walks a tightrope every time he plays. As far as I know, he didn't even come to say sorry after the match."
Johan Cruyff, the Netherlands' most famous former player, said that he supported Van Marwijk's decision. "He [De Jong] has crossed the line two or three times now," Cruyff said. "He needs to understand he is an example to all the young players and I think it is a very good decision."
Ben Arfa's France team-mate Samir Nasri, with whom he played at Marseilles, said English referees did not give players enough protection. "What strikes me is the refereeing. The referee saw Hatem exit on a stretcher with an oxygen mask, yet he didn't punish de Jong. It's that which has to change in England," Nasri said.
"Nigel de Jong has pedigree, a bit like [Mark] van Bommel. Referees should know that these players make foul tackles. With the exception of when [Joey] Barton tried to hack me down, players are not 'evil'. There have always been accidents – but are we protected enough in England? I don't think so."
The De Jong debate
What they said yesterday:
Roberto Mancini: 'While he is naturally competitive, Nigel is first and foremost a great player.'
Enrique: 'De Jong shouldn't be allowed to play football. His tackle was criminal.'
Johan Cruyff: 'He has crossed the line two or three times. He must understand he is an example to young players.'
Samir Nasri: 'The referee saw Ben Arfa exit on a stretcher yet he didn't punish De Jong.'