Liverpool and Manchester United were on course for a bitter dispute last night with the Anfield club ready to demand that Patrice Evra be banned if his claims that Luis Suarez repeatedly racially abused him prove to be unsubstantiated.
With the Football Association expected to seek Manchester United's permission to speak with Evra today, as it launches its investigation into the Frenchman's allegations, one post-match witness from the Anfield players' tunnel said the defender had remained "very angry" 20 minutes after the game, when he and Sir Alex Ferguson visited the match officials' office to report that Suarez had called the player a "nigger" at least 10 times during the 1-1 draw.
But Liverpool insist that the Uruguayan had done nothing wrong and it is the seriousness of the allegation which has led them to expect the FA to ban Evra if his claims prove unfounded. "Luis is adamant that he has not used language of that nature and the club is totally supportive of the player," a Liverpool spokesman said.
Independently of his club, Suarez tweeted: "I'm upset by the accusations of racism. I can only say that I have always respected and respect everybody. We are all the same. I go to the field with the maximum illusion of a little child who enjoys what he does, not to create conflicts."
United were infuriated when the FA doubted Evra's last allegations of racism – against Chelsea groundsman Sam Bethell in April 2008 – and another decision going against Evra would only accentuate the sense of grievance Ferguson has felt towards the governing body.
The FA's inquiry must begin with Evra – and a conversation to establish that he maintains his claim, before making any approach to Liverpool.
A request to speak to the 30-year-old is likely to be put to the United club secretary, John Alexander, today, though since United fly to Romania to face Otelul Galati this morning, that interview may not take place until Wednesday. The challenge for any inquiry will be the establishment of proof. Video evidence and the testimony of Evra's team-mates will form the most crucial part, though on the basis of television footage, lip-reading what Suarez said to Evra when the two clashed in the second half looks like a difficult task.
Evra told Canal + on Saturday evening that "there are cameras, and you can see [Suarez] say a certain word to me at least 10 times... there is no place for that in 2011".
Though the referee, Andre Marriner, is understood to have been present when Evra and Ferguson lodged their complaint, he will play no further role in the inquiry as he had not been aware of the abuse during the game.
Evra, who was born in the Senegalese capital of Dakar , has been at the centre of racism allegations before, with deaf football fans complaining in 2006 that they had lip-read Liverpool's full-back Steve Finnan making a racist remark towards the French international – an allegation Liverpool described as "an outrageous slur" and which was never proven.
United also claimed after a match at Stamford Bridge that Bethell had called Evra a "fucking immigrant" but the FA's investigation uncovered serious inconsistencies in the evidence of Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan, his fitness coach Tony Strudwick and goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis. The 28-page commission report found that Strudwick's evidence was "exaggerated and unreliable" and that Phelan "particularly did not impress" in evidence.
Ferguson has said Phil Jones is likely to miss tomorrow's tie in Bucharest after a clash of heads with Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and damage to his knee, though Nemanja Vidic was "a possibility" for the game.
Seeing red: No strangers to controversy
Luis Suarez: July 2010
Deep into extra time in the World Cup quarter-final with the score 1-1, Uruguay's Suarez handballed Dominic Adiyiah's effort for Ghana on the line which prevented a goal and resulted in a penalty, which Asamoah Gyan missed. Uruguay went on to win 4-2 in the ensuing penalty shoot-out, which eased them into the semi-finals.
It was a goalless game between Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, but as Ajax substitute Rasmus Lindgren was sent off for a rash challenge on PSV's Ibrahim Afellay, Suarez appeared to bite midfielder Otman Bakkal. Suarez was banned for two games for the incident and had to pay a fine to charity.
Patrice Evra: April 2008
Following Manchester United's 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, several United players, including Evra, clashed with Chelsea groundstaff after the players had been asked to warm down on another side of the pitch, which was being mown ahead of a midweek match with Liverpool.
Evra had an argument with French fitness coach Robert Duverne in training, contributing to France's revolt at the World Cup. Evra was stripped of the captaincy and dropped for his team's 2-1 defeat to South Africa.
After Javier Hernandez levelled Steven Gerrard's goal at Anfield on Saturday, Evra kissed his club's badge right in front of the Kop.Reuse content