After Jose Mourinho began the season's first round of managerial mind games with his side's Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester United, the Chelsea coach was told yesterday he would not face charges for his savage criticism of the referee, Neale Barry, on Wednesday night.
Mourinho had accused Barry of bowing to pressure from Sir Alex Ferguson after he said he witnessed a half-time exchange between the two men. Although the Chelsea coach did not directly accuse Ferguson of influencing the referee, he made a thinly veiled reference to the United manager's ability to make people "tremble a bit". However, sources who saw the players and staff leave the pitch at half-time said that Barry was spoken to by Mourinho's assistant, Steve Clarke, as well as Ferguson.
Mourinho also came in for criticism from Keith Hackett, the head of the referees' organisation, for his comments about Barry. It is understood Ferguson had complained to the official about a United penalty appeal, when Louis Saha was brought down by Paulo Ferreira and Tiago, that was turned down in the first half.
The United manager said after the game that, having seen the incident again on television, he believed a penalty should have been awarded. Yet Hackett defended his official by pointing out that, in spite of Mourinho's allegations, Barry had given 10 free-kicks to Chelsea and only nine to United in the second half.
The response by Hackett is further evidence that the referees' organisation is now going public to defend its members against casual allegations of favouritism. The referees have been bruised by their treatment after the controversy surrounding Mark Clattenburg's failure to award Pedro Mendes a goal at Old Trafford last week and have resolved to take on criticisms they believe to be unfounded.
Hackett said: "I'm hoping he might reconsider his comments, unfortunately this is the nature of the game. I don't want referees or myself getting in the psychological warfare between two managers. For the second leg we have an experienced referee, and we should be talking about the quality of that game rather than the refereeing.
"Sometimes managers have grounds for comments, and I note that, but a referees integrity has been questioned. That is offensive and should be avoided. Mr Mourinho should look at the facts."
The Chelsea manager had said that the referee was accompanied by "someone else" when he went to the dressing-rooms. "Maybe when I turn 60 and have been managing in the same league for 20 years and have the respect of everybody I will have the power to speak to people and make them tremble a little bit," he said.
Hackett revealed that Ferguson and Barry had had an exchange of words at half-time, but he said that the conversation was nothing like the browbeating that Mourinho had described. "There was a quip said with no venom. It was only a comment to Neale that 'There's two sides to the game'," Hackett said.
"Neale is one of our most experienced referees and was not influenced by that comment. The facts answer that. It's simple. In the second half there were 19 free-kicks, 10 of them went to Chelsea and nine of them went to Manchester United."
The Football Association have announced they will not charge Mourinho over his comments. However, John Terry who accused Barry of not behaving fairly towards Chelsea, might not be so lucky. There was a strong sense that Terry and Mourinho's public condemnation of the referee were a premeditated attempt to put pressure on officials.
Terry said: "It seemed as though he didn't really give us much. With most refs and being captain, you can maybe have a word, but he just wasn't willing to listen, which was disappointing.
"If he is not willing to listen then you just have to let him get on with it. I tried to speak to him just to say, 'Be fair and give us a bit'. I wasn't whinging about not getting anything or any of the decisions, but you just want the referee to be fair and I don't think he was."