Roberto Di Matteo admitted for the first time yesterday that John Terry's abuse of Anton Ferdinand had damaged Chelsea's image.
Chelsea have taken action against Terry – although they will not say precisely what – after their captain accepted his Football Association ban and fine for racial abuse. The Chelsea manager yesterday spoke more openly about the issue than he has ever done before.
"Certainly it put a little bit of a cloud over the image of the club," Di Matteo said. "Certainly the image of the club has suffered from this issue. There's no denying that. I think [Terry] realises he let himself down and the club in that moment."
Di Matteo insisted, though, that he did not have any regrets for the support the club showed Terry over the past year, through his trial at which he was acquitted which preceded the FA's independent regulatory commission.
"We have followed the legal process and supported our player," Di Matteo said. "There was a legal process. He was cleared in a magistrates' court, you have to take that into consideration. We couldn't comment, not to prejudice the outcome."
Although Di Matteo would not speak of the details of Chelsea's punishment for Terry, it is not thought to have extended to stripping Terry of the captaincy. The defender is suspended for the next four domestic games, starting this afternoon at Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, but he is set to lead out Chelsea at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Di Matteo said that he continues to hold Terry in high regard as a player. "He's part of our squad and has been a great servant over 555 games," he explained. "He's made a mistake, let himself and the club down. He's done a lot of good work as well."
There was no doubt for Di Matteo that Terry was still the embodiment of Chelsea. "If you judge him as a player, absolutely. Over the years what he has proved and done for the club."
When asked whether he had a responsibility to judge on more than just football ability, Di Matteo said no. "It is not for me to judge the whole package," he said. "I'm a manager, not a judge of people's lives. I judge on what I see on the training ground and pitch. That is what the job has to be about."
Future decisions on Terry's selection will be made on football grounds. "It will be my judgement on the player," Di Matteo said. "If I do decide to select him it is because it is appropriate to select him for the team. And as captain."
There are clearly no worries from Di Matteo that Terry will continue to play well after his ban. Just last month he praised the defender's mental strength and resilience, comparing him to some greats of the modern game. "If you look at his career he's always got on with it, he's a confident player," Di Matteo said about picking Terry for Chelsea's return to Loftus Road.
"I played with some great players in my career. There were certain players who were very, very confident. To be able to survive for so many years at the top level in football, at club and international level, you need to be mentally strong. Paolo Maldini, Angelo Peruzzi, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Alessandro Costacurta, Alessandro Del Piero, all players who have spent 15 to 20 years at the highest level, domestic and international football."
Di Matteo made clear that he does not believe Chelsea's anti-racism stance has been compromised, despite criticism. "We are taking action against our player," he said. "We feel it's appropriate action, as we do against supporters. We don't feel we're operating differently."
The issue of racism, Di Matteo said, went beyond merely football's powers to control. "You need to look at more long-term than one game," he said. "There is a wider problem than just football. It is a societal problem we are discussing here. Not just football. We all live in society and need to do more to respect each other and educate everyone towards respecting other ethnic groups. It is a problem in society, not just football."
Chequered career: Terry's highs and lows
August 2004 Named Chelsea captain by Jose Mourinho and leads club to first league title in 50 years.
April 2005 Voted PFA Player of the Year.
August 2006 Named England captain by new manager Steve McClaren.
July 2009 Named Uefa defender of the year for a third time.
May 2010 Captains Chelsea to the Double under Carlo Ancelotti.
December 2011 Leads side for club record 400th time in defeat against Aston Villa.
Nov 2006 Sent-off in 2-1 defeat at Tottenham. Fined £10,000 for questioning integrity of referee Graham Poll.
Feb 2007 Left unconscious on field after being kicked in head by Arsenal's Abou Diaby in League Cup final.
May 2008 Misses penalty in Champions League final shoot-out defeat to Manchester United in Moscow.
April 2012 Dismissed in Champions League semi-final win against Barcelona – misses final.
Sept 2012 Retires from international football.
Sept 2001 Fined two weeks' wages after drunkenly mocking American tourists at Heathrow in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York.
Jan 2002 Involved in incident with bouncer at West London nightclub. Later cleared of assault and affray. Fined for parking car in disabled bay.
Feb 2002 Caught on CCTV urinating into beer glass in Essex nightclub.
Jan 2010 Fails to obtain court injunction stopping reports of alleged affair with ex-team-mate Wayne Bridge's former partner. Stripped of England captaincy.
June 2010 Criticises Fabio Capello's regime during World Cup.
Oct 2011 Accused of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. Found not guilty in court case, but banned for four matches by FA.