The Football Association is likely to draw on the testimony of Patrice Evra's Manchester United team-mates when Liverpool's Luis Suarez appears on charges of racially abusing the French defender during last month's Premier League match at Anfield.
United have always been convinced of Evra's claims that Suarez used the "n-word" against him 10 times and a substantial number of the club's players, as well as manager Sir Alex Ferguson, are understood to have been interviewed as part of the five-week FA inquiry. Though the case has been a complicated one, involving the linguistic nuance of what Suarez allegedly said, the FA is convinced that the Uruguayan "included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra" during the match.
Though Liverpool indicated immediately last night that the player would plead not guilty, the charge is potentially a severe blow which could mean a player upon whom they are already heavily dependent being banned for at least three matches and possibly more.
In a case of potentially huge significance, the FA must first prove to a commission of four people and be chaired by an independent QC that Suarez did indeed racially abuse the Frenchman.
Though Suarez has admitted using words which would be familiar to some of Evra's teammates – negrito, which translates as "little black man" is widely accepted as a term of endearment and to poke fun, in South America – it will be for the FA to prove something more sinister.
Such cases have been rare in the past because of the difficulty of proof. When Newcastle United's Turkish midfielder Emre Belozoglu was charged with racist abuse against Everton four years ago, he left his personal hearing with the case unproved – despite written evidence submitted to the commission from Everton's Joleon Lescott, Joseph Yobo and Tim Howard.
The Reading defender John Mackie did issue a public apology, donated two weeks' wages to Kick Racism Out of Football and was banned for eight matches, five of which were suspended, after making racist remarks to Sheffield United striker Carl Asaba in 2003 – though he had admitted the offence.
The lesser of the two offences Suarez has been charged with is the use of "abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour." Typically, that would bring a two-match ban. Suarez is due back in Liverpool from international duty today, when the club will waste no time in discussing the charge with him.
If the Uruguayan is convicted, he could conceivably face a police inquiry, though Merseyside Police could not do that unless they receive a complaint. Evra would not necessarily need to be that complainant. Merseyside Police said in a statement last night: "A complaint has not been received by the Force in relation to an allegation of an offensive comment made by a Liverpool Football Club player to a Manchester United Football Club player during a match on 15 October."
Liverpool's statement said: "We will discuss the matter fully with [Luis] when he returns from international duty, but he will plead not guilty to the charge and we expect him to request a personal hearing. United said they would not comment "in accordance with guidance from the authorities".Reuse content