Mata did not hear referee’s remarks, says Blues colleague

CHELSEA forward Juan Mata did not hear race-row referee Mark Clattenburg use alleged “inappropriate language” towards him, his team-mate Oriol Romeu said yesterday, as police launched a formal investigation into the incident.

Spaniard Mata is one of two Blues players, along with Nigerian John Obi Mikel, that the club believes was verbally abused by Clattenburg during Sunday’s stormy Premier League defeat to Manchester United. It is understood that part of the claims involve the official using a term interpreted as racist.

Romeu, who was an unused substitute for the fixture, said: “Neither Juan nor [Chelsea striker] Fernando [Torres] told me they heard it because from what I have understood they didn’t hear anything. It was someone else who heard it, but not directly at them. It was another player who heard it and that is what they told me. I didn’t hear anything as I left quickly to go home, but after talking to Juan he told me there was some problem and he had to stay.

“I only know Chelsea made a complaint and I think there could really be a problem if what Chelsea players say happened really happened. If there was really a racist comment or something said against a Spanish player this will be serious.”

The Metropolitan Police opened an investigation after receiving a complaint from Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers and said it would liaise with the Football Association, which launched its own probe on Monday following a complaint from Chelsea on Sunday night.

The case has echoes of that involving Chelsea captain John Terry, who was accused of racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Terry was acquitted in a criminal court in a case that took eight months to be heard, but later found guilty by an FA disciplinary panel and banned for four matches, a suspension still being served.

The FA was forced to place its Terry investigation on hold until after the trial but it appeared last night that they were continuing to examine Sunday’s game unimpeded with a view to a swift outcome.

Chelsea meet United again tonight, just four days after the flashpoint, in a Capital One Cup tie that has suddenly taken on extra significance.

Clattenburg, one of the country’s leading referees who regularly officiates at international level, has been stood down from duty this weekend by the Professional Game Match Officials body, in order to shield him from attention.

The Durham official had been expected to issue a statement yesterday denying Chelsea’s accusations before police confirmed their probe.