Chelsea last night stopped short of apologising to Mark Clattenburg for making unproven allegations of racism against him, despite chairman Bruce Buck being left in no doubt at a meeting how angry the official and his refereeing colleagues feel over the affair.
In a joint statement issued by Chelsea, the Premier League and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the club said they regretted the speed with which they publicised their allegations, and the impact on Clattenburg and his family.
Their failure to apologise unequivocally for bringing the allegation of racism will not satisfy the many critics of the club, who believe the allegations against Clattenburg were hasty and lacked evidence.
Chelsea reported the referee to the Football Association after the home league defeat to Manchester United, alleging that Clattenburg said "shut up, you monkey" to midfielder Jon Obi Mikel. They also alleged that he had called Juan Mata a "Spanish t**t", a claim they later retracted.
The club feel they cannot apologise for bringing the racism allegation because Ramires, the only player who claimed to have heard the comments, still believes he heard Clattenburg (right) use the offensive words.
To apologise fully would, they believe, undermine Ramires and suggest they do not believe him. On the contrary, the club maintain that they acted in good faith and followed FA procedures in reporting the incident as quickly as possible.
Where they do accept to have erred is in the issuing of a statement within hours of the game, accusing the referee of using "inappropriate language", which condemned him to massive media scrutiny.
The statement follows a meeting between Buck, Clattenburg and the 15 other top-flight referees at St George's Park yesterday, at which the Chelsea chairman attempted to set out the club's position. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore and PGMO general manager Mike Riley were also present.
Sources with knowledge of the meeting have confirmed that the referees expressed their disquiet at Chelsea's action to Buck in exchanges that were described as "full and frank" and "pretty tough".
There was an acknowledgment on all sides, however, that an attempt should be made to move on, with the statement an attempt to draw a line under the incident.
Chelsea also made it clear that they will be happy for Clattenburg to referee one of the club's matches, though it is unlikely to be at Stamford Bridge in the first instance.
The statement read: "The Select Group appreciated the opportunity to speak to Bruce Buck personally. His willingness to engage and answer all the questions put to him was welcomed. The referees accept that, given Chelsea FC had received a good faith claim from one of their employees, the club had an obligation under FA rules to report the allegation.
"There was recognition by all parties that the impartiality and integrity of refereeing in this country remains paramount. Chelsea FC made it clear they would welcome Mark Clattenburg back to Stamford Bridge in the future."
Mikel faces a three-match ban for using foul and abusive language towards Clattenburg in the referee's room after the game, but will attend a personal hearing in the coming days to try to mitigate the sanction. (© Daily Telegraph, London)