The English Football Association has come under pressure to charge Wayne Rooney with improper conduct following his foul-mouthed rant into a television camera during Manchester United's 4-2 win over West Ham on Saturday.
The England striker yelled "f*** off" into a camera as he celebrated completing his hat-trick at Upton Park and, despite issuing a swift public apology for his behaviour through United's website, the FA was facing calls last night to prove it is serious about improving standards of player behaviour by suspending him.
While the governing body is believed to favour issuing a written reprimand to Rooney, reminding him of his responsibilities, it has privately not ruled out stronger action.
United, for their part, are fearful that the FA could seek to make an example of their talismanic forward by imposing severe sanctions, particularly in the wake of Alex Ferguson's five-match touchline ban for his comments about referee Martin Atkinson.
The Premier League, while not being able to impose its own punishment, is understood to favour a hard-line approach.
Rooney's fit of pique came just 48 hours after Richard Scudamore, the organisation's chief executive, had outlined plans for a revamped Respect campaign to begin next season and there is embarrassment at the image portrayed by Rooney in a match beamed to 211 countries.
Rooney's team-mate, Rio Ferdinand, was a relatively lone voice willing to defend his fellow England international, using the social network site, Twitter, as his forum. "Newspapers + radio, come on give Wayne a break he knows what he did was wrong and he has apologised, spoke 2 him this morning and genuinely sorry," he wrote.
It is understood that referee Lee Mason will not make any mention of the incident in his match report, as he did not hear the swearing, although that will not make any difference to the FA when it comes to assessing its possible courses of action.
Rooney's behaviour overshadowed an astonishing comeback from United against West Ham which pushed them closer to winning their 19th league title, especially with both Chelsea and Arsenal subsequently drawing.
Indeed, Rooney, whose side face Chelsea on Wednesday in the first leg of the Champions League, claimed that United now had the same winning mentality that Chelsea enjoyed under Jose Mourinho.
"A few years ago, when Chelsea won the league (under Mourinho) they seemed to keep doing that," he said of the comeback from two goals down.
"They would be losing (an early kick-off game), then when we had finished the warm-up, they had won it."
He added that United's comeback was "a bit of a blow" to West Ham, "but they have to concentrate on their own job now".
Rooney added that he felt as if United's campaign was only just beginning with seven league matches, the Champions League and the FA Cup still to play for.
"Big games keep coming but you live for games like these," he said. "In some ways we have to say our season starts now. We have seven more league games -- four at home -- and our home form has been brilliant.
"It is a great challenge for us and something all the players are looking forward to."
United's fears that Rooney could be severely punished will not have been allayed by Trevor Brooking, an FA director, calling his behaviour "a surprise" and insisting that the organisation was duty-bound to examine footage of his behaviour.
"It is something we will have to look at," he said. "There will be a decision on Monday."
Both the Premier League and FA are keen for footballers with the profile of Rooney to set a good example and at the very least he will be reminded of his responsibilities. "The other day, my son had a group of friends over and I took them to the park to play football,'' said Dermot Collins, the manager of the FA's Respect campaign.
"A couple of the lads played rugby at the weekend and one of them said to me: 'Great, football, that means we can swear'.
"There is a wider view that a different code of ethics runs through football than other sports. And many people believe that is due to the behaviour of Premier League stars, like Rooney.
"Whenever we have done any Respect initiatives, the overwhelming response from the grassroots has been: why don't you sort out the behaviour in the professional game?
"The feeling is undoubtedly that youngsters ape what they see. We have no definitive proof that they do, but anecdotally that is the widespread belief.
"People say to me all the time that something has to be done, but nothing is. That is the feeling out there."
Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters' Federation, echoed those sentiments by saying Rooney had "self-evidently" brought football into disrepute.
"Most fans believe footballers should behave as role models and it's fairly obvious swearing into a camera isn't that," he said.
"Fines don't mean very much to footballers, but I hope the FA do what they can in terms of charging him."
Lord Pendry, Britain's former Shadow Sports Minister who is now president of the Football Foundation, which channels money into the game's grassroots, said: "It is disgusting for youngsters watching television to be subjected to this vile behaviour.
"Players should be banned and maybe in time, that will make them accept their responsibility to the young people who look up to them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)