Mark Clattenburg is on his way back to the pitch. Before he gets there, Chelsea should say something.
Anything would do, but in all likelihood, nothing will happen.
Clattenburg, the 37-year-old referee who was accused of racially abusing two Chelsea players on Oct. 28, has been cleared of all charges and is set for a return to officiating. Chelsea have so far declined to apologize (via The Telegraph).
Clattenburg will serve as the fourth official for Sunday's match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at Tottenham's White Hart Lane. Then he will work Wednesday's match between Southampton and Norwich City.
On the surface, it sounds like the case is closed, the incident is finished and all parties can move on. But is that really true?
Chelsea's accusations were serious. One of them—that Clattenburg had abused Spaniard Juan Mata—was dropped quickly (via The Independent). But the other, concerning Nigerian John Obi Mikel, was fully pursued.
Had Clattenburg been found guilty, he might never have worked as a professional referee again. At the very least, he would have served a long suspension before returning and working under a cloud of distrust and shame for the rest of his career.
Instead, he's been cleared. That being the case, we have a question on our hands: Should Chelsea apologize to Clattenburg?
In the weeks following the incident, Clattenburg not only cooperated with the English football authorities but also endured a police investigation (via The Guardian). The police case was dropped, but the experience must have taken a toll.
As Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said (via The Telegraph): "The unfortunate thing for Mark is that he has had to carry that stain for the last few weeks. Everyone in the game is pleased for him now—apart from Chelsea."
It's logical to argue that, because Clattenburg was made to endure various hardships because of Chelsea's allegations against him, then Chelsea should either receive some form of punishment, express some regret or both.
On the other hand, Chelsea had little choice but to stand by their players. The club's handling of the recent John Terry racism incident must have complicated relations with the players, and failing to back Mikel or Mata might have generated bad feelings inside the dressing room.
But Chelsea might have done better to have moved more slowly. The accusations came out the same night as the match, but the incident seems to have been a mix of misunderstanding and miscommunication (see the Football Association's report here).
As the situation unfolded Chelsea supported their players because it was the right thing to do. Now that it's over, Chelsea must do the right thing once again.