Liverpool have given their firm backing to Luis Suárez over his denial that he racially abused Patrice Evra at Anfield on Saturday – and want the Manchester United defender to receive a ban from the Football Association should his accusations prove groundless.
The Uruguay international has vehemently denied Evra's allegations that he racially abused him during Liverpool's 1-1 draw with United and will fight to clear his name if the FA decides to open a disciplinary case.
Suárez has also received a show of support from his employers. A Liverpool spokesman said: "Luis is adamant that he has not used language of that nature and the club is totally supportive of the player."
The inquiry will begin with the FA asking to speak to Evra on Monday to ascertain whether he intends to make an official complaint. Evra's accusation is that he was called "a n****r" – the Senegal-born Frenchman said he heard it "at least 10 times" – but Suárez insists it is not true.
"I'm upset by the accusations of racism," he said. "I can only say that I have always respected, and respect, everybody. We are all the same." Liverpool have accepted Suárez's version of events and, given the potential repercussions for their striker if Evra's allegations are proven, believe the France international should have a disciplinary case to answer if allegations of this magnitude are dropped.
Evra, accompanied by Sir Alex Ferguson, asked to see the referee Andre Marriner, after the match to report the alleged incidents and later expressed his anger in an interview with Canal Plus.
"In 2011, there are things you can't say any more," he said. "The referee knows and there will be an investigation. But I don't want to repeat what he said." The interviewer asked if Suárez had used racist words and he replied: "Yes, he did. We can see thanks to the television what he said. He said it at least 10 times. We can read it on his lips."
Evra's complaints have been included in Marriner's match report but the referee has also informed the FA and the Premier League that the first he knew of it was after the match. The two players could be seen exchanging words at various points of the second half but it may count against Evra that he did not raise the alleged offence with Marriner during the game.
On that basis, Evra will almost certainly need back-up statements from his United team-mates if the FA is to decide there is evidence to make a case against Suárez. United would not say if there were witnesses to Evra's allegations but, without them, the authorities may decide it is a case of one man's word against another.
In 2008 Evra was at the centre of accusations that he was racially abused by a groundsman at Chelsea while warming down. But an FA hearing into the allegation – which was made by a Manchester United employee – found that it was not proven. Evra was subsequently banned for four games and fined £15,000 for his part in the post-match altercation with the groundsman. The controversy comes at a particularly bad time given that Saturday's match launched Kick It Out's three-week "One Game, One Community" action programme, with players from both sides wearing anti-racism T-shirts, and every manager through the leagues wearing one of the organisation's badges.
A message was read out before the game saying that Liverpool did not tolerate racism of any form, and there was a message in the club programme, including a telephone number for supporters to report anyone guilty of offences.
Lord Herman Ouesley, the chairman of Kick It Out, said any footballer guilty of racism should face "severe action" both from the FA and the player's club, but "you would have to be able to prove it beyond reasonable doubt".
He added: "There were incidents in the second half and Evra seemed to get very agitated so something was obviously bugging him because he was quite incensed. But if this happened he should have brought it to the attention of the referee at the time."