Chelsea departed the Capital One Cup in shame after Eden Hazard kicked a teenage ballboy in frustration, a misdemeanour that will not prompt a police charge but could lead to a severe sanction from the Football Association.
Hazard, who was sent off, later met the 17-year-old, named locally as Charlie Morgan, son of the Swansea City director Martin Morgan, in the Chelsea dressing room and apologised for his reaction to the boy preventing him from retrieving the ball 12 minutes from time. "The boy put his whole body on to the ball and I was just trying to kick the ball and I think I kicked the ball and not the boy," said Hazard. "I apologise. The ballboy came in the changing room and we had a quick chat and I apologised and the boy apologised as well, and it is over. Sorry."
The clash overshadowed the Welsh club's eye-catching achievement in reaching a first major cup final at the European champions' expense. It was the latest high-profile incident to blight Chelsea's traumatic season following the high-profile racism episodes involving John Terry and Mikel John Obi. Terry was banned in the autumn for four matches after an independent regulatory commission found him guilty of racially abusing the Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand, despite the centre-half having been acquitted over the matter at Westminster magistrates court in July.
Then, in October, the midfielder Ramires alleged the referee Mark Clattenburg had racially abused Mikel during the defeat by Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. Although the FA opted against charging the official, it did charge Mikel for entering the officials' room after the match and suspended him for three matches. The red card shown to Hazard by Chris Foy will lead the 21-year-old to be banned for three games, though there may be scope for that sanction to be extended.
The Belgium international, a £32m signing from Lille last summer, had attempted to retrieve the ball with time ticking down only for the ballboy first to hold on to it and then flop down on top of it. Hazard initially attempted to grab the ball but eventually snapped and tried to kick it from under the youngster, who rolled over and, after shouting out to the referee in protest, was helped round the touchline clutching his ribs.
The boy was treated in the home dressing room, with the police interviewing him and his father. Swansea confirmed the teenager would not be pressing charges and that the matter was "closed". Chelsea invited him into the away dressing room after the game, with Terry and Frank Lampard welcoming him into the room alongside the City kit lady, where apologies were delivered from both parties.
"They have apologised to each other," said Rafael Benítez, Chelsea's interim manager. "They knew they were both wrong. He was wasting time. Hazard wanted to get the ball back quickly and he was kicking. They both made mistakes. They both accept they were wrong, and we can't change things. We will deal with this internally. He was frustrated and just wanted to get the ball back, but we will analyse it and see what happens 
"Do you think we are not disappointed with the situation, that we don't regret what's happened? They apologised. You cannot change things. We cannot. They both made a mistake. The player spoke with the boy and said sorry because there was a mistake. Listen to me: as Chelsea FC, we know it was a mistake, we talk with the boy, we talk with the player. The boy was there with us in the dressing room. Everyone was very clear." Morgan has worked as a ballboy at Swansea for six years and had claimed on his Twitter account before kick-off that this would be his final appearance in the role as he stepped in for a colleague.
He had even boasted he would be stationed behind the home goal and was "needed for time-wasting". The teenager had 11,000 followers at the final whistle, with that number swelling to 40,000 an hour after the end of the game.
"In a situation like that you have to try and understand what went through the head of the man committing [the offence]," said the Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup. "I was a player and can understand he was frustrated. Your pulse is very high and sometimes you say and do things, you overreact. You want the ball boy to give you the ball, but there are still things you can never do. You can't kick him. It was a huge mistake."
Chelsea's official Twitter feed had initially suggested the red card was unjustified. "Has football gone mad?" they wrote. "Hazard is sent off for kicking the ball under a ballboy attempting to smother the ball rather than return it." They later apologised for that tweet and confirmed Hazard had done likewise to the youngster.