Wayne Rooney and Phil Neville had to deal with an alleged racism incident after an ugly clash between two of their players in an MLS game on Sunday.
Play was held up for several minutes during the encounter between Rooney’s DC United and Neville’s Inter Miami at Audi Field in Washington. The United forward Taxi Fountas was accused of racially abusing Inter’s defender Damion Lowe during a second-half altercation between the pair.
Rooney and his opposite number Neville, former Manchester United and England teammates, were summoned to talk to the referee, Ismail Elfath, after tensions boiled over on the pitch. Neville discussed whether his players should leave the field during the four-minute stoppage, but play did eventually continue after Rooney substituted Fountas.
“There was a racist comment that was unacceptable,” Neville said. “A word was used that I think is unacceptable in society. I think it’s the worst word in the world. There is no place at all for racism on a football field or society.
“I must commend my players for keeping their calm, I must commend the referee – [in] a really difficult situation he followed the protocols set out by the MLS – and I must give massive, massive respect to Wayne Rooney for dealing with it in the way that he did,” Neville added. “I have always known him as a class act and today he went up in my estimation more than he has ever done, more than any goal he has ever scored.”
MLS will investigate the incident, with a spokesperson telling ESPN: “MLS has zero tolerance for abusive and offensive language and we take these allegations very seriously. An investigation into this matter will begin promptly.”
Fountas, a Greece international, has denied using a racial slur in a social media statement, and said he is “saddened to be falsely accused”.
“I did not use the word I am being accused of using,” Fountas wrote on Instagram. “That despicable racial slur is one I denounce and did not use. We had a hot discussion on the field, but I have not racially abused anyone. I firmly reject racism in any form, it is despicable.”
The incident occurred in the 59th minute as the Greece international Fountas, who had scored moments earlier, got involved in a scuffle with Lowe. Inter Miami players gathered and ultimately Neville spoke with Rooney, his DC United counterpart. Rooney took Fountas out of the game, and play resumed. Miami’s DeAndre Yedlin said: “If nothing was done, we weren’t going to continue.”
A DC United statement said: “DC United are aware of the allegations involving a player during the match against Inter Miami CF. The club will work closely with Major League Soccer and Inter Miami to investigate the incident.”
Elfath is quoted as saying that neither he nor any of the on-field officials heard a racial slur being used. The incident was also checked by VAR. Miami won 3-2 with a late goal from Gonzalo Higuaín.