So closely has Jose Mourinho been identified with the wiles of the managerial game that, when he makes a good point straight and true, people tend not to listen, or at least to take the Chelsea manager less seriously than they should.
It’s his own fault, of course, but I think reporters should also be careful to distinguish between his mind games and the stuff that comes from the heart. A good example of the latter was his recent reference to Eden Hazard taking too much rough treatment from opponents: he said it was more important than diving, whether Chelsea had been guilty of that or not, but the argument got lost amid yet another Jose-rant episode.
Wisely, however, Mourinho – or someone at the club – had the idea of sending assistant coach Steve Holland to the next press conference, which took place on the eve of the 2-0 victory over Newcastle on Saturday, and he was able to get the essence of the point over without the fuss and clutter that inevitably surrounds the Special One.
Holland spoke with admirable eloquence, claiming that observers of the Barclays Premier League tended to focus too much on players ‘’going to ground’’ (a phrase plucked from the hateful new vocabulary, also featuring ‘’a coming together’’, that is used in discussions of decisions by referees) at the expense of looking after the interests of the talented creative individuals who do most to keep us entertained.
I agree with this. I’ve always felt that campaigns against diving – and it’s a much more complicated matter that that simple word implies – ignore the greater evil of the appetite for destruction which takes its worst form in so-called tackles designed to hurt and therefore discourage the victim.
An example of this was a challenge by Phil Bardsley on Hazard at Stoke recently. Holland raised that, saying: ‘’If he [Hazard] doesn’t see that coming and get his studs off the ground, it finishes his career.’’ There would certainly have been a danger of serious injury if Hazard had not taken partial evasive action – and some misguided zealots would no doubt see it as diving.
Holland went further in paying tribute to the Belgian’s bravery in dealing with the parade of rough stuff he encounters match by match - adding, however, that it might not be in his own best interests. ‘’A model pro,’’ said Holland, ‘’who gets up straight away after being whacked can discourage a referee from taking action against a player who is trying to take him out of the game. Five minutes later he gets whacked again because the player hasn’t got a yellow card.’’
Yes, Holland may have been speaking with the intention of influencing referees as well as expressing the aesthetic impulse – but on this occasion Chelsea had every right to remind all and sundry that the debate over diving, renewed after Gary Cahill’s shocker against Hull and then the apparently unfair punishment of Cesc Fabregas against West Ham, has more than one side, and that the side of the angels is too often neglected.