So accustomed are we to Jose Mourinho playing mind games that we are a bit perplexed when he just emits, from that entertainingly Machiavellian mouth, a load of old rubbish.
Thus it was on Sunday, when the Chelsea manager talked of a ‘’campaign’’ against his club involving an unlikely alliance of rival managers, pundits and commenters, all intending to influence referees into finding his players guilty of diving when they had in fact been fouled.
He had a germ of a point in that, during the match that had just finished at Southampton, Cesc Fabregas had indeed been fouled by the young full-back Matt Targett in the penalty area, only to rise and find Anthony Taylor yellow-carding him for simulation when a spot-kick should have been awarded.
But how that germ was over-fertilised. Citing several other incidents, some utterly irrelevant, yet somehow overlooking actual dives such as the one by Gary Cahill against Hull at Stamford Bridge on December 13 for which the England central defender should have seen a second yellow and a finger directing him towards the tunnel, Mourinho ranted: ‘’They are not incidents – that’s a campaign. They [the unholy alliance involved] react with Chelsea in a way they don’t react to other teams.’’
Most of those listening to him assumed he was trying to deflect attention from two points dropped away from home. And maybe there was an element of that. But the impression I had was of a case of common-or-garden managerial paranoia, writ large as only Mourinho can do it these days (and amnesia, for many will remember the dodgy late penalty Chelsea got against West Bromwich at the Bridge a year ago).
He does, after all have plenty of form. Remember Madrid, where in the spring of 2011, after his Real had lost Pepe to a red card, they were all but knocked out of the Champions League by a Lionel Messi wonder goal for Barcelona? That was another conspiracy, this time with Uefa as ringleaders: ‘’You don’t stand a chance against Barcelona. Uefa don’t allow any team to do anything against them.’’
Funnily enough, Chelsea eliminated Barcelona at the same semi-final stage a year later and went on to take the trophy under Roberto di Matteo. But Chelsea had John Terry sent off (rightly, for kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the back). And no one suggested that Mourinho’s strictures had had any effect on Uefa or anyone else. Psychologically or in any other way.
Sometimes – no, make that every time – Mourinho is a bad loser. And he often goes too far in expressing his frustration. The evidence that it takes any pressure off his players, or increases their chances of obtaining a favourable decision or two down the line, is thin at best.
What happened on Boxing Day, I reckon, is that referee Taylor assumed Fabregas dived, acting on his body language and the bad habits Chelsea exhibited in the Hull match and others. In using both criteria he was wrong, but to call the resulting error a ‘’scandal’’ that, had it occurred in other countries, would have been on the front pages was to make some of us wonder if Mourinho would be happier back in Portugal earning a relative pittance.
Referees do get together and study the habits of clubs and individuals, as they should, just as clubs study the opposition; it’s part of being a professional. So Taylor would have gone to the match forewarned. He should still not have operated on an assumption and I agree with Mourinho when he says that the procedures should allow for yellow cards, as well as reds, to be rescinded, for Fabregas should not have this stain on his reputation.
But now the referees will learn afresh. They will take on board the lesson that not every Chelsea fall is a dive. And that may cause Chelsea to get the odd decision. It won’t be thanks to Mourinho’s spluttering, so he shouldn’t get any credit for it.