The first two newspapers I picked up this morning described Jose Mourinho’s appearance on the Sky Sports sofa as a ‘’tirade’’ and a ‘’blast’’. This told us more about the journo-hype that now pervades every section of the press than it did about the Chelsea manager’s reasoned arguments, which, to be fair to the papers, were properly examined in the text.
Should Mourinho nonetheless face further action by the Football Association, who fined him £25,000 and warned him as to his future conduct only a few weeks ago, for continuing to imply that referees have been influenced against his team? While not using the word ‘’campaign’’ this time, he did contend that Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League would be 12 points rather than five if decisions had gone in their favour in matches against Southampton, Tottenham and Burnley.
It won’t have escaped your notice that the Burnley one was on Saturday, when Nemanja Matic was sent off for reacting violently to an over-the-top studding by Ashley Barnes, after which the Lancashire club equalised. Here Mourinho contended that it had been a ‘’criminal tackle’’ that deserved a six-match ban and the only argument I’d have with the second bit of that is that six would verge on leniency, given that Matic could have lost a lot more – perhaps even his career – had the angle been a little different or the force of the challenge slightly greater.
The FA should think about reducing Matic’s ban from , say, three matches to two on grounds of provocation, and they should certainly act against Barnes because the referee, Martin Atkinson, cannot have seen what he did; otherwise Barnes would have been off the field before the outraged Matic could get at him. As it is, the Chelsea midfielder will miss the Capital One Cup final against Tottenham on Sunday, which can only be good news for Spurs men such as Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele who will seek to probe the area he normally patrols in front of Chelsea’s back four.
You can understand Mourinho being upset about that. And his indignation was equally rightful when he complained the other day about rough treatment of Eden Hazard, who, he hinted, might one day choose to desert the English audiences who marvel at his skill and go to a country – Spain, presumably - where the flair players are more carefully protected. I agree with that. I think phrases like ‘’contact sport’’, which seems to have replaced the old ‘’man’s game’’ for reasons of political correctness, cover a multitude of sins here; if you doubt that destroyers tend to be favoured over creators, have a look at the key decisions in yesterday’s Liverpool victory at Southampton.
Mourinho makes a lot of good points – and he makes them with language whose vividness should not be mistaken for excess. But he also makes mistakes and his understanding of colloquial English, normally so sound, let him down when he once again berated Sky for not apologising for the tagline ‘’Costa’s Crimes’’ accompanying a sequence of Diego Costa’s perceived misdemeanours. I think most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘’Costa Crime’’ (a reference to certain parts of southern Spain, m’Lud) and understood that its adaptation was used light-heartedly.
Someone at Chelsea should have enlightened Mourinho on that. It would, I admit, take a braver functionary to try to persuade him that his undermining of referees is, for once, working against the very cause he seeks to promote – ie, that he’s playing mind games against himself and might have obtained more decisions by keeping his mouth shut – but the evidence is mounting up. Referees are people. Attack them and they won’t necessarily back down. It wouldn’t surprise me if no one wants to be the first to give Chelsea a 50/50, thereby exposing himself as the one to buckle under pressure.
That would be wrong, of course – but it would as human as Matic’s response on Saturday.
Mourinho told Chris Kamara and Ben Shephard:
‘’I can only remember one decision all season that went in our favour.’’
Well, I can remember two in the home match against Hull City alone. He claimed, when asked about Newcastle’s 5-0 defeat at Manchester City:
‘’Newcastle aren’t the kind of team to go to the home of big one and try to make it difficult.’’
This was the Newcastle who knocked City out of the Capital One Cup at the Etihad. He had said in midweek that the last two English clubs to win the Champions League were Chelsea and Liverpool, oddly forgetting Manchester United. But everyone makes mistakes and, on his Sky appearance, Mourinho was largely constructive.
He called, for example, for referees to have assistants with a television monitor and not many would disagree that this would help to ‘’protect the integrity of the referee’’. On this, he and the FA are on the same side. On balance, I don’t think he said enough on this occasion to merit any more than another slap on the wrist. A touchline ban from the forthcoming Wembley occasion would be inappropriate and the FA should concentrate their attention on Barnes. That would send the right message about how we want the game to be conducted. In losing Matic, Chelsea have suffered more than enough.