It has been claimed before that Jose Mourinho has a tendency to do or say just about anything in order to deflect from his or his teams shortcomings at any time. There were certainly plenty of shortcomings be to seen early on Saturday evening, when Chelsea were held at home by Swansea City with a performance every bit as lethargic as any seen during the pre-season. Since that match, Mourinho’s face has indeed been plastered all over the press – ever was it thus, and it’s unlikely that bookmakers would have offered particularly generous odds that the first Premier League brouhaha of the season would have involved this particular manager on the first day of the season – but it’s difficult to avoid the viewpoint that, no matter what one might think of his managerial technique or abilities, he’s in the process of crossing a line if he hasn’t done so already, this time.
The matter at hand is, of course, that of the treatment of club doctor Eva Carneiro, who has found herself the centre of an extremely public attack at the hands of Mourinho since the closing stages of Saturday’s match. In stoppage time and with the score tied at two goals apiece, Eden Hazard was felled by injury. Mourinho, whose team had already been reduced to ten men by the earlier sending off of Thibault Courtois (an appeal against his automatic one match ban has already been dismissed by the Premier League,) clearly had issues with playing out the last couple of minutes of the match with nine players and has since then made several accusations against the club’s medical team in public, up to it being reported that Carneiro may be demoted for posting a completely innocuous Facebook message thanking “the general public for their overwhelming support.”
In an age of television replays from every conceivable angle and during which supporters have a tendency to twist themselves into logical contortions in order to defend The Club, we might have expected the controversy to rumble on as the week progressed, but there seems to be little controversy to be seen on the facts of the matter in this case. They seem to run roughly as follows:
- In stoppage time at the end of the match, Eden Hazard gave the impression of having gone down with an injury that the referee, presumably having considered the player’s reaction, believed serious enough to warrant the immediate attention of the club’s medical staff.
- The referee signalled twice to the medical staff that they should attend to Hazard. Carneiro and the club’s head physiotherapist, Jon Fearn, subsequently did so.
- The General Medical Council’s guidelines are that, under such circumstances, medical staff must attend to a player immediately on being requested to by the referee. Failure to do so on the part of a club doctor may lead to disciplinary proceedings being brought against them, which may result in them losing the right to practice anywhere.
- The player’s well-being – which cannot be ascertained without the intervention of a club doctor – therefore takes precedence over anything else, up to and including the wishes of Jose Mourinho.
For a supposed master of the dark arts of gamesmanship, Mourinho hasn’t been giving a terribly good account of himself this week. For one thing, his integrity is being called into question by a greater number of people than ever before. If we can take it as read that Mourinho couldn’t have definitively known whether Hazard was injured in that moment, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to extrapolate that there’s a chance that he may take the acquisition of Premier League points to be more important than the safety and well-being of his players. If he did know definitively that Hazard wasn’t seriously injured at the exact moment, well, the obvious question to ask is how this might have been the case. If Hazard was feigning injury (and to suggest this as a possibility isn’t to point an accusing finger at this particular player – we all know the extent to which professional footballers feign and over-exaggerate injuries all the time), why did he opt to launch the full venom of his criticism at the club doctor rather than at the player himself for what we have somewhat coyly come to call “simulation”?
Similarly, it’s important to bear in mind that although the social media aspect of this story is taking hold as an important component of it, Mourinho’s criticism of his backroom staff started well before Carneiro’s benign message was posted on Facebook in the first place. Again, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to posit the theory that this particular message – which, we should remember, didn’t mention the actual incident at all, in any way, and was just a message of thanks to those that supported her – is now being used as a form of retrospective justification for Mourinho’s behaviour from the outset. Chelsea Football Club’s only response to the matter so far has been to describe it as “internal staffing matter” and no more. While internal investigations take place, the club would probably be well-advised to issue a statement confirming that it takes its commitment to player safety seriously, and that all members of its staff have the right to not be publicly humiliated in the way that its medical team has been by the manager over the last few days.
Considering what we know of this story, it seems likely that both Carneiro and Jon Fearn may well have a case for constructive dismissal, should they choose to go down that path. Unless there’s anything significant about this story that has not been released into the public domain, the behaviour of Mourinho – and, by extension, the club itself – amounts to a grossly disproportionate reaction to what was proper, professional behaviour from the club’s doctor and physiotherapist. Is the club prepared to defend what looks very much like the indefensible in this case? Because that is how this matter – and, as an aside, whether the media have overblown the story or not is now irrelevant; it’s in the public domain now and it isn’t going to go away until it’s resolved – looks as of this evening, and it’s how it will continue to look until the club ends its self-imposed silence on the matter – and if the club refuses to comment further, it’s likely that the authorities will be pressed upon to comment upon it all. The molehill will have become a mountain, whether anybody wants this to have happened or not.
It is, of course, Chelsea’s choice. Does this club wish for its name to come to be considered a byword for punching down and blaming staff who were doing their job in accordance with well-established guidelines? Does this club wish for its name to come to be considered a byword for winning at all costs, up to and including the sort of behaviour that we have seen from Mourinho over the five or six days? Does this club wish for its name to come to be considered a byword for merely the possibility of dropping an extra point on the opening day of the season being considered more important than the well-being of its players? Chelsea should reinstate Carneiro and Fearn to their previous positions and should make a clear statement confirming that the club is dedicated to treating all of its staff with basic degrees of respect. Because at the moment the silence from Stamford Bridge is deafening. Even Jose Mourinho gets things wrong, and he has got this dreadfully wrong. If the club doesn’t set its viewpoint clear over this mess in unambiguous terms, it is only likely damage its own reputation by implication.
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