As the Premier League season rolls on through January, the battle for a top four position and, notably, top spot in the league steps into a higher gear. The pressure on teams seems to increase every year as managers become more disposable in the quest to attain a high finish and silverware. Anyone who has watched their share of games knows that this pressure can, and has, caused players and managers to say and do things which clearly cross the line of what is unacceptable. Enter Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager is one of the most decorated in the world – he is also one of the most controversial. Mourinho’s pitch-side antics and emotionally fuelled post-match interviews are well documented. While they can be entertaining and hilarious to the neutral fan, more often than not they have led the now-Chelsea manager before the respective footballing authorities to answer charges.
Earlier this January, this process began playing itself out yet again as Mourinho was charged by the English FA for comments following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in December. Mourinho stated that there was a “campaign” against his side following the failure of official Anthony Taylor to award a penalty to Cesc Fabregas. To rub salt into the wound, Taylor – an official who has made more than a few controversial calls over the last few seasons – booked the Spaniard for diving. Heading into the Stoke-Chelsea clash, the Blues’ manager drew more attention to himself by calling on the match official to have a strong game. All of this has drawn a great deal of press attention and sparked debates concerning officiating. It still begs the question, however, of whether there is any truth to his comments – is there some sort of larger FA “campaign” against Mourinho?
In short, the answer is a resounding no. Pick any manager or fan of any other Premier League team (or a team in any league for that matter) and you’ll likely get an earful concerning bad officiating and inconsistent calls. It happens to everyone and it’s not a new phenomenon. Pick a team who has ever fought for the title and it only gets worse. Just ask anyone who supports Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and even Blackburn (remember them?). Being at the top is lonely and the pressure to fight for top spot can make it seem like every call against you is part of some larger conspiracy. Mourinho’s comments thus fit into an expected mould which we shouldn’t be surprised by.
While Mourinho and Chelsea fans may feel aggrieved, there isn’t much to suggest, statistically or otherwise, that, the world is against them. In terms of discipline this season, the Blues sit right in the middle of the pack with 40 yellow cards and 2 red cards. That’s 1.8 yellows per game versus Manchester City’s 2.2 yellows per game. Further suggesting the officials aren’t against Chelsea, but in fact helping them in certain areas, is the fact magician midfielder Eden Hazard has been fouled a league leading 65 times. Finally, they've only conceded one penalty all season. Yes, the four yellows for diving is a league high, but that in itself doesn’t point to a conspiracy. After all, to be fair, if the Fabregas-Southampton call was a miss by the officials so was the Gary Cahill dive versus Hull in December – something which probably should have seen the defender sent off. It works both ways.
Mourinho’s case is also greatly weakened by the reported complaints from Swansea’s Garry Monk and Everton’s Roberto Martinez concerning poor officiating. Like Mourinho, Monk and Martinez are under a great deal of pressure (albeit because their teams are sliding down the table) and focusing their frustrations on the FA. The Liverpool Echo’s report that Martinez had complained directly to FA chief Mike Riley and Monk’s statements, reported on ESPN, concerning a “disgusting” penalty award during Swansea’s game against Stoke actually hurt Mourinho’s case. This is because Monk and Martinez are not known for their public outbursts against officiating. Such claims suggest there is a bigger problem with officiating in the league and not just against one club.
So if there is no clear evidence that there is a “campaign” against Mourinho and his club, why is the Chelsea boss playing the victim? Looking at the table, it’s likely no coincidence that this recent outburst has come during a period where Manchester City narrowed the gap between first and second in the league. In this sense, Mourinho’s move can be looked at as a tactic which has successfully moved the media’s attention and pressure away from the players and placed it on himself and the officials. The added bonus to such a ploy is that it puts that tiny bit of doubt in an official’s head the next time they have to make a big call. It’s not the first time he has done something like this either. In 2010, while in charge of Inter Milan, he made a ‘handcuff’ gesture in front of reporters and television cameras during a Serie A match against Sampdoria, implying the officials were being unfair to Inter. While at Real Madrid, Mourinho complained there was a double-standard for officiating and that his team was being picked on – sound familiar? The list goes on.
Mourinho is far from the first to try and influence the game away from the pitch. Legendary Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson had his own ways of playing ‘the game.’ Ferguson was world famous for using mind games when the table was tight and pressuring the officials before and during matches. Extra time became known as ‘Fergie time,’ something which was proven to exist by a BBC study which found that during Ferguson’s tenure, United received an average of 79 extra seconds of playing time when losing a game. With Ferguson’s departure, ‘Fergie time’ dropped to 40 seconds. While far less subtle than Ferguson, Mourinho is a master at trying to gain any kind of advantage for his teams. The fans are too quiet, the official was too fat, the ball boy was too slow, everyone is against us – Mourinho has had his list of excuses for dropped points over the years. While there may be a bit of a ‘bad loser’ in his statements, there is likely far more cunning and deliberation than many realize.
Is there a “campaign” against Chelsea and their manager? No, despite what Mourinho would like us to believe, history has shown that it’s more likely this is all part of a tactical off-field move meant to have positive on-field results. We’re sure the Chelsea boss is willing to pay a few fines and sit out a couple games if it means his side getting even one extra call their way this season. It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf, only it seems that it’s the wolf who’s running the show in this instance.