I have to confess I have had a hand in my son’s decision to support Chelsea. During a spring trip to London, I thought it might be a good idea to do a stadium tour, and Stamford Bridge was conveniently located and available when we were free.
Toby’s exposure to football stadiums had been fairly limited up until this point, so walking into the imposing grounds of one of the world’s largest football clubs was awe-inspiring in itself. He was pretty much committing himself to lifelong Blues fandom the minute we stepped through the gates. And that was without sitting in the dugouts or dressing room.
The tour was fun, I have to admit, but the place was dripping with money – money that I doubt is distributed proportionately to the stadium tour guide, or the girls serving at the shop, or the security guard at the museum in the form.
A club that charges £25,000 a year for a hospitality box (and a minimum 10-year commitment) can surely afford to spread some of that money about. The amount of money the club rakes in from corporate sponsorship per annum would probably feed some of the world’s poorest communities for decades.
However, as difficult as it is to reconcile some of the corporate greed on display at Chelsea FC with my lightweight socialist principles, it’s not why I’m so very disappointed with the football club this week. (After all, you could levy that criticism at most Premier League super clubs.)
Nor is it the somewhat unsavoury reputation of some of Chelsea’s fans. Although that disgusting racist display by fans on a Paris tubes station last year makes me want to think twice about attending any of their matches – not that we could afford the tickets!
No, this week, it’s the behaviour of the so-called “Chosen One”, manager supremo José Mourinho that’s left me reeling.
After his team – the one that he is responsible for organising and coaching – drew 2-2 with underdogs Swansea City at the weekend, he quite clearly threw his toys out of the pram.
No-one likes a sore loser (particularly when you’re trying hard to teach a kid who idolises footballers to accept losing) but worse than that, Mourinho took his frustrations out on his first-team doctor by very publicly criticising and demoting her.
So not only has Mourinho shown himself up to be ungracious in defeat (although it wasn’t technically a defeat and I don’t think that characteristic is much of a secret in the Portuguese manager) but he has also revealed himself to be a bit of a sexist bully.
Before anyone thinks I’m hysterically pulling the feminist card here, let’s revisit the facts.
Saturday’s tie with Swansea was certainly eventful. The Welsh side brought their A-game to the match, while most reports say the London side were a little lacklustre.
Chelsea’s goalie Thibaut Courtois was sent off following a foul on the edge of the penalty area, which was undisputed by most quarters except of course the Blues camp, which tried unsuccessfully to appeal the red card decision.
Down to 10 men, the pressure was clearly on for Chelsea and one of their star players Eden Hazard took a knock and fell to the ground in the game’s last minutes (as footballers so easily do). First-team doctor Eva Carneiro was beckoned not once but twice by the referee to attend to him, and as the rules of the game dictate she obliged.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, the rules of the game also state that a player must leave the field if requiring medical attention, so the team was diminished further to 9 men temporarily during a critical point in the match.
This is what has prompted the wrath of Mourinho, who has publicly commented that he wasn’t happy with his medical team “rushing on” claiming that Hazard was unlikely to have been “seriously injured and was just tired,” and that anyone on the bench whether “secretary” or “doctor” needs to “understand the game”. He’s also reported to have labelled her as “naïve.” She has since had some of her responsibilities stripped including a ban from the bench.
I think Carneiro, who has been with Chelsea since 2009, has previously worked at West Ham, has helped prepare Olympic athletes and has also had a medical role in the Woman’s England Game is capable of understanding the game.
I also think as a doctor and sports medicine specialist she’s slightly more qualified than her boss to identify if someone should be checked out. Regardless, once the referee beckoned her she was obliged, and a doctor’s priority is quite rightly the welfare of a human being rather than the outcome of a football match.
Mourinho has made himself look like a bullish oaf this time, and he has inadvertently highlighted how hard it is for any woman – never mind one with the level of credentials you’d expect from someone holding such a position – to be taken seriously in the world’s biggest boys’ club that is football.
Instead of lashing out at a talented medic, who is probably an asset to his club, did it not occur to Mourinho to blame his keeper for a clumsy foul, or Hazard for being “tired” and maybe falling over a bit too easily instead of fighting for his side, or, perish the thought, his own tactics.
Would he have treated a male doctor this way? Maybe. We don’t know. And of course it has to be acknowledged that Carneiro’s male colleague also ran on the pitch with her (although most of the media attention has been directed at Carneiro, which in itself is a reflection of sexism in the media). But I certainly don’t think he’d use language like “naïve” or make accusations about not understanding the if the most senior medic on the bench had been male. A man of Mourinho’s public standing should at least have some awareness about how those sorts of comments can be perceived.
This story is set to rumble on. Whether or not it is an example of sexism can be debated, but what cannot be disputed is that Mourinho has thrown a tantrum, and one that has had serious consequences on a vital team member’s reputation and career. It’s not a way for any boss to behave without recrimination, and so far Mourinho has been untouched, despite a media mauling.
I expect a great deal more from my son’s role models. This is not how to be a man.
Read the BBC account of the whole incident here.