Chelsea need to find balance

It is indicative of Chelsea’s ill reputation that Jose Mourinho’s just concerns about Petr Cech were scorned and his comments on Stephen Hunt criticised and vilified in the media.

It’s not that Mourinho’s was wrong in what he said (that the challenge was reckless and could have been avoided), but the way he said it, and the way Chelsea FC fell behind their manager’s statements, that gave the media reason to turn against him.

Mourinho and Chelsea are hated because of the money they represent (and really, because they can buy the best players and no one else can), but they are also disliked because of their arrogance and the heavy-handed manner they deal with the media, clubs, players and individuals outside football.

Chelsea know that the fact that they have so much money would create a backlash, and instead of choosing to face it with boorishness all they had needed was a little humility and grace. The taunts of buying the title would never go away but at least the public cruxification that goes on every time a Chelsea player or club member does something wrong would not have happened.

In Cech’s case, Mourinho has made two specific claims. First, he said that Hunt made a stupid challenge and that he could have avoided it. Mourinho is correct, but the way he compared it with Thatcher (a case where intent had been proven through video evidence and more so through the punishment) and how he decribed the incident (once again, correctly) turned the press against him.

Here’s an extract – first Mourinho calls the Cudicini foul a yellow-card offense (spot on), and then he says this:

“But the first challenge is unbelievable.

The goalkeeper grabs the ball, has the ball in his hands, slides because he dives and the pitch is wet, and the player goes direct for him.

He cannot go for the ball and goes with his knee on his face. If he didn’t break a bone in his face, Cech is a lucky boy.

I am not saying the intention was to send my player to hospital. That is something only the Reading player can say. He says that it was not intentional and I believe players. But it was a very stupid challenge and it was a challenge for a red card.

In every game, you see players jumping over the keeper, players avoiding the keeper or going with the foot to the ball. But when the player goes with knee direct to the face, he doesn’t want to avoid.

It is one for the authorities to look at in the same way they looked at Thatcher on Mendes.”

Key part – where he said that the player “went direct for him (Cech)”, and more importantly, when he made this statement:

“But when the player goes with knee direct to the face, he doesn’t want to avoid.”

Mourinho is right, of course. But the price of being direct and forthright here is to invite a wave of anti-Chelsea sentiment from the media (who have all done their level best to convince the public that Mourinho and Chelsea are paranoid and that it was just an unfortunate accident) when tact and self-control would have been more prudent.

It’s easy to succumb to emotions at this point – two of his players have been sent to the hospital – but Mourinho is a master tactician and for once he should have controlled his emotions and played the media. That Chelsea have in the past, and now as well, refused to use common sense in dealing with such sensitive matters

Is Hunt guilty of deliberately trying to hurt Cech? He’s probably not, but he’s not the saint everyone’s making him out to be either.

Then there is Mourinho cribbing about the ambulance – it’s a bad stance to take because there is a lot of room for the NHS people and Reading to find flaws in his statement. It’s sad really – Chelsea and Mourinho are right for once, and no one listens to them because a) the media is heavily biased) and b) they insist on shooting themselves in the foot every time they talk about the incident.

Finding a solution

There’s little point to this debate unless we look at the bigger picture – that keepers need more protection from such challenges. I’ve seen van der Sar come out of every match looked winded, and he’s undoubtedly had a couple of hard knocks during the game. Lehmann gets it as well, even if he’s easier to wind up and reacts badly.

Drogba’s paranoia apart, there’s a genuine case to be made about teams playing the big clubs and using the physical, in-your-face approach to getting results. It’s a tactic that works well if used properly and in moderation, but when aggression leads to near-fatal injuries then we have a problem.

In the Chelsea – Reading game the ref was at fault as well for failing to punish both players. It was a tough call to card Hunt in the first minute of the game but you have to be tough, and part of the ‘solution’ could be to institute the same type of strict laws that FIFA brought in the World Cup.

The second step would be to retrain referees to apply the law more uniformly. In one match Ballack’s trod on Sissoko’s ankle gets him a straight red (an incident in which Sissoko is off the ground immediately after the card is shown), and in another Hunt puts a knee to Cech’s head and walks away with a warning.

The third step would be to weigh the severity of an injury before deciding punishment. It is a fair extension of the law in everyday life, and while football is a contact sport that does not mean that you can get away with putting people in the hospital through reckless challenges.

What about Chelsea?

And in all this mess, Chelsea need to think about their own image, and how they are poisoning the chalice for themselves. Champions in football are hated, yes, but Manchester United and Liverpool (in their time) won grudging respect for being graceful champions even if they had a lot of money. Chelsea are like the unwanted child who is suddenly the most powerful magician in the world but cannot understand why he’s not respected. Respect is earned, not bought, and right now, every move they make is losing them respect and earning them more hate.

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