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Is There Really a “Campaign” Against Chelsea?

Jose Mourinho really set oil on fire in his post-match interview following the Southampton game in December when he claimed there was a “clear campaign from referees, managers, other clubs and media against Chelsea”. This outburst retrospectively handed him a fine from the FA a few weeks ago. Like many others, I did not give those claims much importance and, rather associated them to Mourinho’s mind games ahead of the finish to the season. However the events of the past few weeks and particularly this weekend made me reconsider my opinion.
In December, the Chelsea boss was reacting to an incident involving Cesc Fabregas and Matt Targett where the latter clipped Fabregas in the box. The Chelsea midfielder went to ground but quite astonishingly the referee Anthony Taylor, rather than pointing to the penalty spot, showed the Spaniard a yellow card for diving. The penalty could have arguably won Chelsea the game and Mourinho was disillusioned as he felt his team were hard done by, and not for the first time this season. The fact is there was clear contact by Targett on Fabregas and the midfielder did not dive. Whether or not Chelsea would have scored and gone on to win the game is a different question, but Mourinho had a case to voice his disappointment. Another fact is, it was not the first penalty appeal, nor the last, that Chelsea had strong claims for this season.
However at that point to call it a “campaign” seemed quite far fetched. There are decisions in football that go against your team and there are ones that go for your team, and Chelsea had their experiences with both this season. Diego Costa was incorrectly booked in the first game of the season at Burnley for diving when Tom Heaton tripped him up and should have been shown a red card with Chelsea being awarded a penalty. Other controversial incidents this season that Mourinho could argue went against his team (and he did) include a handball at Tottenham in the infamous 5-3 match, when a ball deflected off Oscar onto the hand of Vertonghen, who was on the floor after a tackle he had made just a second earlier. The score was 1-0 to Chelsea at that point in the game, however there was not much Vertonghen could have done about it and this incident is perhaps the weakest shout of the lot along with Ivanovic’s attempts to get a penalty in the game against West Ham on Boxing Day. The last and biggest controversy is Chelsea’s most recent game against Burnley where at least three calls went clearly against the Blues and they will be further discussed later on.
With all those incidents having gone against Chelsea, we must look at the other side of the coin as well. Chelsea had decisions go for them, most notably against Liverpool in their first encounter of the season, a game that ended 2-1 for the Blues when Gary Cahill threw himself in the air to block Gerrard’s shot, which clearly struck him on his outstretched arm. Another incident, also involving Gary Cahill, happened a few weeks later against Hull City when the England centre-back, already on a yellow card, clearly dived for a penalty, but Chris Foy opted not to give him a second yellow card, a strange decision considering Willian and Diego Costa were both rightfully booked for diving earlier in the game.
Complaining about bad and borderline decisions is something every manager does, and Jose Mourinho is no exception. It is a normal sight in every football league in the world that when decisions go against their team, managers lament in the post-match conferences trying to point out the impact the incident could have had on the result of the game, particularly if the harmed team does not end up will all three points. In a similar fashion, you hear managers of every team, that get the lucky side of a decision, play down the importance the incident had on the result of the game. Rarely do the managers admit they got lucky. If the controversial incident involves a possible sending off for a player, the manager of the other team will always try to find every reason for why that player should have been sent off and will describe it as “a clear red card” or “a very bad tackle”. Same way the manager of the player will say everything to show why it was not a sending off and will probably describe it as “accidental” or “a bit naughty” at the most. That is perfectly normal, managers are there to protect their players, especially in front of the media. They won’t ever say “my player deserved a straight red card, the referee should have sent him off”, it’s just not something a good manager does.
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Diego Costa runs onto leg of Emre Can-an incident so much has been made of in recent weeks

A perfect example in practice was one of the best games of the season so far, the Chelsea-Liverpool League Cup semi-final. After the game, Brendan Rodgers was quick to point out Diego Costa’s “horrible challenges on Emre Can and Martin Skrtel that could have ended up in injury to both players”. However, he did not mention a single word about the penalty Chelsea should have had for Skrtel’s tackle on Diego Costa nor the fact that two of Liverpool’s players, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva, should have both been shown a second yellow card and a resulting red card. Jose Mourinho on the other hand, when asked about Costa’s challenges, called them “absolutely accidental” and was quick to turn the table around and point out the penalty and two red cards Liverpool got away with in the game. Two versions that could not be more contrasting but who was right? They both were! Both managers were protecting their own players and tried to turn the attention from what their team got away with to what the other team got away with. That is simply the way it works in post-match conferences.

It is then the duty of the media to analyse and give a neutral perspective on the game and most importantly on the incidents in it. After this game, the media failed to do so as the biggest focus was on Diego Costa and it makes you wonder if the focus would be the same if the culprit was another player. There was a big exaggeration about the two incidents with Diego Costa, but not about other, similarly dangerous challenges that have happened already this season. This is what the Chelsea manager labelled as “a media campaign” against Chelsea,
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Eliaquim Mangala with a nasty challenge on Everton’s Samuel Eto’o was left unpunished by the FA…

In my article last month I discussed Diego Costa’s “stamps” against Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final and while I fully agreed with his ban, I never agreed with the striker being called a violent player after seeing the headlines “Costa’s crimes” everywhere the following morning. It can’t be proven that Costa ever wanted to stamp on either Emre Can or Martin Skrtel. He does not look at the players feet, his eyes are following the ball and there is no unnatural movement or pull-up and stamp motion from his feet. If we compare this to other similar incidents that have happened this season, the pattern of the aftermath is completely different. Eliaquim Mangala’s challenge against Everton was worse than the two Diego Costa “stamps” together. The Frenchman jumps with his leg high in an unnatural position, stretched out in front of him with the studs up and catches the Everton player in the lower back. There have not been many more dangerous challenges than that this season and not only has the Manchester City defender escaped a booking, he also escaped any retrospective action from the FA, which is like laughing into Chelsea’s face. There were no “kung-fu Mangala” or similar headlines in the news the following day. A more recent example is Robin van Persie elbowing James Tomkins when Manchester United visited West Ham. The Red Devil was backing off into a duel with the Hammers’ defender but with his eyes on the ball, took a short look over his shoulder at Tomkins and then swung his arm and caught him in the jaw.

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As did Robin van Persie’s elbow in the face of James Tomkins who is clearly in pain and later called it ‘malicious’

This was another example of something we do not want to see in football. The look Van Persie took apparently to check for Tomkins’ position made the challenge look malicious to say the least, yet the Dutchman was not booked nor faced any action from the FA. Personally I do not see a difference between the three incidents, we can all agree that we don’t want to see stamps, kung-fu kicks and elbows in the face in football and the FA should push for that. Yet they have punished only one incident, Diego Costa for a “stamp” that seemed the least voluntary of the three. Also neither Mangala’s kick nor Van Persie’s elbow were making newspaper headlines all over the country as was Diego Costa. If we are to kick such incidents out of football, the FA needs to adopt a universal meter by which it measures incidents. Things that should be analysed in detail should include whether there is a clear intention or a look to see where the damaged player is, any unnatural movements of arms, legs or the body and the context of the incident. I also believe it would be beneficial if the FA’s analysis of such incidents would be made public, as it would help everyone understand why a player was banned for one incident while another escaped a ban for another incident and it would put an end to such discussions once and for all.

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Ashley Barnes catches Branislav Ivanovic on the back of the leg with his studs and escapes without a booking

As promised, let’s look in more detail at this weekend’s events  which made me reconsider Mourinho’s words. First of all, Chelsea had two big penalty shouts, both in the first half. A shot from Branislav Ivanovic took a slight deflection off the thigh of Michael Kightly onto the defenders outstretched arm, a clear penalty any other day. The second penalty appeal was when Diego Costa got the better of Jason Shackell on the right flank and burst into the box. The recovering Burnley captain clearly shoved Costa over with both hands as well as catching the striker’s leg between his own. Again a very legitimate appeal that on any other day would have been given as a penalty. Ashley Barnes was involved in two nasty incidents at Stamford Bridge, (three if you count the one on Kurt Zouma) one on Branislav Ivanovic, the other on Nemanja Matic. While his incident with Ivanovic is similar to the one of Mangala, there is a slight kick out motion towards Ivanovic’s hamstring and back of the knee, with Barnes looking at Ivanovic before launching himself into the air. This first challenge itself was more obvious than either of Costa’s “stamps”. In Mourinho’s own words, “I prefer not to speak” about the second incident where Barnes nearly broke Matic’s leg, as everyone should be allowed to come to a conclusion for themselves about that horrific challenge from the image provided.

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Only to produce this horrific challenge on Nemanja Matic unnaturally bending the Serb’s leg. Barnes escaped any booking and a charge from the FA

While many pundits have agreed the challenge was horrific and leg breaking, again I failed to see any headings with “Crimes from Barnes” or similar in the news on Sunday and the incidents never reached the height of Costa’s “stamps” despite being more dangerous, more obvious and vile. Why? Just because Diego Costa is a popular (or unpopular) character and the headlines “Costa crimes” sell better, it doesn’t justify blowing one incident completely out of proportion and remaining blatantly deaf and ignorant to other, worse incidents. What makes the whole incident even more bizarre is that on Monday, the FA announced that it will take no retrospective action against Ashley Barnes for either of his challenges. I find that a very, very bizarre decision as Chelsea are lucky they lost Matic “only” for three games and not for the rest of the season. Diego Costa was rightfully banned for violent conduct, but while what he did can be most precisely described as ‘running onto the outstretched leg of Emre Can’, what Ashley Barnes did was almost break another player’s leg with a terrible challenge. Yet that is not classified as violent conduct? Am I the only one to find that odd? If Barnes had actually broken Matic’s leg and ended his season would Barnes still have escaped any action? The FA are showing a staggering lack of consistency and transparency in their decisions on how players are handed a misconduct charge and their decision not to take any action against Barnes basically encourages other players to produce similar challenges, and surely the image of Matic’s bent leg is not one we would like to see with other players every week just because the FA and referees fail to deal with them properly.

Another issue is the Nemanja Matic retaliation. Matic was rightfully shown a red card for a violent reaction to almost having his leg broken, nevertheless it was a reaction many people sympathised with. The Chelsea midfielder got up straight away, ran to Barnes who was walking away as if nothing had happened and pushed him in the back causing him to fall to the ground. The FA’s decision not to further investigate Barnes essentially means that it is perfectly normal for players to follow through on the standing leg of another player almost breaking it in half as they escape without any booking or further action; yet they will get a three match ban for pushing that player on the ground after having just suffered from such a challenge. A concept which I hope we all agree is ridiculous. Just to add further confusion to all the incidents, just one day after Matic received a red card, in the game between Tottenham and West Ham, Mark Noble clipped Andros Townsend with a late tackle from behind. Just as Noble got back up, Jan Vertonghen sprinted towards him and shoved the West Ham midfielder over, essentially doing exactly the same thing as Nemanja Matic, with a slight difference that the Dutch centre-back did not even get a yellow card. Two similar incidents in two days both being dealt with in two completely different ways only highlights the lack of consistency about applying rules in English football and something must be done about that. While Matic will most likely sit out the Capital One Cup final (and two more league games), Vertonghen will most probably be partnered with Eric Dier at Wembley.
Jan Vertonghen pushes Mark Noble in retaliation for a tackle on Andros Townsend and escapes without a booking
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A shot from Branislav Ivanovic clearly hits Michael Kightly on the outstretched arm

Chelsea are becoming dangerously unpopular with the FA and football fans of other teams. The reason for that is the combination of controversial game situations Chelsea are involved in almost at a weekly basis, the light the media show some Chelsea players in, Jose Mourinho’s press conference outbursts and most recently the disgraceful incident in Paris when a handful of Chelsea fans were singing a racist chant and denied a black man access to the metro. Gary Cahill, Diego Costa and Willian all diving in the game against West Ham did not help to raise the club’s popularity either. What is happening now is that the Blues are harming themselves the most. The Special One’s comments, although he has a point from Chelsea’s view, are not helping. Mourinho is only causing more stir in the media and that is not what Chelsea need at the moment. They need to lay off and get away from the spotlight so they can concentrate on their football in this crucial part of the season with the Capital One Cup final in mind. Decisions will keep going against Jose Mourinho’s men and though I can see where the Blues manager and Chelsea supporters are coming from with their remarks and discontent, The Special One has made his point several times and now, although it may be difficult for him, he must keep more to himself because this (un)popularity is not healthy for any team.

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Jason Shackell pushes over Diego Costa as well as catches the strikers leg between his own

So is there really a campaign against Chelsea? Well, I would be reluctant to call it a campaign. The Blues got away with decisions in two or three games this season and in four or five games, decisions went against them. What left me stunned was the FA’s decision not to take action against players like Mangala, Van Persie and most recently Barnes for dangerous challenges none of us want to see in football, yet they took action against Diego Costa in a record short period, just in time for him to miss Chelsea’s game against Manchester City. I fail to see quite how Costa’s stamps were any worse than either of the three mentioned incidents. It is this inconsistency from the FA that is annoying Jose Mourinho and I feel he has a point. The FA’s decisions seem a little bizarre to say the least. Whether that can be seen as a campaign against Chelsea is open for interpretation, the Blues’ fans could believe it is, others will feel like they are searching excuses, but the truth is the final opinion is subjective. I also feel there is a general misconception that all Jose Mourinho does is complain. He has every right to complain about debatable moments in the game, the same way any other manager in the league does, the difference is that Chelsea is involved in more of those controversial game moments than any other team, hence it appears as if the Chelsea boss had more complaints than anyone else.

An interesting idea emerged from different sources as an answer to the refereeing blunders this weekend, suggesting that to protect the integrity of referees and help them make decisions, video technology should be introduced where the fourth official would have a screen at hand on which he could review different on field situations and aid his fellow officials in making difficult decisions. Indeed this is quite an intriguing idea as it would waive goodbye to a lot of controversy in football and end most discussions before they would even start, preventing bad refereeing decisions, like the ones in the Southampton-Liverpool game this weekend, from happening. English referees in general have not covered themselves with much glory this season. It is understandable that referees get only one view of the situation, but in order to make the correct decision you sometimes need more than one view and that is where video technology can be a big help. After introducing goal-line technology, video technology seems like the next logical step for football, but the question is how long will it take leading football organisations to accept the idea. Video technology is already working in sports such as tennis, ice hockey and motor racing, now it is time for the most popular sport in the world to start benefiting from it’s use.
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