Jose Mourinho has taken his eye off the ball over Cesc Fabregas ‘scandal’
If nothing else, Chelsea’s year had a sense of symmetry. It ended as it started, at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium with one of Jose Mourinho’s players cautioned for simulation.
On Sunday, Cesc Fabregas was shown the yellow card. It was a dreadful decision.
Southampton left-back Matt Targett slipped and fouled the Spaniard.
It ought to have been a penalty. Instead, Fabregas ended with a black mark against his name, just as Diego Costa did in the opening game of the season, when he was felled by Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton and nonetheless found himself punished.
Mourinho has a right to be aggrieved by both decisions. If he had left his complaints there, they would have been justified.
By using the word “scandal”, by suggesting there is a campaign against Chelsea, involving managers of other clubs and, by extension, referees, he strayed into the realm of conspiracy theorists.
Not for the first time, either, and if a man as intelligent as Mourinho may not really harbour a persecution complex, both he and Alex Ferguson are experts in playing to the gallery.
Many a one-eyed fan believes the footballing world is biased against his team, even if such arguments as to precisely why that should be the case invariably lack coherence and credence.
Rather, Mourinho is trying – and being him, probably succeeding – in reshaping the prevailing narrative.
This is not about “diving Chelsea” as much as “wronged Chelsea”.
The chances are that, after Anthony Taylor erred in cautioning Fabregas, another official will think twice about branding a Chelsea player a cheat.
Half of the four yellow cards they have received for simulation have been mistakes, which reflects badly on the refereeing fraternity.
But rather than concentrating on Mourinho’s words this weekend, it is worth revisiting his quotes on his previous trip to Southampton.
Then Oscar was booked, a decision the Portuguese accepted was correct, arguing his Brazilian playmaker anticipated contact that never came.
Yet after that he said: “In Chelsea, no divers, no divers at all.”
He may want to reassess that opinion. Because while Fabregas was fouled, at least five Chelsea players – Oscar, Costa (though not at Burnley), Willian, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic – have dived this season.
In a division where virtually every club contains divers, Chelsea are not alone.
But there are reasons why the league leaders also top the table for bookings for attempts to con officials, and it is not simply related to referees’ failing eyesight. Chelsea are persistent offenders and have plenty of offenders.
The case of Cahill, who ought to have been sent off against Hull, was particularly revealing, and not just because Steve Bruce, not known for his love of the ballet, compared it to something out of Swan Lake.
It showed the notion that English players and centre-backs, let alone English centre-backs, do not dive is utterly outdated.
Nor, it should be said, is that confined to Chelsea, considering the ludicrous histrionics of West Ham United’s James Tomkins at Goodison Park in November.
But perhaps the most instructive example is that of the redoubtable Ivanovic.
In many ways, the Serb has become the quintessential Mourinho player.
He boasts physical power, positional intelligence and a never-say-die spirit.
He is a strapping six-footer who can collapse to the turf rather unnecessarily.
If such antics are not condoned by his manager, it is safe to say they are not condemned, either.
Ivanovic epitomises the ruthless pragmatism, the win-at-all-costs mentality that has propelled them to division’s summit.
That certainly extends to attempts to procure penalties by illicit means.
It is more than a decade now since Mourinho’s teams first attracted British ire with their propensity for gamesmanship, even if there is an element of hypocrisy from managers who condemn rivals for diving, but not their own charges.
His Porto side, who irritated Martin O’Neill and Ferguson, seemed a product of their culture. His first Chelsea team, where Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba tended to lose their balance with remarkable frequency, were outsiders.
Now Mourinho is one of English football’s great insiders, casting off the mantle of the arrogant arriviste to embrace much about, and many in, the Premier League.
But the British press and public disapprove of diving. Attitudes filter through. Referees try to clamp down on cheating, though their success rate is disturbingly low.
It suits Mourinho to present himself, as he did in January, as an advocate of fair play.
Perhaps his outburst, and Fabregas’s misfortune, will increase Chelsea’s chances of getting a penalty next time around.
But the evidence of 2014 has shown Mourinho began the year on a false note.
There are divers at Chelsea. But sometimes the innocent pay for the actions of the guilty.
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Published: December 29, 2014 04:00 AM