Jose Mourinho's outburst at his medical staff is the latest incident that suggest all is not well at Chelsea at the start of his third season since returning to the club.
A few seconds left on the clock. An Eden Hazard run is ended by Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Belgian goes down and stays down, which isn’t a great surprise given how heavy the contact was. The referee, Michael Oliver, signals twice for the physios to come on. Finally they do, first the head physio Jon Fearn and, close behind him, the first-team doctor Eva Carneiro. Jose Mourinho is furious. He’s been furious a lot recently, and, as Chelsea prepares to face Manchester City on Sunday, that is worrying news for Chelsea fans.
For Mourinho, the third season at a club rarely ends well.
What happened on Saturday was eye-catching and probably inexcusable, but it was only the latest and most newsworthy of a string of incidents this summer that have suggested all is not well at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho’s shout of “Eva! Eva!” was clearly audible from the press box (one of the oddities of the affair is that Fearn’s part in it has been largely ignored). His point, as he explained after the game, was that by treating Hazard on the pitch, the medical staff ensured that Hazard would have to leave the field, so that Chelsea was left, briefly, down to nine men.
Fearn and Carneiro, Mourinho insisted, didn’t “understand the game.” Understanding the game, in this instance, meant recognizing when a player isn’t really injured and going against the General Medical Council’s code of practice which urges sports physios to “take prompt action if [they] think that patient safety, dignity or comfort is being compromised”. And if Hazard wasn't injured, then what was he doing staying down, other than cheating by wasting time?
Perhaps if Mourinho had left it at a public dressing down, or even after his post-match comments, the incident could have been forgotten–after all, technical areas are stressful places and managers are prone to doing daft things there.
But on Tuesday it emerged that Carneiro would no longer be the matchday doctor, wouldn’t travel with the team and wouldn’t work with players during training.
If this was, as many had suggested, misdirection by Mourinho aimed at deflecting criticism that might be aimed at his underperforming side, he has taken it to extremes. The subsequent excuse that Mourinho was outraged by the apparent disloyalty shown by Carneiro posting on Facebook that she was grateful to the public for its support seemed extremely flimsy.
The evidence of the summer suggests that this was more than simply a deflection tactic. Mourinho had persistently criticized his medical staff: what happened with Hazard was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not that that justifies either the way Mourinho handled it or his evident cynicism when it comes to players who may or may not be injured.
And even beyond that, there is a wider pattern of truculence. After Saturday’s game Mourinho also–by carefully insisting he was not going to criticize the penalty decision that went against his side and the red card Thibaut Courtois collected–managed to indicate that he disagreed with Oliver, even though both calls seemed obviously correct.
A week earlier, he’d accused Arsene Wenger of abandoning his principles as Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Community Shield. By going to congratulate of Arsenal players as they came down from the royal box having collected their medals, he manufactured a situation by which Wenger had to veer off to avoid shaking his hand, thus generating one of the non-handshake stories with which the Premier League is so weirdly obsessed.
In the past month he’s accused Roberto Martinez of speaking too much to the media and has sniped at Manuel Pellegrini, Rafa Benitez and Rafa Benitez’s wife. Mourinho may insist he’s mellower now, but he seems to be picking a fight with various parties for most of the build-up to this season. Even the way he appeared at the Community Shield–unshaven and wearing baggy tracksuit bottoms–suggested a man making an obscure point.
He’s also hinted that selling Petr Cech to Arsenal was a mistake and made fairly clear that he would like new signings (Antoine Griezman and Arda Turan were apparently on his wish list, although given the state of Diego Costa’s hamstrings, he could surely do with better backup at center forward), witheringly expressing doubt about the battle-readiness of the graduates from Chelsea’s expensive academy. It all feels a little like January 2007, when Mourinho boiled over at Wycombe in a League Cup semifinal first leg, furious at being denied funds to sign a center back despite a series of injuries. By September the following season, he was gone.
It’s a pattern that has repeated on both previous occasions Mourinho has reached a third season at a club: at Chelsea the first time and at Real Madrid, where he left having fallen out with the press and a number of senior players and directors. It’s as if his tough abrasiveness can only be tolerated so long.
Perhaps things aren’t as bad as all that–after all, Mourinho signed a four-year contract last week (although he did the same at Real Madrid in 2012)–but neither is all well at Stamford Bridge. There is a growing rumble of discontent, a growing sense of a frustrated Mourinho lashing out at those around him. And were Chelsea to lose on Sunday, it would only get louder.