Either by coincidence or design, Jose Mourinho has a knack of distracting from poor Chelsea performances. Whether it’s refereeing decisions, ball boys or medical staff, the Portuguese always seems to move the goal posts of discussion just as the blazing beams of the media spotlight begin making his Blues cast a little too uncomfortable.
Some call it ‘the blame game’ and indeed, Mourinho has a habit of hyperbolically pointing the finger at outside influences when results don’t go his way. But I see it as somewhat more shrewd tactic than simply being a sore loser; I call it ‘smoke-screening’, and the Special One is by no means it’s greatest innovator in the Premier League.
Take Neil Warnock for example. Have you ever seen a post-match interview where the former Sheffield United and Crystal Palace boss doesn’t blame defeat on the referee? Or for that matter, when’s the last time you watched any Premier League post-match interview where the losing manager didn’t give a pejorative account of the afternoon’s officiating?
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Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson was the best at it, which in itself is a testament to how effective smoke-screening can be. He turned every Red Devils defeat into some form of conspiratorial injustice – already sounding Mourinho-esque, isn’t it?
Combining it with a bursting trophy cabinet, the myth of Ferguson was more important than the man himself by the end of his Old Trafford reign; his word was gospel, even when completely removed from unbiased reality.
So if there’s anybody in Premier League history Mourinho would, could and should attempt to emulate, its Fergie.
But over the last few weeks, smoke-screening has caused more problems than its solved for Chelsea, in no small part due to Mourinho’s choice of victim; the highly popular, highly attractive (let’s face it, she’s a stunner), Blues physio Eva Carneiro.
Whether intentional or not, the Portuguese’s touchline wrath towards Carneiro became the biggest talking point from Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, whilst the subsequent decision to ‘drop’ the Gibraltarian practitioner from his bench dominated the build-up to the Blues’ early-term title showdown with Manchester City.
More often than not, an event distracting from not only an incredibly tepid start to the west Londoners’ title defence but also the implications it could have for their visit to the Etihad would be seen as a blessing by Mourinho. The perfect amount of controversy to keep the tabloids feeding off scraps of essentially meaningless gossip, whilst the players can focus on arguably the most important domestic fixture of Chelsea’s season.
Yet, Mourinho broke the golden rule of smoke-screening; never throw one of your own under the bus. Especially one as imperious and immovable as Chelsea’s. Rather than distracting the media, the fallout from Carneiro-gate appeared to distract the Stamford Bridge boss in preparation for the City clash, a theory that the 3-0 defeat goes some way to validating.
Virtually everybody from Sky Sports pundits to FIFA criticised Mourinho’s handling of the situation, resulting in a pre-match press conference where the actual match was hardly discussed at all. Regardless of how well isolated the players are at Cobham, that can’t have created an accommodating atmosphere ahead of such a crucial game.
Rather than arguably Mourinho’s most humbling defeat to date as Chelsea manager, the focus this week will be on John Terry, who was substituted at half time after struggling to get to grips with Sergio Aguero in the first 45 minutes. I’m certain the Portuguese didn’t remove his skipper to preemptively create a scapegoat for the 3-0 defeat, but nonetheless he’s created a situation where the England international’s future will be dissected by the press in far greater detail than the actual result.
Whether that serves as an effective smokescreen as Chelsea prepare for Sunday’s visit to West Bromwich Albion, or for the second week in a row generates further pressure on a group of players who’ve started the season in a cauldron of media hyperbole, remains to be seen. But after such a disappointing performance against City, you get the feeling the players would like a week concentrating on the sole issue of how to turn their form around, rather than worrying about who’ll wear the armband at the Hawthorns.
Whilst Mourinho’s lust for distracting controversy has often protected his players in the past, it’s now making their jobs that little bit harder.