Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Call a spin doctor - José's scored an own goal

"You stupid woman!" He didn't say it, but José Mourinho may as well have copied the faint misogyny of 'Allo 'Allo's René Artois as club doctor Eva Carneiro returned to the bench on Saturday after attending to the fallen Eden Hazard.

What he actually said was: "Even if you are a kit man, doctor or secretary on the bench you have to understand the game," adding that "You have to know you have one player less and when you go to the pitch to assist a player you have to make sure your player has a serious injury." Mourinho then said that he was sure Hazard did not have a serious problem: "He had a knock, he was very tired. But my medical department - on an impulse - was naive and left me with eight outfield players in a counter attack after a set piece."

Naive. Not a word normally applied to an experienced doctor - and a seasoned first team doctor at that - who has been a popular club fixture since André Villas-Boas promoted her to the position, becoming one of the Premier League's few women to occupy a seat on the matchday bench.

However, as those of us who were sat in the East Stand behind Mourinho will testify, he certainly went nuts as Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn ran on to the pitch late in the game against Swansea, as Chelsea - losing and down to 10 men through Courtois' red card - were fighting a rearguard action to bag a winner.

As John Terry reminded us last week, Mourinho hates to lose. And he was, of course, tactically correct about his team being reduced to nine functioning players (under arcane league regulations Hazard had to leave the field after treatment and be "invited" back on by the referee). But that didn't justify the very public admonishment meted out to Carneiro on the touchline, the equally public dressing down in his post-match comments, or - now - the apparent demotion of Carneiro.

Thanks to an apparent "backroom shakeup", the doctor will be no longer on the bench on matchdays, out on the training field at the club's Cobham hub, or present in the team's pre-match hotel. She will, though, remain club doctor, though it would be reasonable to speculate as to how long after such a public spat with Mourinho. Already, the Twitter wags are suggesting that Arsenal should sign her up.

Part of that - as any Manchester United fan during the 1990s will attest - is down to simple envy, but José's regular bouts of victimhood, rival baiting and tolerance of on-field player antics have done nothing to endear Chelsea to neutrals. "Most hateful and hated man in football", another tweet put it succinctly, demonstrating that it had not been written by a troll as it was clearly literate.


Carneiro's unique position in the game was strengthened further last year when she spoke publicly at a sports medicine conference in Sweden, saying: "Women want to be leaders, we just put them off as we go along," pointing out that in popular culture "the female doctor is either hyper-sexualised or she's not present. This needs to change. Women are discouraged at a young age."

"Redefining" the 41-year-old Gibraltan's role so soon after Saturday's touchline eruption certainly looks spiteful, but her fate was possibly sealed by her Facebook post on Sunday, thanking "the general public for their overwhelming support".

This has, however, unnecessarily become a public relations disaster for Mourinho. "Nasty and vindictive", one online comment began, with many others pointing out what all Chelsea fans know, that our club may be successful but it does little to capture wider support beyond its own fanbase. 

Other tweets last night got to the possible nub of the matter by simply accusing Mourinho of using his club doctor's pitch transgression as a diversionary tactic, given the fact that Chelsea's pre-season matches and first match-proper didn't exactly instill confidence that the defending champions would be defending the league title again in a year's time.

Roman Abramovich, it would seem, isn't the only one at Chelsea with a ruthless, even petty streak, but if such a public remonstrance of Carneiro was an act of frustration by Mourinho, it may have undone a lot of good that Chelsea have done to project a women-friendly club.

"As a male you can aspire to having a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life," she said. "Women are told that if they want to have both, at best it's going to be difficult and at worse it's going to be a disaster. Ninety percent of the mail I receive is from young women wanting to perform the same role. We need to tell them it’s possible and that their presence will improve results."

Facebook/Eva Carneiro

Earlier this year Chelsea threw their full support behind her after was subjected to awful, moronic abuse from home supporters at Old Trafford, the City of Manchester and the Emirates stadiums. "The issue of equality is one we take extremely seriously," puffed the club, "and we abhor discrimination in all its forms, including sexism. Such behaviour is unacceptable and we want it eradicated from the game."

Even 24 hours after Mourinho made his "naive" comment and reference to secretaries on the bench, Fran Kirby, Chelsea's record women's team signing, posted a series of tweets about people needing to "catch up with the times" over attitudes to women in the game. "Why can't people respect that football is not only a man's sport?" the 22 year-old striker wrote. "Still can't believe some of the sexist comments I still read," she added, responding "boring and unoriginal" idiots on Twitter and online forums.

Fran Kirby

Chelsea also have, in Abramovich acolyte Marina Granovskaia - as the Russian's main liaison for team affairs and responsible for all player transfers - one of the most powerful women in the sport. And while Mourinho's "win at all costs" approach might be fully endorsed by the club's hierarchy, one wonders just how much they will appreciate the reputational damage caused by the Portuguese putting Eva Carneiro so firmly in her place, quite so publicly.

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