Mourinho and the Power of “Mind Games”

By Martin Percival   @MartinPercival0

Last December, after a string of incidents which involved Chelsea players receiving yellow cards for diving, Jose Mourinho accused the football establishment of waging a “campaign” against his team.  It was an interesting concept that stretched our imagination towards a conspiracy against one of the richest teams in the world, who against this barrage of plotting were still able to spend over £60 million on two world-class summer signings, and consequently  dominate the Premier League.  It started so brightly, and when at Turf Moor I watched fresh new signing Cesc Fabregas instigate one of the greatest through-balls I’ve seen in the Premier League for Andre Schürrle to coolly convert, I thought I was seeing a team that was truly great.

As the season developed small cracks began to emerge and Chelsea have been humiliated twice this year; firstly against league one Bradford City in the FA Cup, and then against a rampant Tottenham in the Premier League.  In today’s context where football has become a billionaire’s casino, you just can’t spend the amount of money Chelsea have without facing pressure after such results.  It is in this context that failing to beat Burnley at home – a team whose record £3 Million signing of George Boyd this year was less than a tenth of Diego Costa’s fee – is simply unacceptable.  The story must be made into something different…and so it became about Ashley Barnes.

Few people would argue that his tackle on Nemanja Matic was not a poor one, but the shrill hysteria that followed, including Piers Morgan’s tweet that Barnes was a “thug who tried to break his leg” seemed absurd, and suggested something strange was going on.  It is hard to understand how anyone could with complete certainly decipher such a violent motive when in a quick paced competitive game a player follows through after first winning the ball.

This is how Mourinho’s much celebrated “mind games” work, and after a string of interviews in which he now talked about a “criminal tackle”, the focus was well and truly away from the fact that relegation tipped Burnley were able to out play Chelsea in the second half to achieve a draw.  As Sean Dyche pointed out in a calm interview which dealt only with the facts of the game, in slow motion the tackle looked bad, but in real-time the only person to react without indifference to Barnes’s tackle was Matic.  Why then was there so much retrospective interest?

As Vladimir Lenin once said, “a lie told often enough becomes the truth”.  This is especially true if the said lie is told by the much sought after manager of a club owned by a billionaire.  The lie in this case was that Ashley Barnes had been metamorphosised into a monster.  Just as in any sphere within Neo Liberalism, those with capital are the most listened to.  Power is everything, and with it comes the ability to be an adept hypocrite.

To bolster his argument Mourinho alluded to Barnes’ “grey past”, referring to an incident he once had with a referee when playing for Brighton and Hove Albion two seasons ago.  One wonders which colour Mourinho paints his own past with, when he was accused of forcing one of Europe’s finest referee’s Anders Frisk to retire after his heavy criticism was followed up by threats made by Chelsea fans.  Uefa referee’s committee chairman Volker Roth then described Mourinho as “the enemy of football”.  Of course, this is now long forgotten and the new enemy of football are the conspirators and Ashley Barnes.

On Tuesday it was announced that Matic had one game taken off his three match ban, a lenient decision against what was undoubtedly a violent outburst, however frustrated he may have been.  Is the moral of this story that retaliation is acceptable and is this the message we want to pass on to younger generations?  One would imagine that it is after seeing Alan Shearer’s glib reaction on Match of the Day.  Chelsea have won a partial victory here and Mourinho’s “mind games” have once again pulled through.  Of course Chelsea are still not happy as one of their most important players is due to miss their approaching League Cup Final.  They have once again cited the “universal condemnation” of Barnes’s “reckless challenge” as justification for Matic’s actions, a condemnation invented by them.

The way in which Ashley Barnes has become a scapegoat for Chelsea’s poor performance is symbolic of the new direction football has taken, where a minority with all the power have all the say.  The battle between Dyche and Mourinho is yet another David and Goliath, and while Burnley will happily walk away with the point, one wonders what the long-term impact on the morale of the team and the confidence of Ashley Barnes will be, as Mourinho tries to turn his clumsy bad tackle into a hideous violent crime.

Martin Percival is a British writer and activist based in Oxford. Follow him on Twitter @MartinPercival0

8 Responses

  1. Hassan

    There is clear intent by Ashley Barnes on Matic which some pundits (notably Gary Neville) have highlighted. His team were 1-0 down, he could see Matic coming and thought he’d leave a foot in. If it was purely accidental he wouldn’t have got up the way he did without even looking at Matic knowing full well that he’s just nearly broken his leg.

    Sean Dyche and your argument about how nobody reacted in real time doesn’t make it any less of a red card offence for Barnes. The facts are that it WAS a red card; nobody can defend that. So why do journalists continue with this point? there are so many occasions where you don’t know the full extent of a foul until you see the replay. This is easily rectified with technology to aid the refs.

    I completely agree with you though that there is some element of mind games involved with this. Everybody knew this about Mourinho and that’s why he makes the news. He’s clever in the way he protects his players. I suppose the whole situation was helped by the fact that Matic is a very well liked player by neutral football fans.

    Barnes needs to take it on the chin that he made a bad tackle but not look too much into it. Hopefully this will erase out the nasty side to his game.

  2. Peter Lister

    Most thoughtful article I’ve read on this subject but still refers to Barnes’ tackle when in fact he only passed the ball. The inclusion of the possible effect on the player contrasts with Mourinho’s single minded lack of regard.

  3. Always a claret

    Barnes passed the ball, no more, no less. His foot followed the normal course following a pass. The still picture looks bad, granted, but if you watch the whole incident the only player that deserved a red card was Matic himself. If this had been the other way round would the pundits and the media in general be working themselves into such a frenzy? Not at all. It is the so called ‘special one’ who is pulling the strings. He is merely deflecting the attention away from the fact that Chelsea couldn’t beat Burnley at home, and boy has it worked. It’s quite sad really, it is a shame that he couldn’t accept the result, hold his hand up and say well played burnley. After watching the first game of the season at Turf Moor, so good was their football that I wanted Chelsea to win the league. Hanging Barnes out to dry by using him as a scapegoat has left a bitter taste in my mouth and I now wish nothing but ill fortune on them. Come on spurs! Come on City!

  4. Zach

    There is clear intent, yes. To pass the ball. Barnes has the ball, is turning with it, then makes a pass as Matic comes in and the collision occurs. Painful collision, but no intent and not even a tackle. The natural pendulum motion of passing the ball is what causes his foot to come up, something else Sean Dyche points out.

    The fact are it was not a red card, the investigation judged it not to be a red card, and the only people who believe so are Mourinho and his media friends. It isn’t even a tackle.

    Gael Clichy recieved a second yellow for what was an attempted tackle on Daniel Alves midweek. His foot came up so high he kicked Alves in the knee. But this doesn’t recieve the hysteria, because Mourinho isn’t stirring the pot.

    A lie told often enough does indeed become the truth, and that’s what Mourinho is doing. Especially rich coming from a man who only a few months ago derided Arsenal for “crying” about challenges and saying football is a man’s game, after his own players made tackles that were equally painful, and were actually tackles.

  5. He couldn’t take his foot away as it was a natural progression of movement from his own pass. Matic came in a bit late and was caught. It happens matic shouldn’t react how he did and should have been banned for the full 3 games. Funny how Burnley havnt been allowed the time in the press or tv to show what happened as it will leave egg on alot of faces and open a can of worms for all the “pundits” that lick the portuguesers arse. Up th clarets

  6. John Senior

    First of all your chronology of Chelsea’s defeats is wrong. You said Bradford knocked us out of the FA and later Tottenham beat us 5-3. We lost to Spurs on the 1st Jan and Bradford on the 24th.

    Then you ignore the fact that there were three other important decisions apart from the Matic one. Chelsea were denied two blatant penalties and Barnes had already managed to leave his stud marks on Ivanovic’s leg when Ivanovic was heading the ball.

    On the Matic incident, I’m 50/50 over whether Barnes did follow through deliberately and deserve a red card or whether it was a simple coming together with no malice. If it was an isolated incident then I’d be prepared to accept it may have been an accident, but when coupled with his hit on Ivanovic I’m less inclined to accept that.

    And then there’s the context of Diego Costa’s ban. In the first leg against Liverpool Skrtel is caught on the cameras clearly catching Costa in the back of his head with an elbow. That was a red card offence which he got away with, but everyone just moves on. The week later Costa stands on Can’s leg, possibly deliberately but possibly an accident. LFC whinge, Jamie Redknapp calls it a crime and FA quickly rush in to ban him for 3 games.

    Just judging the two Costa “stamps” and the two Barnes incidents, in my blue-tinted opinion the only player who could have possibly faced an FA hearing was Barnes. I don’t think any of the incidents were black and white banning offences, but the video evidence was far more damning of Barnes than it was Costa.

    On Jose’s comments I’m not entirely happy. I think his choice and timing of comments has been terrible and has left him open to ridicule and incorrect judgements such as yours. I think CFC have too many incidents of foul play and diving to garner any sympathy in either the short or long term. I also think CFCs appeal of Matic’s red was always doomed to failure and the fact the FA lessened it to a 2 game ban is further evidence of just how utterly incompetent they are.

  7. A True Football Supporter

    There was no intent by Ashley Barnes to do anything other than pass the ball, it was not a tackle. Matic came in from Barnes left and intercepted the pass, Barnes has hit the ball and the natural pendulum movement of his leg caused it to lift on completion of the pass, and Matic came in at such speed that he hit the ball just in front of Barnes and this is the contact we saw.

    For anyone to call this a criminal action is completely deluded and as your article says this is a deflection away from a poor result by Chelsea, and a stunning point for Burnley. The press reaction to this incident is completely over the top and so many pundits are jumping on the Mourinho bandwagon. Football is a contact sport, tackles, passes and other incidents happen quickly and the referee gets a fraction of a second to make his decision, Martin Atkinson has also been wrongly turned into a villain as he got this decision right.

    If we were to listen to the diatribe (which many have) of the special one, it is both Atkinson and Barnes that cost Chelsea two points. To this I would argue that it wasn’t, it was Burnley and their never give up attitude to the game that caused them to gain a point at the expense of the three that Chelsea had earmarked for themselves.

    To read this article is refreshing as it points out what many have known for a while, and perhaps the special one needs taking to task over this, football used to be a sport, that has long since gone at the expense of £millions, and over paid soft whinges.

  8. Claret

    A good article, however it lets itself down and should be edited as Barnes was not tackling, he was making a pass to Jones, Matic came in and intercepted the pass and took a painful looking follow through from Barnes pass.

    Please correct your mistake, and you will have an excellent article.

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