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