When will Chelsea FC stop shooting itself in the foot?
For a team that is virtually unbeatable on the pitch, Chelsea are remarkably poor at defending themselves off it.
I ought to be celebrating, after the football team I’ve supported since I was a small boy beat Arsenal at Highbury on Sunday.
Instead, I’m profoundly depressed at how manager Jose Mourinho is turning himself – and the club I love – into universal hate figures.
The more I think about it, the sadder I feel that my club has drifted so far in spirit from the team that produced Charlie Cooke and Peter Osgood, players who mesmerised me as a youngster at the Bridge in the early 70s.
Mourinho’s graceless refusal to shake Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s hand at the end of the game only reinforced the now widely held view of a man who only months ago cultivated an image of suave sophistication and unshakeable self-confidence, as a surly, arrogant egotist who is not only a bad loser (on the rare occasions it happens) but an even worse winner.
But far from repairing the damage, the response from Chelsea’s PR team to Monday’s headlines only put them deeper in the mire.
I can understand why they had to come up with something. The day’s headlines made grim reading for Chelsea, with the triple whammy of the handshake snub, the red card debate over midfielder Michael Essien, and the “offside” goal by Arsenal all tarnishing the shine on our victory.
I hate to say it but this yarn about Mourinho sending a personal message to Wenger in his club Christmas card and complaining that he didn’t get a card back (Wenger says it’s an “English tradition” and he doesn’t send any cards) makes him, and the club, look even more ridiculous.
Even if the story is true, it’s hardly a crime not to respond to a Christmas card. It’s certainly not as bad as refusing to shake your vanquished opponent’s hand at the end of the game. It’s also a private matter, in stark contrast to the handshake/no handshake saga, which was played out in front of the watching millions on TV.
As a lifelong Chelsea supporter, I’d like to believe that the Christmas card story is true. Deep down though I can’t help worrying it’s a fabrication designed to take the pressure off the handshake story. There is not a single named source in the reports and Arsenal have maintained a dignified silence on the matter, reinforcing my suspicions that it’s a PR stunt.
If so, it has backfired horribly. It’s turned into a PR disaster. And at a time when I should be celebrating a great victory for my team, I am instead wondering when they will stop shooting themselves in the foot.
I don’t understand why Chelsea don’t do something about it. Their PR director, Simon Greenberg, ought to know how to fix it – his last job was sports editor of the London Evening Standard. The admirable Peter Kenyon, after years at Man United, the previous team we loved to hate, should put his foot down to protect brand Chelsea? Surely, they understand there is more to football than winning – and more to winning than making off with the three points and sticking two fingers up at your opponents?
There is no doubt the charismatic Mourinho could, if he chose, deliver a groundbreaking form of communication. He could be an inspiration to a generation of kids who are just discovering the glamour of the modern game. But instead of being seen as a positive example of sportsmanship, the “special one” is on track to be the most loathed manager in the land.