The wonder is whether Jose Mourinho believes any of this really works — or whether he actually believes what he is saying himself.
At his usual Friday press conference, the Chelsea manager refused to discuss the Dr Eva Carneiro case, refused to expand on his thoughts that Diego Costa’s suspension is “not normal”, and so returned to what is now a very normal deflection tactic for him: Criticising Arsene Wenger.
This time, he claimed the Arsenal manager gets preferential treatment from authorities because he is allowed to criticise referees without sanction. He intimated that even the media spare Wenger from pressure for bad results.
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Costa’s poor conduct, however, remained untouched. Mourinho had come into his pre-game press conference ahead of the trip to Newcastle United in relatively relaxed form, despite yet another controversy-riddled week. Any celebration from last week’s 2-0 win over Arsenal soon soured as it emerged on Tuesday that Carneiro had left Chelsea and is considering legal action after Mourinho’s public criticism of her in August, before it was confirmed that the FA had given Costa a three-game suspension for violent conduct from that same Arsenal match for an incident with Laurent Koscielny.
Mourinho would only repeat “no comment” for the questions on Carneiro, before briefly touching on the Costa decision.
“You don’t need my answer. You know the answer. It’s not normal, but…”
Then came the list of thinly veiled references to Wenger, as the pantomime began.
“No comment. I tell you why. In the rules book it says some managers can speak about the referees before and after games. Some others cannot. Then comes the list. I am in the list of those who are punished if they speak about the referees before the game. I have to stick to that rule book and I am in the list of those who cannot speak about the referees.”
Mourinho was then asked whether he has any sympathy for Newcastle manager Steve McClaren, who lies second bottom of the table with no wins but a lot of pressure. It soon became abundantly clear who he was talking about.
“In this country, only one manager is not under pressure. Every other manager is. I am under pressure, Steve is under pressure, Pellegrini is under pressure, Brendan too. We cannot be below par. We have to meet the objectives. I have sympathy with all of them, because it’s a difficult job. There’s one outside that list, but good for him. I have sympathy for Steve.”
When pressed on who the manager not under pressure is, Mourinho refused to name him, but once more made it obvious.
“You know. The one who can speak about the referees before the game, after the game, can push people in the technical area, can moan, can cry in the morning, in the afternoon, nothing happens. He can not achieve, keep his job, still be the king. I say just one.”
Mourinho may only be speaking about one man, but there are a few possible interpretations here. It is rather obvious this is a deflection tactic, somewhat defeating the purpose of a deflection tactic. People are not going to stop talking about the Carneiro case or Costa’s antics. At the same time, the Portuguese was clever enough to say all this in the broadcast section of the press conference. He gave them something to fill air-time that might otherwise be spent speculating.
It is difficult not to think, though, that this also goes beyond deflection. Sources close to Chelsea state that, when Mourinho was repeatedly criticising Sky last year, he did actually care. It wasn’t just manipulation. It seems the same with Wenger, given the amount of times he mentions him and the cutting nature with which he does so. There is a real edge.
There is also the fact Mourinho has come through a real crisis partly of his own making, and now has an external enemy to rally his team against again, even if he denied the last few weeks were that bad.
“You can make a crisis outside, and make it look like a crisis, but the [real] crises are internal. People were asking and we were saying business as usual, working and waiting for better results because we knew we were doing things well, it was true. No fights. No problems. People communicating. Many times, crises are outside. Internally it’s not the same.”
So Mourinho has tried to change the debate outside. He is without his first-choice target-man against Newcastle since Costa is suspended, so turned to his first choice of target.
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