When Jose Mourinho was christened “The Chosen One” during his first stint at Chelsea, he must really have internalized the sobriquet, evident in the way he now metes it out quite liberally, a modern King Midas, having convinced himself — and trying to us — that not only he, but the teams and players he manages, is chosen, special or otherwise unique.
Yesterday’s Premier League tie with lowly Burnley at Stamford Bridge was notable for several reasons, not least of which was the heinous foul committed by Burnley’s Ashley Barnes on Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic. It was also not notable, even tiresome, due to Mourinho’s trotting out the same veritable conspiracy theory on which he holds forth whenever a match has gone poorly. Specialness, he implies, goes both ways: By nature centrifugal, with its prodigious resources, Chelsea attracts the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Cuadrado and Diego Costa, but it also incurs the wrath of referees, the English Football Association (FA), FIFA and God Himself, all of whom conspire to undermine its successes at every turn.
Typically, such press conferences go like this: Mourinho, grousing about the supposed litany of whistles or non-calls sinisterly perpetrated against his team, evokes the boy who cried wolf, and we dismiss him out of hand. This time, however, was atypical. This time, he was right — and replay bears him out.
The challenge was grisly; Barnes mistimed his tackle, barreling studs-first into Matic’s left shin, and, for that split-second, he was bow-legged. Concave is never a shape to which the leg of a soccer player should conform, so in those rare instances when it does, a card is shown to the offending party, if one is identifiable.
What was especially troubling about this whole affair was not only that Barnes was not reprimanded (although he may be retroactively, for which there is ample precedent), but even more so that Matic, determined to take matters into his own hands, was sent off for shoving Barnes to the ground in retaliation. It was that the referee, who had clearly erred, was not vigilant, allowing Matic to collect himself, hustle over to Barnes, and compound his and his team’s misery. If not for that double-whammy, Chelsea would almost certainly have retained its lead and emerged victorious.
A legion of both former players erudite in on-field injuries and inept referees, as well as layman commentators, has banded together to roundly condemn the oversight. Some of their analysis merely waxed poetic about the miscarriage of justice that transpired, but some, like that of former England winger and current pundit Chris Waddle, has been exculpatory, as if to condone retributive justice.
No matter how egregious a tackle, no matter how understandable the victim’s reaction, no one should receive a free pass for misbehavior. Unbridled emotionality, unless sublimated into exultation, has no place on the pitch. Despite the numerous claims to the contrary, the referee was right to send Matic off. What this incident makes the case for — the only thing it can make the case for — is instant replay, long the hobgoblin of football associations across the globe.
To wit, there has been no more compelling case of late than this for instant replay. I myself have not yet worked out the kinks, or devised a viable means of implementation and execution, but it must be done. Discipline after the fact does little to remedy the damage wrought.
The beautiful game is getting uglier. Isn’t it about time for a beautification project?