After a Monday stalemate in which many of referee Mike Dean’s decisions went Chelsea’s way, Blues’ boss José Mourinho has hit out at Arsenal for complaints about the officiating. According to the Blues’ boss, Arsene Wenger’s team “like to cry,” with Mourinho labeling the Gunners’ complaints as part of a club “tradition.”
In the process, however, Mourinho may have reached beyond his typical, distracting stance, dancing along the lines of xenophobia by evoking an England versus foreign comparison. Hinting Arsenal’s lack of English players make them more apt to complain, Mourinho tries playing to the old, base instincts or British media. In the process, however, he threatens to make mountains out of mole hills.
The manager’s comments appeared in various English outlets in the wake of Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at the Emirates, a match that had all the characteristics of a Mourinho team playing on the road to a contender. Chelsea sat back and invited Arsenal on to them, testing whether the Gunners could break them down. Strong in midfield in front of the defense, the Blues rarely let Arsenal through, the methods of Cesar Azpilicueta (16th minute challenge on Aaron Ramsey), John Obi Mikel (breaking Mikel Arteta’s shin pad), and Willian (potential penalty) leaving the match wrapped in controversy.
Also important: Chelsea were probably the better side over the course of 90 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly was a bit cynical, but the Blues’ approach left them with a number of chances to take the lead before Arsenal had even register their first shot on goal. The result vindicated Chelsea’s approach.
But with Mourinho, it’ doesn’t stop with the results. For man whose media prestige has always rivaled his managerial accomplishments, there was another battle to win.
“You know, they like to cry,” Mourinho said. “That’s tradition. But I prefer to say, and I was telling it to the fourth official, that English people – Frank Lampard, for example – would never provoke a situation like that.”
Interesting note: José Mourinho is not English.
“Players from other countries, especially some countries, have that in their blood,” Mourinho continued. “So, if there is contact or an opponent is aggressive, they don’t keep going.”
Breaking: Ashley Young is apparently no longer English.
“But this is English football. Foreign players are bringing lots of good things … But I prefer English blood in football. English blood in this situation is: ‘Come on, let’s go.’ Mikel’s tackle is hard and aggressive but football is for men or for women with fantastic attitude. It’s true.”
Also breaking: John Obi-Mikel has no “English blood.”
I know the word xenophobia is in the headline, because yes, this kind of ‘England is good, foreigners are bad’ language is a form of low-grade (if entirely out-dated) xenophobia. But Mourinho’s words are more a clumsy type of pandering than anything intended to be divisive. In evoking Arsenal’s lack of stereotypical English qualities, he’s playing to the English press’s willingness to buy into such story lines, trying to use Fleet Street as a type of propaganda machine.
If he can turn Arsenal’s complaints to a debate about their lack of Englishness — about the soft nature that comes with importing all their key talent — Mourinho can deflect criticism. Whatever people want to say about Chelsea’s approach, at least it’s not foreign! Nevermind that the tact’s extremely insulting to the England’s press and public. Throw out Frank Lampard’s name, allude to the namby-pambiness of foreigners, and people will surely bite, right?
For Mourinho, it’s all about the deflection – not that he needs to, in this case. Chelsea plays like this when they’re facing tough competition away from home. We saw it at Old Trafford, we saw it at The Emirates, and we saw it throughout Mourinho’s first spell with the Blues. We’re so far beyond debating its merits that we’ve accepted it as inherent to Mourinho’s approach.
The issue surrounding Monday’s game is less about that than Mike Dean’s willingness to let Chelsea overdo it. Azpilicueta’s tackle on Ramsey sees yellow nine out of 10 times. Thirty seconds later, Frank Lampard slid through Bacary Sagna from behind on while playing the ball out for a throw. Later in the half, Mikel breaks Arteta’s shin pad on a dangerous (red card-worthy) tackle, while Arsenal fans were left lamenting a Willian challenge that failed to concede a penalty kick. It’s not that Dean was necessarily pro-Chelsea; it’s just that his style perfectly played into Mourinho’s approach.
Mourinho doesn’t have to defend that. He doesn’t need to deflect the criticism, because the criticism isn’t coming. This is about poor officiating, not tactical choices.
There’s no need to bring out the foreign diver, English pride, soft player lines for this non-issue. There’s no need for Mourinho to play the xenophobe.