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Thursday 28 August 2014

James Lawton: Chelsea playing by own rules as FA bury head in the sand

James Lawton

Published 24/11/2012 | 05:00

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Yes, of course, Chelsea welcomed the FA's "recognition" that they were merely responding to a "duty of care" when they put referee Mark Clattenburg through that ferocious wringer of a racism investigation.

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You bet they did. "Duty of care" is a fancy phrase in any walk of life. When it is applied to the modus operandi of a football club who have spent the last few weeks challenging almost every norm of decency and restraint, things are definitely looking up.

The problem, though, was surely self-evident. It was that even though Chelsea mustered a full team of witnesses – in all, 11, they reminded us proudly – it was clear from the outset that they were pursuing Clattenburg with the flimsiest of evidence.

It was so slight it might have cautioned a lynch mob chasing a suspected horse thief back in the Old West.

Disturbing

Indeed, we are bound to ask a somewhat disturbing question. Could it be that the FA is acquiescing in the belief that this is a club that can operate its own standards, make its own rules, without reference to or concern for any higher authority?

Certainly, you need a bad case of myopia to miss the pile of accumulating evidence.

First there is the context of still fairly recent history in the European theatre.

Swedish referee Anders Frisk retired from the game after a tide of death threats from Chelsea fans. Frisk had received stinging criticism from Jose Mourinho after Chelsea's loss to Barcelona in 2005.

Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo also paid a career-threatening price for his desperate, controversial handling of the 2009 Champions League semi-final with Barca.

Domestically, there was the case of leading players John Terry and Frank Lampard accusing England's leading official Graham Poll of conducting a vendetta against the club – charges later withdrawn on the club's official website.

Yesterday, as Clattenburg and his professional organisation considered legal redress against Chelsea, Poll called for the FA to come down hard on the club for its handling of the affair, for the carelessly applied public pressure on a man who was found so emphatically not to have a case to answer. But who could say that this referee wasn't whistling in the wind?

The FA had some stern words to say about Chelsea's preparation of evidence in the John Terry racism investigation, but they were not accompanied by significant action.

It also categorised racism as an enemy that must be fought to the death, while handing to Terry a hardly lethal four-match ban.

We know very well the greatest preoccupation at Stamford Bridge tomorrow afternoon when Manchester City come to town. It will not, let's be sure about this, involve any deep reflection on the need to draw back from some of the extremities of the club's public behaviour.

It will be the swiftest possible settling of the not overwhelmingly popular choice Rafa Benitez into the shoes of the discarded Roberto di Matteo. Victory over league leaders City would no doubt provide some instant reassurance for the embattled faithful.

Heaven knows, they have plenty of experience in realigning their personal loyalties. Di Matteo is dead, long live Rafa – at least until we see if he can, as promised, reactivate the lost soul known as Fernando Torres.

Given his record over the last years at Anfield, the signings of Robbie Keane and Alberto Aquilani for the best part of £40m and the disaffecting of arguably the club's most relentless presence, Xabi Alonso, confidence in an extended reign for the interim manager may be a little far-fetched.

Nor was his brief stay at Internazionale cause for untrammelled optimism.

Still, who knows? Some Chelsea players might just respond to his schoolmasterly tendencies, although this number is not likely to include Lampard, Terry and Ashley Cole, who provided such impetus for the renovation job performed so unforgettably by the man who was cut down in the wee small hours of one of Chelsea's least promising mornings.

But then if anyone needs to believe in the recurring possibility of resurrection it is surely Chelsea and Benitez, who had his own miracle in Istanbul and before that a most impressive record with double La Liga title-winners Valencia.

At least he will not be able to complain, as he did at Anfield, that the ownership has deprived him of the oxygen of formidable talent.

Money, of course, has never been a problem at Chelsea, no more than any pressing need to do the right thing, and who really cares about that? Not, the current evidence says, the FA. (© Independent News Service)

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