Jose Mourinho is quite probably the most overanalysed man to have ever been involved in football. Every move is studied, every word leapt upon for hints of the good old mind games.
The thing is, there’s a reason for all this attention focused on the Chelsea manager. It’s not just because he has been successful basically everywhere he has been, but because every move genuinely appears to be made with some sort of purpose in mind. That purpose could be creating a bunker mentality in his squad, to show his fans he is truly fighting in their corner, but in most cases it is probably to intimidate opponents or subconsciously influence officials.
However, are we starting to see this approach backfire on him? It is fair to say that Mourinho was not particularly pleased after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Burnley, referring in not-so-cryptic fashion to a number of refereeing decisions that went against his side (see inline). “There are four moments where you can write the story of the game,” he said post-match. “Minutes 30, 33, 43, 69. Don’t ask me more questions, please. Minute 69 has a big relation with minute 30. This is the story of the game. There is no minute 69 if the man in charge does his job in minute 30.”
On Sunday, Mourinho took to Sky Sports to plead his case. “At half-time, Burnley should be playing with 10 men and Chelsea should have two penalties. Normally, we win 3-0, or let’s put in the possibility of missing one of the penalties — we win 2-0 and play against 10 men. The reality is that in the end, we play with 10 men and lost two points.”
While it is often a foolish game to take what Mourinho says at face value, on this occasion he had a point. The Kightly “penalty” was the very definition of “you’ve seen them given”; another foul on Diego Costa in the box could easily have been given, Barnes was lucky to escape without harsh sanction after leaving his stud marks on Ivanovic, while players have been sent off for much less than the same player’s subsequent challenge on Matic that elicited his aggressive but understandable response. Indeed, former referees chief Keith Hackett went as far as to ponder whether Martin Atkinson’s performance was “the worst refereeing performance that we have ever seen in the Premier League.”
Although he was sensible enough not to say so directly, Mourinho clearly views this as part of the so-called “campaign” he believes exists against Chelsea, going on to complain that his team had only received “one” decision all season. Mourinho was, of course, fined for his accusation of a conspiracy, and any sensible person would most likely recognise that (A) the idea of a campaign against any one club can be dismissed, if only because the idea of anyone in football being organised enough to arrange such a thing is pretty far-fetched; (B) if there is a campaign it’s not a particularly good one, as Chelsea are top of the league; and (C) even if he genuinely believes his words, Mourinho was probably trying to subconsciously influence officials.
For we know that referees can be influenced. Studies have been carried out that suggest officials in all sports are more inclined to favour home teams, particularly big teams with large supports. Furthermore, those in the middle are also aware of reputations of individual players and clubs. Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey said in January, about Olivier Giroud: “The Arsenal striker needs to be careful because he may begin to build a reputation with referees. Last month, we saw him sent off for a headbutt on QPR’s Nedum Onuoha, and in the World Cup he was fortunate to stay on the pitch in two games after elbowing Ecuador’s Gabriel Achilier and Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel.”
These are examples of what should be a fairly obvious, common-sense conclusion: that no matter how professional a referee is, they will inevitably be influenced to some extent, whether they realise it or not, by their surroundings. Referees read papers, watch TV and visit websites, and perhaps more importantly they are aware of the loudly protesting Portuguese man at the side of the pitch during Chelsea games, so they will know what Mourinho makes of things, and that could have an impact on their decisions, consciously or otherwise.
This is obviously what Mourinho is banking on, but is it actually starting to work the other way? In a curiously circular manner, are Mourinho’s complaints about a campaign against Chelsea actually creating the sort of decisions Mourinho believed to be there before but weren’t?
At the very least, the decisions that went against Chelsea on Saturday show that his aim of influencing officials in his team’s favour hasn’t worked. Perhaps referees are becoming so keen to show they are not being swayed by Mourinho that in 50-50 decisions they (again, subconsciously) go against Chelsea?
There are so many different possible forces exerting themselves on referees that it’s virtually impossible to pick just one that could be dominant, but Mourinho has made himself the story to such an extent that his voice is by far the loudest. But his loud voice isn’t having the desired effect. The booming foghorn of complaint may just have become a hindrance, rather than a help, for Chelsea.