by Ahsan Naeem
I once worked for a guy like Roman Abramovich. He obviously wasn’t a billionaire, but he may as well have been in comparison to the vast majority. He was viciously wealthy, let’s put it that way. His business was a record company, and much like owning a football club, it was a loss leader he indulged himself in an almost childlike manner. This boss of mine was an absolute dream to work for because there was little I could do to get in trouble. I once started a drunken fight in a pub which ended with me throwing the cue ball from the pool table at some gargantuan guy’s head and then being forcibly escorted from the building. The next day I was summoned to my boss’s office and fully expected to be told I’d let the company down and be disciplined. Instead my boss laughed heartily and told me that he wasn’t going to employ a minder for me so I’d better stop picking fights with the local Mafioso family. It was as much a pat on the back as a warning and it was a story my boss took great glee in telling other people whenever we had dinner after that day. Conversely when a local promoter slapped an artist of ours who was behaving like an absolute idiot, this same boss threw all his money and resources into getting the promoter sacked, and then in getting the venue he ran shut down. As he later told me, this was because “it’s a point of principle. If you mess with the bull, you get the horn.”
I tell this tale because I imagine kicking a football for Roman brings with it similar perks. The litany of disciplinary issues which have dogged Chelsea since he came in are well documented. From the tapping up of Ashley Cole to the John Terry case from last season and everything in between. It seems every time Chelsea players or officials are in the dock, they plead the Shaggy defence. “It wasn’t me, guv”.
Like any business owned and operated by one incredibly wealthy megalomaniac, regardless of how insulated he or she may be from the dirty decisions which need to be made, invariably those decisions come from the top down. So it’s difficult to imagine Mr Abramovich not having his say in the recent John Terry scandal. No doubt Adrian Mutu is currently wondering why a night on Columbian marching powder is a sackable offence, yet calling a fellow professional a “black ****” at Chelsea brings you nothing more than a slap on the wrist, a token fine, and the knowledge that you will still be club captain, leader, and poster boy. I’m being facetious of course. Mourinho would probably have sold Mutu regardless. However the haphazard nature with which Chelsea deal with disciplinary issues points to a lack of leadership from the top down.
Football clubs are unwieldy beasts. You have pampered millionaire footballers who rarely hear the word “no” and are about as far removed from feeling accountable for their actions as Hollywood A-listers. The only place they are accountable is to their paymasters, which is why in the modern era strong leadership at a club is vital so supporters feel some justice is meted out when things go awry. From my own experience I remember Ben Thatcher’s elbow on Pedro Mendes. It was a horrific challenge and even though he played for the club I supported I felt sufficiently moved to write to City to voice my disgust at his actions. I imagine I wasn’t the only person who felt this way and as such it was little surprise when City were quick to ban the player themselves and fine him the maximum amount they could at the time. Chelsea it seems take a different approach regardless of what they are accused of.
This brings me to why I wanted to write this piece. The weekend gone saw another woefully inept refereeing performance lead to Chelsea suffering their first defeat of the season at Stamford Bridge, only for Monday’s headlines to once again be about anything but football. This time it’s referee Mark Clattenburg on the receiving end, with Chelsea Football Club making a formal complaint about supposedly racist and inappropriate language used by the official against two Chelsea players. My first reaction was to guffaw loudly at Chelsea complaining about anybody being racist. However my laughter has turned into something more considered and circumspect today and it’s left me wondering who are the decision makers at Chelsea and are they really so far removed from reality that they believe pursuing such a case is in the club’s best interests.
Let me make clear that I’m not condoning racist behavior by anyone either on a football pitch or off it. However I am curious as to why Chelsea feel that in the current climate, whilst their captain is banned for making racists remarks against a fellow professional, they feel it is the in club’s best interests to take this course of action. Anyone within that club with even a modicum of empathy for the general mood around the country about Chelsea and racism would surely be more inclined to find a less high profile way of dealing with the situation.
Every supporter I’ve spoken to, even those who can’t stand Clattenburg and think he’s as bent as a two bob note, are galled by Chelsea’s hypocrisy. Football editors are lining up to warn the club to tread carefully and be sure they are sure of the facts before pursuing a case against the referee. Deep down inside I imagine they all feel, much like me, that it is nigh on impossible that Clattenburg has used the language he’s been accused of. Referees are mic’ed up to their fourth officials, and therefore are fully aware that their words are being monitored. More importantly, referees know they aren’t untouchable in the way footballers are. They don’t live behind huge security gates on sprawling compounds in Surrey safely shielded from the glaring eye of the paparazzi. Even the most controversial of referees, which Clattenburg is, will be aware of the “race” debate which has sullied British football in the last 12 months and how the consequences of them using such language would be catastrophic in a way it would never be a for a footballer.
Of course only Mark Clattenburg knows the truth, and of course every football club should protect its players from racism on the pitch. However clever people choose their battles carefully. The rich and the privileged tend to find, forgive me for using a footballing cliché, attack is the bet form of defence. No doubt Ron Gourlay, Roman Abramovich, and the rest of the Chelsea board believe they are acting in Chelsea Football Club’s best interests. But just as my old boss was so far removed from the man on the street that he laughed at my indiscretions no matter how wrong they were, but wanted blood for anyone who messed with him, just as the parents on the street I grew up in never accepted that it was their kids who were the local troublemakers, yet complained vociferously if we so much as kicked a football into their garden, you get the impression that Chelsea feel they are the victims of a injustice which needs to be righted, without seeing how the rest of the world is going to view them if this case turns out to be full of hot air. Chelsea need a strong, intelligent, empathetic leader with perspective. Instead they’ve got one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies. It’s little surprise therefore that their hypocrisy doesn’t bother them.