My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
The main football story of the past week has been the treatment of the Chelsea Team Doctor Eva Carneiro and Head Physio Jon Fearn for coming onto the pitch to treat Eden Hazard in their draw with Swansea. Despite the criticism coming from Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho technically being directed to both members, the media focus has been upon the Team Doctor who is a woman.
As Gary Monk has pointed out, what this story has done is to divert attention from a magnificent Swansea performance and onto a dispute.
The first thing to ask is was Mourinho’s criticism an example of sexism? I have to admit that it is hard to judge these nuances when you are a man. It is the same with any form of discrimination that if you are not within that group, it is often hard to understand the subtle differences between an offensive statement or a non-offensive statement.
Nowhere does Mourinho say is “she is a woman, therefore she knows nothing about football.” That would have been an example of blatant sexism. Anyone who disagrees, well, they probably should stop reading now.
This is what the Chelsea manager says:
I was unhappy with my medical staff. They were impulsive and naive. Whether you are a kit man, doctor or secretary on the bench you have to understand the game.
To me, at first reading, this is a general and obvious comment. If you want to work at a football club, especially in a role that places you on the bench, then you must understand how football works. However, there is a possible subliminal hint of sexism when you read the last three words “understand the game.” As I say, as a man, I don’t see that as an act of sexism, but I can understand why people are worried about the phrase.
Despite a highly successful Women’s World Cup where England came the closest since 1990 for any male or female side to winning the World Cup – women generally still have to justify participating in football. Whilst we have got past the stage where females had to fight for the right to play football, but there is still sexist abuse towards females in the sport: notably Fran Kirby on Twitter and East Stirlingshire’s physio Anna Murray.
The phrase “understand the game” when directed towards a female physio (don’t forget the male physio Jon Fearn was also attacked by Mourinho), is damaging in the subtle way, which is often more dangerous that outright sexist abuse. Here is why.
If someone states “women have no role in football”, then it is obvious to the vast majority of people in Britain that the statement is wrong, and the person saying it is a bigot. There would be universal criticism. However, saying “understand the game” without necessarily joining it to the fact the physio is a woman: it allows people to join two dots and get a completely different picture. This is dangerous as we need to make sure that if a girl is born today, she can believe she can reach any role in football she wants. Subliminal discrimination threatens this from coming a reality.
Nevertheless, this does not mean or should not mean that women should be beyond criticism. For example, Hope Powell was rightly criticised for her decision making in the Euro 2013 championships that led to her sacking. But when you criticise women in sport, just like when you criticise a male in sport, it must be professional and respectful to them.
The next question is was Mourinho right?
Let’s be honest, Jose Mourinho is the master of the modern media age who understands how to dictate the news story for the next week. And he does it by offering journalist lines like he’s giving chocolate to children.
Mourinho will defend his team beyond disbelief at times. Anyone who seriously understands one iota about football would understand that Courtoius had to be sent off against Swansea, and yet the club appealed against the sending-off. And it should also be remembered that last season, he praised his medical team.
This is not to say that he does not criticise his team. He now looks like a psychic genius about dropping Iker Casillas when he was Real Madrid manager when at the time, he was derided as a pariah.
It should also be said that Mourinho is possibly the smartest and most knowledgable football manager there has ever been. It is my opinion that in my lifetime, I am not aware of a manager who understands tactics, player management, media relations and understanding how to hide weakenesses and exploit strengths.
It is possible that Mourinho saw a chance to deflect attention away from his under-performing team onto another target. But he is wrong to do this in two ways.
Firstly, he risks damaging his backroom team. If Chelsea are to win the title or the Champions League, they will require Falcao and Diego Costa to score goals. I know that for the second half, Chelsea did not have Costa for most of it – but they were also helped by a poor Manchester City. Both of these strikers have injury issues which will need to be managed. Of course, I am writing this far away from Chelsea, and unaware of what is going on behind doors – but what I am meaning is that there is a potential to upset that team.
Secondly though, he has attacked a member of his team for doing her job. If a physio sees a player down injured, they will react with a gut instinct. They may be wrong to run onto the field, but if their reaction is that the player may require treatment, they should always react that way.
And in this Independent article by Sam Wallace, it suggests that the referee Michael Oliver called on the medical team twice. When this happens, surely the medical staff have to respond to this signal to treat the player? After all, they are there to look after the players and not the club. This is why many experts are calling for head injuries to be an automatic substitution, and not reliant upon the club manager.
And if Mourinho is criticising the medical staff for coming on, shouldn’t he be criticising Eden Hazard for over-playing his ‘knock’?