They're out to get us. I think. They're certainly not out not to get us. Definitely. Are they out to not get us? Maybe? Maybe they're not out to get us; maybe it's just that we're paranoid. Of course that doesn't mean we're wrong.
When Mourinho first uttered the word campaign in December, he meant it in reference to the media influencing referees. He didn't mean that referees were out to get us, he meant that (certainly certain segments of) the media were and they were using their lurid headlines to influence the valiant, easily influenceable (especially when surrounded, apparently) men and women with the whistles and flags in the stripy or odd-colored getups.
"That's a campaign, that's a clear campaign. People, pundits, commentators, coaches from other teams, they react with Chelsea in a way they don't react to other teams. They put lots of pressure on the referee and the referee makes a mistake like this. We lose two points, Fàbregas earns a yellow card. In other countries where I worked before, tomorrow in the sports papers it would be a front-page scandal because it is a scandal."
"I think it is a scandal because it is not a small penalty - it is a penalty like Big Ben. In this country - and I am happy with that, more than happy with that - we will just say that it was a big mistake with a big influence in the result. I am happy that it is this way, with respect for the referee. He made a big mistake like I make, like the players make sometimes."
-Jose Mourinho; source: Guardian
Of course, the media weren't about to start reporting on their own influencing or lack thereof, so they simply reported that Mourinho thinks there's an FA or referee campaign out there against Chelsea. This twisting of Mourinho's original meaning may look fairly innocent at first, but it makes a world of difference weeks and months down the road, with the original intent long forgotten and Chelsea and Mourinho firmly placed under tinfoil hats. The FA fining Mourinho for his comments about the media (again, comments about media, not referees) didn't help, though when we consider that the FA is most definitely influenced by media and public perception of events, perhaps this isn't at all surprising.
The latest missives on Chelsea's social media accounts and official websites aren't helping the perception either. At this point you might think I actually care about how we (i.e. Chelsea and Chelsea fans) are perceived -- I don't -- but referees might (as Mourinho claimed), in which case I might care as well. Anyway...
Yesterday's "Penalty puzzle" on Chelsea official was the latest in this whiny series, and it's jumped the shark from fighting a good fight alongside the manager, to being a laughable little temper tantrum. It's one thing to be biased -- like the Chelsea magazine, their singular purpose is to be cheerleaders of Chelsea -- but it's not a good look when said bias leaves the opinion columns (Giles Smith, Pat Nevin, at al.) and filters into the more newsy, factual pages. We've seen this creep in match previews and match reports, but up until now, they had struck a good balance. Yesterday, the balance was firmly tilted and, as far as I'm concerned, tilted not in a good way.
(The above screenshot and all the data used in this article come from the ever excellent My Football Facts website. Be sure to click over and peruse their wealth of penalty kick information and various other stats and such. While I have no way of confirming the validity of all these numbers, I'm assuming they have no reason to make them up and have collected the data in good faith.)
Ahh, only TWO penalties awarded all season. "Historically, this figure seems abnormally low." The horror! That's firmly on par with or exceeds the number of penalties given to half the teams in Premier League (10) -- such woe! -- including the likes of Manchester United (insert tired Howard Webb joke here) and Southampton, who just got their second all season at Stamford Bridge last weekend. They've actually yet to give up one through 30 matches -- the only such team in the Premier League -- which is quite impressive; in the last 10 years only Manchester United (2012-13, 2007-08) and Arsenal (2005-06) have gone a whole league season without conceding one.
Sure, you could look at various individual events and see how we've been wronged. Every football team in every league in the world could do the same. Man City lost a point just last weekend, for example, on a non-call in stoppage time. Ramires against West Bromwich Albion comes to mind as well. Penalty puzzles aplenty!
Just two years ago, Chelsea led the league in penalties (11). Liverpool were awarded 12 last season, same as Chelsea in 2009-10. Those two seasons are marked outliers however; over the last 12 full seasons, we've averaged roughly 6 penalties per season. Over that same period, we're actually second to Liverpool in total number of penalties awarded -- Liverpool: 73; Chelsea: 71; Man United: 68; Arsenal: 63; Man City: 60; Villa: 56; Spurs: 50; Everton: 43. Are the other teams more puzzled than us?
While the 2 received so far makes this year and outlier as well (for us anyway), and we're probably not going to get 4 more penalties in the remaining 10 games to hit our yearly average, if we get just 2, we will equal the number of penalties that were awarded in 2 of Mourinho's first 3 seasons in charge the first time around. Which also happens to be the average per-team, per-year over the last 12 seasons (4.3 or so, starting with the 2002-03 season). I certainly don't recall so much hand-wringing and puzzling over those decisions back then. So why do it now? Does Mourinho and the rest of the people responsible for this at the club truly believe that this will somehow get us favorable treatment? If their goal is to influence the public and media perception and thus, in turn influence the referees, a perusal of recent headlines and just last weekend's game should be enough to tell them that they were already failing rather spectacularly. And now we've doubled down. Bold strategy, Cotton.
None of this makes it right that referees are getting these calls wrong, of course. 12-year averages don't exonerate the non-calls and the bad calls. There used to be a time when it was ok to get them wrong. Now, with constant coverage, millions and millions of eyeballs (and moneys), and slow-motion replays from every angle, it isn't. But the way forward isn't for every team to whine about perceived injustices. The way forward is technology, but that's a discussion for another time. Until then, let's score some goals the old-fashioned way (we seemed to have been doing alright in that department not too long ago), let's stop leaking goals on headers and corners (ditto), and let's win this thing.