Jose Mourinho arrives in Israel for Chelsea’s European Cup match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Last year, Chelsea would have been expected to win the match easily against the weakest team in their pool. But their early season form has remained fragile. In the press conference, he remembers how Grahame Le Saux let him down fourteen years earlier
Across Europe this week, football has been demonstrating its solidarity with the victims of the Paris terrorist atrocities. Security alerts are at the highest level. Here in Israel, there are also considerable security precautions after recent lethal attacks by Palestinians in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
There are parallels with a match played in Israel just a month after the twin towers attack in New York in 2001. Chelsea was involved in that match too. Security concerns were so high that the European football authorities EUFA granted permission for Chelsea players to decline to play. Six players took up this offer.
A well-prepared answer
When asked about security arrangements this week, Jose had a typically well-prepared answer.
“I didn’t have a single problem within the squad. I didn’t have a Graeme Le Saux. I had everybody without fears, just wanting to come. Leave security questions to people who know more than we do, and people who can do things we can’t do. We just focus on playing. I didn’t have a single problem within the squad. I had even a player, maybe, whose wife is going to have a baby either tomorrow or the next day but he’s here, focusing on what he can do for us. So we’re here focusing on getting a result. We need that for our happiness, our pride, and the people who support us.”
Why the mention of Grahame Le Saux?
He was one on the six players who had declined to play in the earlier match.
Why was only Le Saux mentioned?
It is a good rhetorical device to personalize a complex problem. Shakespeare shows how it is done in various stirring speeches, including the wonderful battle cry by Henry V before Agincourt. Or maybe it is an example of the way a leader might secure the commitment of the good guys by identifying their shared common enemy within the social group (Leader Member Exchange theory).
There is a third possibility
The former defender is now a member of the Football Association’s inclusion advisory board. Mourinho has been castigated by Le Saux for his treatment of former Chelsea medical head Dr Eva Carneiro, who is now in dispute over her dismissal from the club earlier in the year.
In the dying moments of a match against Swansea City, Dr Carneiro and Chelsea physio Jon Hearn went on the pitch to treat a Chelsea player who was in Mourinho’s view was not in need of medical attention. He called their actions “impulsive and naive”.
In one phrase, (Mourinho was able to portray Le Saux as having demonstrated his unworthiness and disloyalty, to his club not once in this season’s loss against Swansea, but in that earlier match in Tel Aviv fourteen years earlier.
“As someone who was privileged to play for Chelsea for 12 years, I’m saddened that it has come to this. If what started out as a straightforward employer-employee issue had been handled differently, these negative issues would not have arisen. The biggest disappointment for me is that Mourinho doesn’t seem to have reflected on the damage he has done to his own image, the reputation of the club and, more important, the reputation of the entire game.”