The quality of their football should be what we are talking about, but instead the league leaders are making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Their captain’s run in with the law and Anton Ferdinand, the behaviour of fans and disputes with referees have served to put Chelsea on the back foot. They responded by accusing a referee of racially abusing one of their players. If true, that referee should face the harshest consequences.
If it is untrue, and Chelsea made the accusation in the heat of the moment after losing a crucial match as a result of refereeing errors, then the club has major questions to answer. It is unacceptable to make public accusations of the sort they have without proper evidence – and unless they have this they should face the music themselves for potentially dragging an innocent man’s name through the mud. But the accusations are just part of a wider context in which Chelsea have come to be the league’s most prominent whingers.
Now Roberto di Matteo is complaining that his team have a rough time of it from referees. It is true, they were the victims of a couple of refereeing errors which they can justifiably argue cost them the game against Manchester United. Others may question why they are so vulnerable when they lose the ball to quick counter attacks, which is really the reason why they conceded their first two goals and Branislav Ivanovic was sent off.
It is also legitimate to point out the following to di Matteo. Was he complaining last year when his team received two extremely dubious decisions in their favour against Wigan Athletic, which gave them three points in a game they should have lost. Did they complain either, about the repeated fortune they received during their Champions League campaign last year? Having pulled off one of the great robberies of recent football history by escaping from two games in which they were torn apart by Barcelona yet still somehow won the tie, di Matteo really has no reason to feel hard done by. If any side have been well treated by the gods of dumb luck, it is Chelsea.
Years ago, their players disgraced themselves after a Champions League defeat to Chelsea on live television after a string of decisions they felt went against them. It was ignored that Chelsea had enjoyed significant fortune from incorrect refereeing decisions in the first leg of the match, and that this evened out their misfortune.
Chelsea’s general behaviour regarding the unfortunate race scandals which have dominated the headlines has been questionable at best. Having defended their captain in the face of allegations of using racist language for a year, they then fined him when he finally admitted his guilt, even though he continued to maintain that he did not use the language offensively. Chelsea’s club secretary and left back were even attacked by the FA’s independent panel who sat in prosecution on the case for changing their story.
As if that was not enough, the club’s fans have only made matters worse, with their shameful abuse of Rio Ferdinand. Tribal rivalries in football are common, and Chelsea’s fans are not the first to target a particular opponent for abuse. But it is hard to think of any team in recent memory who have targeted a player simply for being outraged that a former team mate used racist language during a discussion with his brother. To jeer Ferdinand is utterly idiotic and deserves more criticism than has been aimed at the club’s fans. Not all, of course, but the vast numbers who shamefully put club loyalty before the issue of racism.
This is a club desperately trying to battle back from having its name dragged through the mud by its captain. What they have failed to understand is the principle, when you are in a hole, stop digging. They have also failed to understand that when in the wrong, the best thing to do is to apologise genuinely and move on. It is time for Chelsea to do that. Otherwise, they will become the pariah club of the Premier League.