When this story first began to unfold, I wasn’t sure where to go with it. Sure, the case of Eva Carneiro versus Jose Mourinho immediately sent up red flags. Chelsea’s first team doctor has already been subjected to sexist chanting from the club’s own fans as well as those of their rivals. But to my eyes, there was no immediate evidence that it was anything more than a tantrum from the divisive Portuguese coach. Perhaps it was a naïve desire not to automatically label a professional as sexist. Perhaps I just hoped that it was different.
By now you probably know the details, but let’s quickly recap what happened last Saturday to lead us to where we are now.
In the dying moments of Chelsea’s season opener, Eden Hazard was tackled dangerously by Swansea’s Ashley Williams. For his part, Williams earned a yellow card from Michael Oliver, while Hazard remained down on the pitch. The Chelsea medical team entered the pitch after being beckoned by Oliver. First-team physiotherapist Jon Fearn was the first off the bench, with Carneiro close behind.
Hazard was escorted off the pitch, leaving Chelsea with only nine players for an attacking free kick (goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had been sent off for a challenge on Bafetimbi Gomis). As the medical duo returned to the bench Mourinho was seen whispering in Carneiro’s ear but lambasted Fearn loudly. The manager later expressed his displeasure to the press, claiming that his medical team needed to “understand the game” and that “they must be sure the player has a real problem and not a little knock”. Mourinho claimed that Hazard had no problem. The midfielder was simply tired after 90 minutes on the pitch, he claimed.
So why do we care? What is it that drives us to care so deeply about a manager’s spat with his medical team? The answer isn’t a simple one.
We care because Mourinho is divisive. He is easy to hate, especially for opposing fans. His press conferences consistently toe the line of narcissism. He is great at diverting attention away from his team and onto himself – a talent that is equal parts positive and negative.
But the other thing Mourinho is great at is winning. And for rival fans, that takes the ability to hate him to another level.
We care because the ‘incident’ was public, as are most of the manager’s spats. If you remove the name from the equation, it’s still a talking point. A manager, in the dying minutes of a match, had a fit over the treatment of a player. When speaking to the press later, he essentially claimed that the medical team didn’t know the sport; that he knew better than medical professionals when a player was hurt. This arrogance is not unique to the Chelsea manager. The epidemic of managers directing their medical teams is one of the reasons soccer has what might be considered a concussion crisis. It is probably a reason that Germany’s Christoph Kramer does not remember the 2014 World Cup Final.
And we care because Carneiro is a woman. She is a woman in a role that has previously been reserved for men. Opposing fans know her name, even when they don’t know the names of their own first team doctors. She became the face of not just Chelsea’s medical team but of hope for girls and women who want to work in sport. Carneiro is “just a doctor” – but she represents something that many girls and women have wished they could be for a very long time. When she was promoted to first team doctor by Andre Villas-Boas in 2011, she was also promoted to role model by the millions of girls and women who watch the sport.
Soccer is racist. Soccer is homophobic. And, lest we forget, soccer is sexist.
Yes, Women’s World Cup just earned its highest ever ratings. Yes, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Marta are earning more than their predecessors. Yes, England’s women’s team may have changed the game for themselves in their own country. But even with improving numbers, the game is not equal. They do not earn the same salaries as their male counterparts. They do not play on the same fields. Women are not represented the same in England’s Football Association, the governing body for the sport in England. They are not seen in high positions within even the world’s governing body, FIFA. The sport is not equal in any way for women other than the level at which they play.
So were Chelsea and Mourinho being sexist?
In his press conference prior to Sunday’s match, Mourinho did little to deflect any suspicion of it. But on the day in question, he never singled her out specifically. It was Fearn that he verbally abused loud enough for the press box to hear. His post-match comments never singled out either Carneiro or Fearn. “The medical department,” he said.
The answer still isn’t easy.
Carneiro’s decision to “thank the general public for their overwhelming support” on her Facebook page was seen by Chelsea as unprofessional. They cite this with the spat on the sidelines as the reason her role has been reduced (along with Fearn’s). And perhaps it was unprofessional. More and more employers are now researching potential job candidates on social media. More and more employers are also monitoring the social media of their current employees. Such a popular club like Chelsea would not be an exception.
The Portuguese manager is also known for forcing out members of staff that he doesn’t deem worthy, and he gets away with it. If Jose Mourinho doesn’t like them, they become outcasts, whatever their gender. Even players have reportedly not been safe from this fate.
Maybe the powers that be at Chelsea could have said no. But when running a business, you want as little conflict as possible to keep you from being the best.
Could they get rid of Mourinho for it instead? Not really. It is much easier, and more cost effective, to replace a team doctor. The Chelsea team doctor is the accounts payable representative at a Fortune 500 company to Jose Mourinho’s vice president. Mourinho earns millions. To replace him, to end his contract, over a spat on the sidelines could effectively cost the London club many more millions.
Carneiro, however, is easier to replace. There are a number of very good doctors that can replace her. Doctors that will put the needs of the team above the needs of the player.
But still, was Mourinho being sexist?
Beyond reports and rumors that Carneiro’s position had been under review by Mourinho for some time, it’s still difficult. The Guardian reports that it had been over a year that Mourinho had been considering the first team doctor’s position. Even more unconfirmed reports from The Telegraph said he felt that she was a distraction in the locker room and changed the dynamic of the team.
Neither Carneiro nor Fearn, will be on the bench for Chelsea’s match against Manchester City today. The manager did, however, say it may not be permanent.
Red flags are still raised on the treatment of Carneiro. The saga continues.