Commentary

Football must make club managers toe the moral line too

Former Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro leaving an employment tribunal in Croydon on Tuesday. She settled a constructive dismissal claim against the club for an unspecified amount.
Former Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro leaving an employment tribunal in Croydon on Tuesday. She settled a constructive dismissal claim against the club for an unspecified amount. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

You know the cliche. Football managers are a vulnerable lot. A few bad results, and they get the chop. They have no certainty, no sense of tenure, no long-term security. And, as far as it goes, this analysis is perfectly true.

But there is another, more disturbing reality when it comes to football management. If you are winning, you are invulnerable. If the owners think you are the man who can get results, who can take the club up the table, you can do virtually anything and survive.

Alex Ferguson was a uniquely gifted manager (who created) a cohesive, dynastic culture at Manchester United. But there were occasions, which had very little to do with success and rather a lot to do with the lack of corporate oversight, when he went too far.

When he impugned the integrity of the fixture compilers, he should have been reined in. When he castigated referees, he should have been reined in. When he summarily banished reporters for daring to offer the mildest critique, he should have been reined in.

Ferguson crossed the line again and again, not because he is a man lacking moral insight, but because he understood the golden rule of football. You are only vulnerable if you are losing. If you are winning, you can do what you want and the club will defend you.

They (Chelsea) found out which side of the argument Mourinho was on, and jumped into line. This is not corporate oversight; it is moral contortionism of a kind that would have impressed Houdini.

Jose Mourinho has "enjoyed" the same dangerous latitude. While at Chelsea, he made absurd allegations against referees, against ballboys, against rival clubs. He conjured up imaginary conspiracies and went on to live TV to proclaim bias in the media.

He knew that the club would have his back for as long as they thought he was the right man to get results.

Mourinho was defended even when he was picked up on a microphone last year, allegedly slurring Eva Carneiro, the former Chelsea doctor.

Did the club investigate thoroughly enough to see whether the female doctor had a case? Clearly not, given the settlement. Did they look to see whether the incident was representative of a deeper cultural problem associated with Mourinho? No.

Rather, they found out which side of the argument Mourinho was on, and jumped into line. This is not corporate oversight; it is moral contortionism of a kind that would have impressed Houdini.

I abhor the litigious culture we inhabit these days, and was slightly bemused by the scale of the payout to Carneiro. But this doesn't alter the fact that managerial behaviour has spiralled out of control, driven by a gaping absence of constraints.

Mourinho could have called Carneiro "a daughter of a whore" with bells on every day of the week and she would likely not have received internal redress. The only way she was ever going to get her case heard was by taking it beyond the deaf ears of the club and to an independent tribunal.

Football has to change. I agree with those who regard the speed with which managers are sacked as absurd. But unless managers are penalised for transgressions, many will act like megalomaniacs.

We will see them shouting in the face of the fourth official, getting up to argy-bargy on the touchline and making allegations of such ludicrousness that you listen out for the flapping of white coats.

As we grow up, we learn boundaries not through formal codes, but social criticism. From parents, teachers, friends, bosses. This is how we perceive the constraints of acceptable behaviour, and find harmony with those with whom we live and work.

When power or success, or both, dissolves these boundaries, everything blurs. You do bad things, and instead of being rebuked, you hear only craven justification from flunkies and rubber-stampers.

That is how a football club came to pay out a sum thought to be well above £1 million (S$1.96 million) to the doctor, while the alleged miscreant carries on regardless.

It is a cautionary tale, but is anyone in football listening?

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Football must make club managers toe the moral line too'. Print Edition | Subscribe