LONDON • Chelsea fear that Jose Mourinho is being made a scapegoat by the FA after their manager was given a suspended one-match stadium ban and a £50,000 (S$107,000) fine on Wednesday.
He had complained that "referees are afraid" to give penalties to his side after this month's home defeat by Southampton.
Chelsea are convinced that Mourinho is being singled out and contrast the FA's treatment of their manager with that of Arsene Wenger, who made what they perceive to be very similar comments.
The Arsenal manager repeatedly complained about Mike Dean's "weak and naive" refereeing after his side's defeat at Stamford Bridge last month.
He went unpunished and was also not charged after shoving Mourinho on the touchline during the corresponding fixture last year.
Chelsea are also unhappy with the scale of Mourinho's punishment, as his fine is double the usual amount for such offences and he has been given the most severe sanction of a stadium ban - albeit suspended - rather than a touchline ban.
The FA has interpreted Mourinho's comments as a slight on the integrity of the match officials - as opposed to their competence, as questioned by Wenger.
It has responded accordingly with the scale of the punishment because it regards the Chelsea manager as a serial offender.
This is Mourinho's fourth such sanction since returning to English football in 2013. If he is found guilty of criticising referees again before Oct 13, 2016, he will automatically be given a stadium ban.
The Portuguese is also at the receiving end of criticism himself.
Former Blues defender Graeme le Saux has lambasted him for his handling of the Eva Carneiro affair
Le Saux, a member of the FA's Inclusion Advisory Board, expressed concern that Mourinho's behaviour has damaged attempts to promote equality in football and could discourage women from seeking employment in the sport.
"What concerns me most, given the work I'm doing for the FA, is the impact Mourinho's behaviour may have throughout the whole game," he wrote in The Times yesterday.
"A lot of people are working very hard to get the game in a better place but, after the last few weeks, it feels as if we've gone back 30 years," le Saux noted.
Mourinho at least has the backing of his players, with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic becoming the latest to support him.
Chelsea are 16th and host Aston Villa tomorrow in their first game since Roman Abramovich took the unprecedented step of issuing a vote of confidence in Mourinho.
Since then, several members of the squad, including Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, have backed Mourinho, who has thanked Abramovich for showing faith in him.
Begovic has followed suit by saying that the players and manager firmly believe in one another.
He also praised Mourinho for the way he has handled the crisis at Stamford Bridge.
"He's not happy, of course. He doesn't want to lose. He wouldn't have won all the trophies he has, and become the best manager in the world, to be happy with how things are going," he said.
"But, at the same time, he has kept calm, tried to keep things on the ground, make sure we don't feel sorry for ourselves, and pick things up. It's a long season, we know in football these things happen... we need to keep fighting and, hopefully, things will turn for us, our performances and our luck."
Asked whether Mourinho is the man to get the champions out of a mess, Begovic replied: "That's the only comforting thing: We have the best manager in the world."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN