As fans of both London and Parisian descended upon Stamford Bridge for the Champions League tie between Chelsea and Paris Saint German, the topic of Gamesmanship was most likely the furthest thing from their minds – but things were soon about to change. Whilst Chelsea had performed woefully across the two leagues and had deservedly been knocked out by the superior side, their reaction in the sending off of Zlatan Ibrahimovic had reopened an age old discussion in football about gamesmanship.
Ibrahimovic was sent off just past the half an hour mark following a robust challenge with Oscar. The scenes immediately after the challenge involved Chelsea players from as far as 50 yards away surrounding the Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers demanding severe action be taken against the Swede, with the red card being brandished seconds later.
Whilst many spectators have expressed their understanding that the challenge did not make for kind viewing in real time, many commentators have expressed their severe dislike of the actions of the Chelsea players. Reacting to the incident during the coverage of the game on live television, both Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness expressed their disgust at the reaction of the Chelsea players, the former explained that “the sending off is very unfortunate. It is not a red card….the reaction from the Chelsea players is disgraceful and its sad.” Additionally, Souness condemned the harassing techniques employed by the Chelsea team, whilst expressing his wish for the issue of gamesmanship to be eradicated from the English game for once and for all, “we had a great game of football going on there and it saddens me, and makes me angry at the same time, that gamesmanship is deciding these big games that’s what our game is coming to…. we need to sort it out quickly.”
Despite the views of Souness expressing that the actions of the home side signalled a greater issue in the game, it may be noted that his anger should be isolated towards teams managed by Jose Mourinho. Throughout his managerial career, Mourinho has shown himself to not share a willingness for gamesmanship, shown through his habit of offering snide comments in the direction of fellow managers. This trait seems to have been successfully to his current crop of players. Throughout the season, there have been numerous instances of a hoard of Chelsea players surrounding referees expressing their wish to highlight the wrongdoings of the opponents whilst their staff simultaneously hound fourth officials and show an extreme lack of respect to opposition benches. Instances in the match against Everton, where a plethora of Chelsea players surrounded the referee to ensure the sending off of Gareth Barry and Mourinho’s early season tendency to shake the hands of the opposing manager long before the final whistle was scheduled to be blown illustrates such lack of gamesmanship.
It may be noted that whilst Chelsea have not shown themselves in a particularly endearing light in recent times, their position at the head of the domestic league illustrates that, perhaps, to be successful in football, one must sacrifice gamesmanship.
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