Carneiro is collateral damage as Chelsea’s Mourinho gets hot under the collar
Paul McNamara examines the fall-out from Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Swansea City at Stamford Bridge
If the Chelsea club doctor demoted from match-day duties by Jose Mourinho this week had been male, it is extremely likely that the story would have merited nothing more than a passing mention in the sporting press.
Even today’s football supporter, with his insatiable appetite for news and insight, would have minimal interest in the identity of his club’s medical staff.
There might be the occasional grumble about injuries – followers of Everton, for example, are nearing their wits’ end at the succession of ‘soft-tissue’ problems sustained by players under Roberto Martinez’s regime – but, in general, fans’ priorities lie elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Eva Carneiro is the most instantly recognisable figure to race on to Premier League pitches, medical bag in hand, of recent years. The Gibraltar born doctor has, of course, carried out her job in the spotlight, being employed by the Premier League champions, with all the attendant scrutiny that brings. But Carneiro’s profile has unquestionably been raised, simply because the sight of a female working in a high-profile football role is still rather unusual.
The 41-year-old was handed first-team responsibilities by former boss Andre Villas-Boas in 2011. There have been rumblings since Mourinho’s 2013 return to Stamford Bridge, however, that Chelsea’s current manager hasn’t been entirely happy with Carneiro’s presence on his staff.
While the team were winning last season’s title, any issues between the Blues’ boss and doctor could be conveniently brushed aside. Mourinho prefers to operate with a select band of players, and the consistent availability of the majority of his squad during that prosperous 2014-15 campaign enabled the Portuguese to stick with the bulk of a settled line-up. No fewer than seven of Chelsea’s championship winners started more than 30 top-flight fixtures. A further four were on the pitch at the outset of at least 20 matches.
It would be incredibly rash to surmise, one game into the defence of their crown, that things have taken a nasty turn at the west London club. Nevertheless, the suspicion is hard to avoid – especially with Mourinho responding so forcefully following the incident late in his side’s clash with Swansea City on Saturday, when Carneiro and Blues physiotherapist Jon Fearn entered the field of play to treat Eden Hazard.
Speaking in the wake of the 2-2 draw with Garry Monk’s team, Mourinho said: “I was sure that Eden didn’t have a serious problem. He had a knock and was very tired. My medical department left me with eight fit players in a counter-attack after a set-piece and we were worried we didn’t have enough players left.”
That specific concern, regarding a paucity of playing numbers, could actually be the wider issue that is clawing away at Chelsea’s manager. Two-time Champions League winner Mourinho craves control over all matters at his club.
The 52 year-old has already had to yield to owner Roman Abramovich’s readiness to accord Petr Cech a move to Arsenal. Mourinho bit his tongue regarding that decision, and it could be argued that he has traded upwards by bringing in Asmir Begovic to replace Cech as his number 2 stopper.
The former Stoke City ‘keeper, however, represents half of Chelsea’s summer incomings, so far. Radamel Falcao, the other Stamford Bridge new-boy, is a straight replacement for the departed Didier Drogba.
Even before his side’s campaign opener on Saturday, when the way in which Swansea pushed their hosts to the limit made them fully deserving of the point they took back to South Wales, Mourinho had been talking candidly about the squad replenishing going on elsewhere in the Premier League. Moreover, the ex-Porto boss wasn’t only concerned about the strengthening that has taken place at his direct rivals since the end of last season, pointing out that clubs such as Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Watford had all added high-calibre players to their rosters over the summer.
The implied message was clear.
It might be a stretch to say that Chelsea’s manager is worried by the Londoners’ lack of action in the market. He is uncomfortable, though, and more than a touch antsy. Mourinho certainly won’t have been able to put a lid on his restlessness, while vulnerabilities have been exposed in his team over the past fortnight.
In fact, you can go back to last season to see that even when things were largely hunky-dory, Gary Cahill tested his manager’s patience once or twice. Following the Blues’ 5-3 defeat at Tottenham on New Year’s Day and, 24 days after the White Hart Lane surrender, a 4-2 FA Cup humbling at the hands of Bradford City, the England centre-half found himself spending more time on the bench than he would prefer
John Stones has been identified as the man to bolster Chelsea’s defensive ranks, but moves to lure the Everton player to west London appear some way from coming to fruition. Likewise, efforts to replace left-back Filipe Luis with Augsburg’s Abdul Rahman Baba are being held up by quibbles over the fee for the Ghanaian.
There is also a slight issue cropping up with Mourinho’s midfield, something that was driven home when the Blues faced up to Arsenal in the Community Shield. While the Gunners boast a plethora of talent in that area of the pitch, Chelsea continue to rely heavily on Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas. In the Wembley meeting with Arsene Wenger’s men, Mourinho initially deployed Fabregas in a more advanced role than usual, a signal that the Portuguese would like to utilise his Spanish playmaker’s incisive passing higher up the field.
It was only when Oscar replaced the ineffective Ramires, however, freeing Fabregas to exert his influence from a deeper berth, that the champions started to take the game to their London rivals.
While Mourinho’s hard-line stance on Eva Carneiro is a newsworthy event, then, the Queen Mary University of London graduate is collateral damage in a broader, more intriguing story; that of the Chelsea boss’s unease with current affairs on his watch.
Still heavily dependent on Diego Costa’s goals and all-round attacking prowess for his side to function to its maximum, Mourinho would appreciate the discovery of a medic with a magic touch when it comes to healing hamstrings, the muscles that continue to blight his former Atletico Madrid striker.
Evidence would indicate that the Blues won’t be calling on Everton in that particular search. If they’re not banging the Merseysiders’ door down for Stones before long, though, expect to hear plenty more from Mourinho.
The Premier League’s last three defending champions – Manchester City, twice, and Manchester United – have put up feeble defences the following year. A manager so highly regarded that Alan Shearer believes any of England’s top four teams with him in charge would land the title, Mourinho isn’t going to let his side chuck away their champion status so cheaply. And nobody or nothing will be allowed to get in his way.