Following Manchester United’s dramatic comeback against Newcastle in their last game before the international break, Jose Mourinho was caught on camera mumbling something in Portuguese. Maybe the fluent Portuguese speakers with good lip-reading skills were able to work out what he said, but the rest of us were left bemused.
The FA charged Mourinho this week for using “abusive and/or insulting and/or improper language”, after it was alleged he said ‘fodas filhos de puta’, which translates as ‘f**k off sons of bitches’.
Some United fans were surprised by the FA’s decision to punish him for something Premier League players and managers are guilty of most weeks and face no repercussions for, but they probably shouldn’t have been. There’s no love lost between Mourinho and the footballing authorities in England, with a long line of charges, bans and fines preceding him.
At United, he’s arguably been better behaved than he was during his Chelsea years, but that doesn’t mean that he has escaped punishment. Last season, he stepped an inch on to the pitch during United’s win over Southampton in injury time, which referee Craig Pawson felt was worth sending him to the stands for.
In United’s win against West Ham he was sent off and earned a one match touchline ban for kicking a bottle of water.
Yet in regards to his latest charge, United supporters are no strangers to seeing their club targeted by the FA and made an example of for foul language.
Towards the end of the 2010-11 season, with United chasing their record-breaking 19th title, they travelled to Upton Park to face West Ham. At the start of the day, they were just four points clear of second-placed Arsenal, so needed a win.
However, they found themselves 2-0 down after 25 minutes, with Mark Noble converting two penalties that were conceded from a Patrice Evra handball and a foul by Nemanja Vidic on Carlton Cole.
In general, United had played badly, but Wayne Rooney was among the worst performers and was likely beating himself up for it.
But in the second half he scored a hat-trick in less than 15 minutes to give United the lead.
After the third goal went in, Rooney turned to celebrate, and a Sky Sports cameraman ran on to the pitch and shoved the camera in Rooney’s face. “What?!” Rooney shouted, his arms outstretched. “F***ing what?!”
He had likely been even more frustrated than the supporters with his performance for much of the game and was as relieved as any of them when he turned that defeat in to a win.
Rooney was in the wrong though and he shouldn’t have sworn in to the camera. But his emotions got the better of him. After the game, he released a statement apologising and it was expected that he would be fined for his behaviour.
The FA decided to ban Rooney for two matches though, after being charged with using “offensive, insulting and/or abusive language”.
Referee Lee Mason did not hear or see the swearing but in his match report claimed he would have sent Rooney off if he had. As a result, United’s best player missed their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City. Their rivals beat United’s 10 men 1-0 at Wembley and went on to win in the final, their first trophy for 35 years.
On the same day as United’s victory over West Ham, Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina was seen saying “No way, no f***ing way,” to referee Martin Atkinson after being booked. The referee undoubtedly heard this but did not send him off and he did not include the incident in his match day report. Reina wasn’t charged with using “offensive, insulting and/or abusive language” after the game, with the benefit of video footage, either. In fact, nobody else was that season. Or the seasons since?
The FA’s Respect Campaign was all the rage at the time and so you might argue that Reina swearing at a referee was more offensive that Rooney swearing in celebration after scoring a hattrick, but the FA didn’t see it that way.
The following weekend, when referee Mason took charge of Blackpool’s game against Arsenal, Charlie Adam was clearly seen on screen shouting “f*** off!” after he got fouled. Weirdly, Mason didn’t send him off and the FA didn’t later bring charges for his “offensive, insulting and/or abusive language” after seeing it on the telly.
The obvious response to all of this is that Rooney used foul language directly in to the camera, while other players, every week, use the same language in the direction of other players and the referee without looking down Sky Sports camera while doing so.
That would be a fair enough argument if, in football law that Rooney was charged with, it mentioned a camera. If there was a caveat saying it was acceptable to swear at the match officials and opponents, but not at the camera, then there would be little room for discussion. But it doesn’t. Either the FA should enforce the law, or they shouldn’t, but to pick and choose when players get charged for breaking the same rule is ridiculous.
The latest instructions given to Premier League referees is that if someone uses abusive language and the referee hears it, they should be sent off. Can you remember the last time a player got sent off for swearing at an official or an opponent in the Premier League?
When you consider how many times you see players using foul language, either in response to a goal, a referee’s decision or the behaviour of an opponent, and how few times you see them given the red card the football law says they should be given, it’s easy to question why the FA don’t follow through with their own rules.
Mourinho is in the wrong. He broke the rules. Like Rooney, he shouldn’t have done it. His emotions got the better of him. He knew as well as most that he would likely be sacked if he lost that game, following reports in the press that weekend, and he had to spend over an hour contemplating his future before the impressive comeback. That doesn’t mean it was OK that he swore but in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing too awful and a fairly understandable reaction.
Swearing in Portuguese, saying words we only know the meaning of because they have been translated for us following the FA’s charge, isn’t much to get worked up over.
Yet here United are again, expecting Mourinho to be banned for their visit to Stamford Bridge this weekend, because the FA have decided to enforce their rule that they let players get away with every single week.
In 2013, Referees’ Chief Mike Riley explained why so few players were sent off for breaking the rule of using abusive/offensive/improper language.
“There are very few reds for foul and abusive language because it depends on the way it is said,” he explained. “If a player turns round after a decision saying, “fuck off, ref” then it’s different from someone standing in front of you, staring, saying, “fuck off”. We have to understand the demands of the game at the highest level and the pressure that players are under.”
Apparently the FA aren’t prepared to give any understanding to the demands at the highest level and the pressure that Mourinho is under though, making him the first person to be charged in the Premier League for swearing in a foreign language.
This isn’t even really a defence of Mourinho. By the letter of the football law he should be charged. And if every player and manager who broke the same rule was punished, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.
But that doesn’t happen and their rules don’t mention choosing to use improper language when a camera is on them. If United’s game against West Ham in 2011 and their game against Newcastle last weekend weren’t shown live on television, would the charges have been brought?
Last week, Mourinho claimed there was a “manhunt” against him, and he was laughed at. After this latest charge, can anyone really argue he is being treated the same as every other manager would be?