Chelsea's PR officer must be feeling the strain. Tasked with perpetually defending the indefensible, last night the club put out a remarkably ill thought through post on Twitter after Eden Hazard was sent off for kicking a ball boy. The tweet sought to absolve Hazard of any blame for his actions.
Thoughts immediately turned to the last team who had a player among their ranks who assaulted someone other than the 21 other players and referee on the field of play. Oh yes, Manchester United and Eric Cantona, who infamously launched himself into a kung-fu style kick on a Crystal Palace fan in January 1995. Within two days, the club had suspended the player for the rest of the season. The Football Association then extended that ban for a further four months.
This should not be to suggest that somehow Hazard's actions are equally wrong, nor that he should receive such a ban. That would be far, far too excessive. Hazard deserves a bit more than the usual three match ban, maybe a five game suspension, but no more. The point is though, that whereas Manchester United sought not to try and cast any blame on the Crystal Palace fan who, it should not be forgotten, was hurling indefensible abuse at Cantona, Chelsea immediately turned on the Swansea ball boy. That ball boy is not innocent in this affair either, as has been widely noted. Time wasting is one of football's most odious characteristics, and ball boys getting involved in the practice is unacceptable. But they deserve a metaphorical kicking, rather than the physical version meted out by Hazard.
It is incredible though, given the numerous PR own goals committed by the club in recent months and years that they would seek to cast blame on the ball boy rather than their own player. The acknowledgment that Hazard was in the wrong came eventually but was grudging at best, and no one should hold their breath if they expect the club to show the same kind of class and responsibility as Manchester United.
This is a club on the inside which seems out of control. Defending a player against claims of racial abuse, only for that same player to then admit using the language in question a year later (albeit maintaining that it was not meant offensively), firing a Champions League winning manager and then making baseless accusations of racism against a referee in a show of petulant sour grapes after a deserved 3-2 defeat at home to United are just a few of the examples of mindlessness from the West Londoners of late. The treatment of the one club legend who has never dragged their name through the mud over the years, Frank Lampard, seems symptomatic of the problems at the heart of Chelsea.
Roman Abramovich apparently wants his team to be playing with the class and style that Barcelona show on the pitch. Maybe he should also focus on making sure they behave with the same exemplary attitude off of it too.