The unsavoury scenes we witnessed on Wednesday night, when nine Chelsea players swarmed around Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers demanding that a straight red card be shown to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, have sparked a heated debate about to what extent poor gamesmanship is solely confined to the Blues’ on-field tactics.
Blues leading the way
If official reports are anything to go by, it appears that the Blues lead the way when it comes to examples of general on-field craftiness and poor gamesmanship.
The findings of this report, conducted by a team of delegates who mark each club every week for the Premier League’s fair-play league, may come as a surprise to Jose Mourinho, who has time and time again voiced his anger at a so-called 'campaign' being waged by match officials and TV pundits alike against his side and a plethora of clear-cut penalties denied and other officiating injustices.
Are the Blues being hard done by?
Certainly, Mourinho can feel aggrieved by a few refereeing decisions (notably the yellow card wrongly awarded to Cesc Fabregas for a dive at Southampton) that have gone against his side these season.
However, the old-age cliché that decisions even out over the course of the season still stands, and this newly-published report suggests that Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher were very much justified in highlighting Chelsea players' need to pressure and horde around the referee at the blow of every whistle.
You can't argue against statistics...
In this revelatory fair-play league points are deducted from each team after every Premier League match for actions such as repeatedly disputing decisions, badgering officials and any other examples of broken-down professionalism.
In contrast, there are reportedly cash rewards for the teams who finish top in this fair play league, with Liverpool currently first and Burnley second.
However, it may come as a surprise to some that, on average, three other teams (Manchester City, Wet Ham United and Arsenal) score better than Chelsea in terms of poor gamesmanship relating to diving and time wasting.
All in all, it can probably be deduced from these findings that examples of poor gamesmanship are littered across the Premier League and are not solely confined to the Blues, or for that matter foreign players, as Souness seemed to suggest when he said iy “was not the British way”.
As Daniel Taylor rightly pointed out in his column for The Guardian, it is Burnley's Danny Ings, born and bred in Britain, who is the only player apart from Diego Costa to be booked twice for diving this season.
It therefore seems both unjust and hypocritical to point all fingers at Chelsea; yes their players have been guilty on countless occasions, of time-wasting, diving and pressuring referees but as John Terry said in a recent interview with Sky Sports, it has become a real feature of the game today and one which can come in handy for teams who use it to their advantage.
But the key point here is that they are not the first or the last to make use of poor gamesmanship; one only has to watch El Classico to see exorbitant examples of poor gamesmanship and realise that it is not just a problem in the Premier League and that Chelsea are not the only offenders here.
What has to be be done?
It is clear that something needs to be done about this issue. The question is what, and how? In his column for the London Evening Standard, Des Kelly proposes that a number of rules be re-instated in the Premier League to curb this trend of player's influencing refereeing decisions.
Notably, he suggests that only captains be allowed to approach the official and if any other player harangues a referee or shows dissent, he is automatically booked. Another rule Kelly suggests should be re-introduced is any attempt to challenge a referee’s decision results in the official moving the ball forward by up to 10 yards.
Maybe, just maybe, with harsher sanctions against poor gamesmanship rather than a mere fantasy league which details the facts, teams like Chelsea would think twice before harassing officials and time-wasting.