You would think the English Football Association have more important things to do but, no, someone in the bowels of the FA decided on Tuesday that Jose Mourinho ought to be charged for allegedly mouthing “abusive, insulting or improper language” in view of the cameras following Manchester United’s 3-2 comeback victory over Newcastle United on Oct. 6.
As far as we know, he was not charged for waving a little finger in the air while mouthing at the camera, a gesture some took so seriously — as if Mourinho were the freaking Oracle of Delphi or Alan Greenspan in his heyday — that he was actually asked about his pinky.
“It is a finger,” Mourinho said. “Smaller than the others, but it is a finger.”
(He might have added: “It is not the finger I used to poke Tito Vilanova in the eye many years ago. Nor is it the finger on which I wear my outsized, triple-layer wedding cake ring. Or the somewhat longer middle finger I’d love to show to people who ask stupid questions.” But he did not.)
The charge could result in a touchline ban, preventing Mourinho from being pitchside when United travel to Stamford Bridge to face his former club Chelsea on Saturday. On this occasion, he is right to be not just angry, but foaming-at-the-mouth livid.
Mourinho is off to a nightmare start this season; he’s had rows (most of them, to be fair, one-way), he’s got national newspapers saying his sacking is imminent and many seem to be reveling in his misfortune. And next he returns to his old club, where he’s lost every previous time he’s been back with United. He needs this like a hole in the head. But, most of all, it’s the absurdity of the charge that must rile him.
You know what comes next. This charge fits neatly into the narrative whereby he’s hounded out of England (for the second time). All the FA did — other than throw some work to “language experts” and “lip readers” (not mind readers, alas; maybe next time!) — is give further fuel to his conspiracy theories (or “campaigns” as he likes to call them).
Whether it is journalists, former players (especially ex-United ones), Ed Woodward, Paul Pogba or the Glazer family… a vast network is working to bring him down, to which the FA’s lip readers and language experts can be added.
Oh, except this time, he has a point.
How absurd is this charge? First, there is the fact that it took 10 days for this to come about. It may seem like a minor point, but if he gets charged sooner, he can respond sooner and the whole affair is done and dusted quicker. But not here. Apparently, it took 10 days because the FA had to enlist lip-readers and language experts to determine whether Mourinho had a case to answer.
Here is a tip: If you cannot tell what somebody said because you do not read lips and, even if you do read lips, you need a “language expert” because he happens to have said it in a foreign language, then maybe this is not worth pursuing. Not if it takes you a week-and-a-half to decide.
Which brings us to the second point: According to the FA, Mourinho is alleged to have said “f— off, sons of a bitch.” (Or, more plausibly, “sons of bitches,” though who am I to question the FA’s “language experts?”). Except, of course, he said what he said in Portuguese. Unless you understand Portuguese and can read lips, you would have had no idea what he actually said.
(By the way, when it comes to football and lip readers, it is best to tread carefully. Marco Materazzi was incorrectly branded a racist for what he said to Zinedine Zidane, which prompted the Frenchman’s famous head butt in the 2006 World Cup final, until Zidane himself denied the “expert lip readers'” version of events and Materazzi was able to sue for libel.)
Further, Mourinho clearly was not talking to anybody in particular when he said what he is alleged to have said (which only Portuguese-speaking lip readers understood anyway) and — this is equally important — nor did he seek out a camera to swear into (for the benefit of the aforementioned Portuguese-speaking lip readers). Instead, the cameras followed him as he stomped off the pitch, waving that pinky.
It makes this incident different from another “foul-mouthed, caught-on-camera” moment: Wayne Rooney’s obscenity following his hat trick goal against West Ham in 2011. Rooney is celebrating when he sees the camera and decides to curse into it (for good measure, he turns to it a second later and does it again, just in case the message wasn’t clear the first time). He did it in English and you did not need a lip reader to hear him. For that, he got a two-match ban; rightly so.
Remember that this is Mourinho we are talking about. As with many of the wackier things he does, we do not know if he was putting on a show and it was all by design or if this was a spontaneous, heartfelt emotional outpouring. We do not live inside his head so can merely judge his actions outwardly. In this case, they do not warrant a charge, let alone a fine or ban.
None of this changes the fact that, on this occasion, Mourinho is being dealt with unfairly and has a legitimate gripe. He will do what he always does: Turn it into motivational fodder, for himself and for his players. That has been how he deals with most things — real, like this one, or made-up, like others — that get in his way. Albeit with ever-diminishing returns.
At least they did not charge him over the dangerous and hugely offensive pinky waving. Perhaps, in addition to the lip readers enlisted, they could not find the right body language guru.
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