Chelsea win takes back seat
Chelsea 4 Norwich City 1: FOR CHELSEA, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. After a weekend in which the Londoners extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a style befitting a club that have just been crowned European champions for the first time, Chelsea are compelled to confront uglier matters.
The international break offers the club no rest from the accusations of wickedness in which they are caught up. It does, however, give Chelsea a prime opportunity to come up with a convincing response to those accusations. It is essential that the club figure out how to do the right thing.
That could mean much more than fining Ashley Cole for his tweet. The club have launched disciplinary proceedings against their left-back over his scornful online reaction to the publication of the FA-appointed disciplinary panel’s reasons for finding the Chelsea captain, John Terry, guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. “The image of the club is very important to us, of course,” said the manager, Roberto Di Matteo, by way of explanation for the decision to take action against Cole.
“We have rules and if anybody breaks them there is disciplinary action taken against them. We strive to have high standards. Hopefully, going forward we can be better in showing those. I wouldn’t say I am a disciplinarian but you need rules to be able to work and live together.”
That rationale could be used to support much wider action from Chelsea, since Cole’s tweet is the least serious of the offences of which some of the club’s most senior members have been accused. Chelsea’s captain has not only been found to have racially abused an opponent – a grave enough offence in itself – but the clear implication from the FA’s 63-page ruling is that he, Cole and club secretary David Barnard were then less than open about it.
Terry will spend the international break consulting with his legal advisers to decide whether to appeal against the panel’s ruling and his consequent four-match ban and £220,000 (€272,000) fine. Chelsea say that, in the interests of due process, they will wait to hear Terry’s decision and any resulting proceedings before determining what, if any, action they take against him. Chelsea also say they have a view on what Terry should do next and will make it known to him, though the decision ultimately rests with the player.
If Terry accepts his ban and decides against an appeal, Chelsea will have a more important decision than who to play at centre-back for fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. First, they would have to decide whether Terry could remain as captain of a club that professes to have zero tolerance of racism. Then the club would have to decide whether stripping Terry of the captaincy would be punishment enough.
It would not be easy to dismiss a player who has been at the club since his youth, contributed to the most successful period in their history and become such a talismanic personality that he has been tipped to become manager. But it might be harder to make a case for not sacking him. The same could be said of Cole and Barnard at a time when Cole is seeking a lucrative new contract as this one runs out at the end of this season.
England are expected to omit Cole from the squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland and not only because the defender has a slight ankle injury. Roy Hodgson was contemplating making Cole captain for what would have been his 100th cap against Poland, but the panel’s findings and Cole’s reaction must now make it unlikely that he will progress beyond the 98 mark.
Di Matteo says that for the moment he is picking his team solely on the basis of performance on the pitch and that is why Cole and Terry started against Norwich. But as they think more on the matter while on a break from competition over the coming week, Chelsea may consider a different approach more appropriate. Even the notion of Cole fulfilling a scheduled appearance on Thursday in the club’s shop to sign copies of a book commemorating Chelsea’s European Cup win may seem unpalatable.
Di Matteo says the media should concentrate more on the fine football his side are playing – this win was routine thanks to goals from Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard, Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic, after Grant Holt had put the visitors ahead. But until the Terry and Cole cases are satisfactorily resolved, details such as the manner of the goals that gave them a win over Norwich will remain minor.