In praise of subs (but not Jose Mourinho)

As a journalist, I’m glad I don’t have the challenge of getting quotes out of Jose Mourinho.

He’s hardly the most talkative of football managers, and his contempt for much of the media is thinly disguised at best.

But he is clearly successful, charismatic, and a believer in his club’s brand.

All, theoretically, key ingredients for a great leader.

And yet in the last few days, he has scored a massive leadership own goal (sorry) with his treatment (again, sorry) of club doctor Eva Carneiro.

The highest profile female medic in British football has been effectively demoted by The Special One for daring to treat one of the players in her care.

With extraordinary irony, the club has refused to discuss the issue, saying it never talks about internal staff matters.

That’s clearly a policy not followed by the enigmatic Portuguese Chelsea boss, whose criticism of Dr Carneiro and her physio colleague could not have been more public.

With still more irony, the comments came just a few days after Mourinho had praised the medical team for the way it was looking after Eden Hazard’s colleague Diego Costa, saying he had complete faith in them.

What he seems to have forgotten in the heat of his frustration over Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Swansea is that football is a team sport – and that the team is far, far wider than the 11 players on the pitch.

Appropriately for my purposes, Dr Carneiro will no longer sit in the subs’ bench area.

Because, to me, subs are like the medics of a football team.

Their names aren’t seen on front-page leads, and they don’t get to interview prime ministers, watch police break down doors in dawn raids or go undercover to expose bent councillors.

But they keep the complicated and messy journalism juggernaut on the road.

They’ve got less time than ever to spot other people’s mistakes.

(And sometimes they introduce their own, my favourite ever being a headline written by a dear friend of mine in the 1980s which read Heseltine: I’m a Spacegoat. The word should have been scapegoat. Incidentally, try reading headlines backwards when you’re writing them, as a device for spotting literals.)

But they save editors and reporters from embarrassment on a daily basis, make writers look good and are a mine of local memories and information.

A good editor will appreciate their talents and judgement in a way that Mourinho singularly failed to do over his staff at the weekend.

Like him, subs can be grumpy and uncommunicative at times.

But they play a vital role in Team Newspapers.


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