LONDON -- You may have noticed that Jose Mourinho has plenty to say. You may also have noticed that virtually everything he says has Jose Mourinho as its focal point.
A nice example of just how greatly Mourinho values his own contribution to everything cropped up last week. He was talking about Chelsea's upcoming game at Manchester City. A super-big game, obviously, so Mourinho was explaining the difficulties that the team faced.
Well, not quite -- he was explaining the difficulties that he faced.
The most vexing problem concerned the fitness of the club's new striker, Diego Costa. Would he be ready to play? According to Mourinho, he, Costa and the team doctor got together and jointly decided that Costa could play. Evidently with some trepidation. "It's a risk, but one I have to take," said Mourinho. He's decided to put a possibly unfit Costa on the field, jeopardizing the player's recovery from a hamstring injury ... but we are supposed to feel sorry for Mourinho because, in his egocentric view of things, he -- and not Costa -- is the one taking the risk. It's a risk "I have to take."
He could have said "We have to take." Not him. Oh, poor, hard-done-by Mourinho.
Setting aside the agonies faced by Mourinho (it's not difficult to do that) the incident has a much greater significance.
Something similar happened on Saturday during another EPL game, between Newcastle and Hull. With Newcastle trailing 2-0 and Coach Alan Pardew's job on the line ... a risk had to be taken. So Pardew sent on Papiss Cisse. What a move -- Cisse scored twice, the game was tied, and, quite probably, Pardew's job was saved.
But Pardew had gone further than Mourinho. He had actually ignored the advice of the team's medical staff. They, it appears, were advising ("imploring" is the word used in The Observer) Pardew not to put Cisse on the field.
“Papiss shouldn’t have played,” Pardew admitted, “My medical staff did not agree with my decision to involve him. He’s had five days’ training and they told me he wasn’t ready, but my eyes told me different."
I'm wondering whether Mourinho's words ("A risk I have to take") or Pardew's ("My eyes told me different") would be, could be, used these days in the USA -- by an NFL or an NBA coach, for example. I don't think so. The threat of legal action should things go wrong is much more clearly understood in the USA. Of course, not-fully-fit players are used in the NFL or the NBA. We've heard about too many cortisone injections to have any illusions on this point. But a flat-out admission is not likely.
Soccer has a lot to learn. We saw, during this summer's World Cup, the Uruguayan team doctor -- who judged that an injured player should be removed from the game -- being over-ruled by the player himself. So who has the final say, whose is the authoritative voice? Surely, it ought to be the doctor's -- the only one with the medical knowledge to assess the seriousness of an injury, to calculate the risk of long-term damage.
This is, to put it mildly, a very tricky situation. If a player says he's OK to continue playing, if the coach feels that the player's presence on the field is vital ... what an impossible situation for the doctor. The pressure on him to OK the player's return to action will be immense, while his own resolve may be undermined if he knows he is simply acting with caution -- employing a better-safe-than-sorry approach.
I've been talking about pro soccer, obviously. But the vast majority of worldwide soccer games take place without a doctor in attendance. Then what? It gets even trickier because the person likely to become involved in decisions of this sort is the referee. So maybe the referee -- particularly a referee of youth soccer -- should receive special medical training? Maybe that would work -- if the coaches are ready to accept his word, and to realize that he's going to be even more cautious than a doctor.
But realistically, this is not the referee's job. Doesn't he have enough to do, enough responsibility, already? So we're back to the coaches. Can they be relied upon? I would like to think so, but ... when the game is a crucial one, when the guy's job is on the line?
All of this has recently become an absolutely central issue in sports. Because of the growing concern over the dangers of concussion. Soccer, as the only sport in which the head is used to play the ball, should be paying close attention to the medical and legal developments.
It should be making all players and coaches and referees aware of the intricacies of the situation. It should be issuing detailed guidelines for coaches and referees and players. That is a role for FIFA. A role that has not been taken up.
I have yet to see a statement from FIFA that acknowledges the seriousness of the issue. The general tone of FIFA's approach is one of complacency, that there is no reason for concern, that there might have been, years ago, but things are different now, the equipment is better, the players are better trained ... so just keep on playing.
Without any guidance from the top, it is inevitable that individual leagues or clubs or federations will take their own measures to address the matter -- both as a health issue and as a legal liability. And it is just as inevitable that such moves will begin in the USA. They have begun, with the so-called soccer moms' lawsuit. That is directed at FIFA -- but it should be seen as a friendly lawsuit, a timely reminder to FIFA to do what it has so far failed to do -- to issue a detailed concussion policy.
And at this stage of the discussion, my feeling is that there is only one course to be adopted. By everyone. Extreme caution. At youth and amateur level, players suffering blows to the head must be taken out of the game. At the pro level the doctor's opinion must be final.
FIFA should also be considering changes in the rules of the game. It should be looking into ways of reducing the frequency of heading in regular play, even facing up to the extreme possibility that heading the ball may have to be banished from the sport. The necessary reminder: We're talking about brain damage.