It was a speech made to a conference held by the Swedish football federation last year but when it came to nailing the inequalities that a high-profile, woman doctor encounters even now, 15 years into the 21st century, Eva Carneiro got to the root of the matter swiftly.
Less a speech, more an appeal for a new generation of “ass-kicking women” – Dr Carneiro’s words – to take their place as equals alongside male peers in the medical profession. “In every [medical] television programme I have ever watched in my life,” Carneiro told her audience, “the female doctor is hyper-sexualised. She goes off with Tom Cruise and it is all happy endings. Or she is not present. Or she is a lesbian.
“This is the perception young girls grow up with of what a female doctor is. This needs to change. There need to be ass-kicking women who are not behaving like men, who do a really good job and save the day. That is not going off with Tom Cruise! I think women are discouraged from a young age.”
As a pioneer in a male-dominated field, the first senior female doctor at a top Premier League club, Carneiro is clearly an exceptional professional. But what the speech in Sweden told you was that Chelsea’s head doctor is also comfortable with a responsibility beyond that of her job, as a rallying point for young women trying to break into a part of the game long closed to them.
Even now, four years after she was appointed to Chelsea’s first-team staff, Carneiro has to endure sexist, abusive chants from opposing fans when she treats players on the touchline. It reached a new low in March with some seriously weird abuse at Old Trafford, but the truth is many fans of opposition clubs find it impossible to let Carneiro walk past without the smutty 13-year-old boy in them taking over.
Carneiro’s gender and her appearance should be irrelevant in the high-pressure, highly skilled job she does but they are still the primary concern of thousands of – let’s face it – men watching games at the grounds where she works.
It is for this reason that when it comes to speaking about his first-team doctor, Jose Mourinho owes it to Carneiro to be ultra-careful. When he reacted furiously on Saturday to the decision by Carneiro and head physiotherapist Jon Fearn to treat Eden Hazard, thus reducing the number of players available to participate in the next phase of play, he was unintentionally opening the chute from a particularly toxic tank.
There is no question that Mourinho values Carneiro and her staff – he said on Friday that his trust in them was “absolute” – but what set the alarm off on Saturday evening was the public nature of his criticism, and, crucially, the terms in which he expressed it.
When he makes offhand comments about staff having to “understand the game”, he should know it plays into a subconscious narrative that a woman like Carneiro has no place on the Chelsea bench. For the men-boys in the stands this feeds their imagination about an outsider, a woman who acts on impulse – perhaps even, perish the thought, compassion – and therefore has no place among the warriors.
Let us get one thing straight: given how her medical department nursed Mourinho’s small pool of first-team players through last season, the reality is crystal clear. The Premier League trophy residing at Stamford Bridge demonstrates Carneiro knows modern football and the massive physical demands it makes on players as well as anyone.
As for Saturday against Swansea, regardless of the pressure in those closing stages, Mourinho owes a duty of care to Carneiro that he does not isolate an individual who, through no fault of her own, often finds herself isolated and abused out on the touchline. One imagines that Carneiro is the type who has never asked for special treatment in her life. But sometimes it behoves an employer to grant it nonetheless.
By way of comparison, her co-accused, the club’s head physio Fearn, works in entirely different circumstances. The criticism from his boss will hurt, but as a white, British male, he is of about as much interest to a boozed-up, testosterone-driven football crowd as one of the corner flags.
As Carneiro said in her lecture in Sweden, her job, like everyone else’s at Chelsea, is about results. But sometimes it can be about other things too and, with the club being run by a successful businesswoman, Marina Granovskaia, this could just be a cause that has sought Chelsea out. Certainly, a word from Mourinho would make a difference the next time Carneiro finds herself abused at a game.
Chelsea, like all big clubs, demand that back-room staff keep their counsel, which made Carneiro’s Facebook post yesterday, thanking people for their support, a subtly subversive act. As a rare public pronouncement it hinted at the depth of her feelings about Saturday’s episode. As one named by The Independent on Sunday this weekend among its 50 most influential women in sport, there can be no doubt that Carneiro is a strong character – you have to be to survive at Chelsea. But everyone has their limits.
In Sweden, she said that “80 to 90 per cent” of her correspondence was from young women who wanted a career like hers. “It’s our job,” she told her audience, “to encourage them and say, ‘Yes, it is possible’.” Chelsea had the foresight to place their trust in her and she has thrived under the pressure. Like every talented individual at the club, there has to be recognition that she can do so much alone, but also needs the support and consideration of others.
Wenger pretends his hands are tied in developing players
Arsène Wenger’s explanation for the lack of old-fashioned strikers and centre-halves produced by clubs these days made perfect sense until you remembered who it was saying it. Wenger said that the low quality of winter pitches in Europe in the past meant that “you had to lift the ball, had to go behind. Today the pitches are all perfect and in training, with only passing, we develop only midfielders, because all the education is about passing on the ground on perfect pitches.”
If this came from a despairing Football Association official, cut out of the development process by the big clubs, you could perhaps understand it. But unless I am very much mistaken, this is Arsène Wenger, manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world, and very much with oversight when it comes to the Arsenal academy. If he really believes this, he can change it tomorrow.
Gangs of New York fight to make MLS seem more real
Goodness knows, MLS craves authenticity, but the footage from Sunday of New York City and New York Red Bulls fans throwing bins at each other and chanting “Who are ya?” was enough to make you wonder whether this was a subtly hatched Green Street satire. It was almost 100 years before the culture of hooliganism and match-day violence erupted in British football. New York City have managed it 23 games into their existence. Who are ya? The truthful answer is no one really knows yet but that has not stopped them fighting over it.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies