- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

LONDON (AP) - For one of the sharpest - and most-admired - minds in football, Jose Mourinho is becoming increasingly predictable with his attempts to cast Chelsea as the victims of a grand conspiracy.

To hear Mourinho tell it, it’s as if pundits and the media conspire to undermine Chelsea by agreeing on a line of attack that then is then executed as part of a mysterious “campaign.” A Chelsea player tumbling in the penalty area is labeled a diver. A Chelsea player who catches an opponent’s ankle has executed a vicious stamp.

And the referees, according to Mourinho’s mantra, are susceptible enough to all this campaigning that it can affect their decision-making during a match.

There is of course no grand conspiracy, as imagined by Mourinho, being played out. But it is easy for him to rail against outside targets - just as he did at Real Madrid, where he managed to turn a large section of Spanish media against him.

In Mourinho’s mind, Chelsea striker Diego Costa was only banned for three games for stamping on Emre Can in last week’s League Cup semifinal win over Liverpool because of criticism by former Liverpool player Jamie Redknapp and media scrutiny.

“What you call stamps and Sky (TV) calls crimes, I have to say absolutely accidental,” Mourinho said after the game. “Great campaign. We know how much that pundit loves Chelsea and particularly loves me.”

It was not the most heinous action by a player, certainly not as violently calculated as Luis Suarez’s past bites, but stamping on a rival’s ankle could have caused serious injury.

Before the Football Association’s fast-tracked retrospective sanctioning of Costa for treading on Can - the Spain striker was cleared of stamping on Martin Skrtel - the governing body punished Mourinho for a misdemeanor the previous month.

The decision to book Cesc Fabregas for diving at Southampton - revealed by replays to be a bad decision by the referee - led to Mourinho first claiming there is “a clear campaign” in which the media is influencing referees’ decision.

“People, pundits, commentators, coaches from other teams - they react with Chelsea in a way they don’t react to other teams,” Mourinho said. “They put lots of pressure on the referee and the referee makes a mistake like this.”

The FA fined Mourinho last Thursday 25,000 pounds ($38,000) for this outburst, deciding they were “improper and brought the game into disrepute.”

Although Mourinho was cleared of implying the refereeing was biased, the constant insinuations that officials are professionally inadequate, even pre-disposed to act against Chelsea, are damaging for football.

For referees, protecting their integrity is everything. Without it their authority is neutered.

During Saturday’s game against Manchester City, it even seemed that Mourinho was attempting to be sent to the stands with his constant goading of officials.

That game also demonstrated the success of Mourinho’s ability to construct a siege mentality around the Premier League leaders, with Chelsea fans now amplifying his campaign against the media - particularly former players in broadcast jobs. Mourinho’s complaints against British broadcaster Sky led to Chelsea fans chanting an obscenity about Redknapp, the former Liverpool and England international who now works for the broadcaster.

Mourinho’s fight with the media industry is on his terms.

The former Real Madrid coach’s bank balance is healthily augmented by his sideline career in the media. Last year he was on the payroll of Internet giant Yahoo to work as a World Cup pundit. He now promotes BT Sport in Britain, the television network which is the greatest threat to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky.

For now, though, no one is hearing Mourinho’s thoughts. Despite the league trumpeting how a record number of global television rights holders descended on west London for Saturday’s game against City, they all left without hearing from Mourinho, whose self-imposed vow of silence is unlikely to last long.

If the Premier League imposes its rules to the letter, Chelsea would be fined for snubbing the broadcasters who fund the team’s success.

Perhaps he should just emulate Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks, who responded 29 times to answers at the pre-Super Bowl media day: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”

If Chelsea is a champion again come May, Mourinho will undoubtedly judge the verbal skirmishes with officials and the media to have been worthwhile.

Even if he creates a few more enemies.

___

Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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