LONDON (AP) — Just when it seemed Chelsea’s reputation couldn’t sink any lower, along came “Ballboygate.”
The Football Association’s disciplinary body will review the game after winger Eden Hazard was sent off for kicking a 17-year-old ball boy while attempting to retrieve the ball near the end of a League Cup semifinal match against Swansea on Wednesday.
The Belgian winger has apologized to the ball boy — and will not face criminal charges — but will be handed a minimum three-match ban for violent conduct. The FA could increase the suspension in “exceptional circumstances.”
The European champions likely will face more accusations that its millionaire players are out of control, soon after the racism scandals involving John Terry, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel in 2012.
“There’s no defense for that,” former referee Dermot Gallagher said. “It was an extreme, but you can’t have that at a football match.”
The kick sparked a flurry of activity on social networking sites and induced imaginative headlines in British newspapers, such as “Ed Case,” ”Occupational Hazard” and “Boots of Hazard.” BBC radio has already been referring to it as “Ballboygate.”
Some ex-professionals sympathized with Hazard, who was attempting to get the ball into play quickly with Chelsea needing late scoring to force extra time. The match finished 0-0, with Swansea advancing to the final 2-0 on aggregate goals.
“I’m not saying its the correct thing 2 do but when in the heat of the moment u just want the ball,” Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar wrote on Twitter.
For Chelsea, controversy seems to hover over the English club.
“I do not know what you expect from me,” Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. “Do you think we are not disappointed with the situation, that we do not regret what happened?
“Do you want to change things? We cannot.”
Chelsea probably wishes it could change several circumstances in the past 12 months, except for its unexpected Champions League title in May.
Team captain Terry was banned for four matches for hurling a racial slur at an opponent during a league game. The case, which also involved Cole, took a year to be resolved.
In November, a complaint by Chelsea that one of its black players — Mikel — had been subjected to racist abuse by a referee during a game was dismissed by the FA. Referee Mark Clattenburg was removed from duty by the Premier League for four straight weekends.
Chelsea responded quickly to the latest situation, putting an apology from Hazard on its website. There are reports the ball boy was welcomed into the locker room and treated well by Terry and Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s two most senior players.
“Both parties have come together and we’ve got a mutual bond,” Gallagher said. “That is brilliant for the future, but it doesn’t escape the fact that the FA are duty bound to act.”
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