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 By Ian Darke

Chelsea vs. PSG was an exhibition of everything that is wrong with football

Forget the result. What happened between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain in that modern-day Battle of Stamford Bridge was an affront to football. This festival of fouls and demonstration of the dark arts symbolised a culture of deceit which, if not checked, poses a serious threat to the game's future.

After a feisty first leg in Paris with seemingly a thousand free kicks, the second game was a powder keg waiting to explode. Chelsea, like too many modern teams in big games, clearly wanted to make a target of the opposition's danger man, in this case Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To get him booked or sent off. They succeeded in a manner which made the heart sink.

Ibra's challenge on Oscar was not a good one, but it was hardly the crime of the century. The Swede should have seen yellow for a reckless tackle. But with Chelsea's Brazilian midfield man living up to his name with an Academy Award-worthy display as he writhed in apparent agony, and his teammates crowding round referee Bjorn Kuipers to demand the ultimate sanction, Ibrahimovic was sent off. Perhaps Kuipers would have produced the red card anyway, but the histrionic and cynically calculated reaction of the Chelsea players made sure. It was a sickening spectacle.

Some might shrug their shoulders and say this is just how it is these days in top matches. But it really does not have to be like this.

At its best the modern game is fast, dynamic, stylish and beautiful, as we saw many times at the World Cup in Brazil. But here was a sorry and pathetic exhibition of everything that is wrong with football.

Jose Mourinho's eve-of-match portrayal of Paris Saint-Germain as a dirty team fed on a diet of red meat was all part of the plot, a transparent attempt to plant a seed in the mind of the referee. It obviously worked. Indeed, Mourinho's approach to a game that his team only needed to draw 0-0 to qualify casts a shadow on his reputation as some sort of European mastermind.

Even with the opposition reduced to 10 men, Chelsea's lethargic outfit showed little interest in pressing home their advantage and going for the jugular. They were spoiling with Cesc Fabregas cast as "the Invisible Man" and the combustible Diego Costa looking as if he could start a fight in a churchyard.

Incensed by the overreaction to the Ibrahimovic incident, the French team were not blameless as the game descended into a series of arguments with the ref, niggly fouls, attempted dives and players feigning injury in the hope of getting their fellow professionals booked. You wondered how some parents watching on TV were explaining this level of supposed "gamesmanship" to their children.

Belatedly, a football match broke out and, even with 10 men, PSG demonstrated what we had witnessed in Paris, that they were the superior side and fully deserved to go through. Strangely, this might have been the night when they truly came of age as a European power.

Mourinho was graceful enough to admit his team had been outplayed, while still harping on about PSG's robust approach. The reality is that Laurent Blanc's side were the only ones trying to play on the night, with Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore, Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta the best performers on view.

There was a kind of karma at work as David Luiz delivered a crucial goal against his old club only hours after Mourinho had told journalists: "We miss him as a person, but not as a centre-half." Well, the centre-halves the Chelsea boss clearly prefers certainly went missing on both PSG goals.

This was more than a defeat for Chelsea, who must now concentrate on securing the Premier League title with their egos battered. It was a reverse that should make Mourinho think. He is a clever coach, but there are times when he imbues his teams with a negative pragmatism, which means they will rarely be loved.

For an hour, it was one of the most ugly and unpleasant games since the 2010 World Cup final in which the Netherlands tried to kick Spain off the park.

As suggested by former Premier League referee Graham Poll, FIFA need to issue a directive that only the captain can approach the referee during a game. Anyone else needs to know they will be booked. That would quickly put a stop to the kind of unedifying scenes we witnessed on Wednesday.

The only other postscript is that the supposed "best league in the world," the Premier League, will be without a representative in the Champions League quarterfinals unless Arsenal can win by three goals in the return leg at Monaco, an improbable scenario.

It may be that the Premier League is so demanding every single week that it is leaving teams mentally drained for European assignments. Or could it be that the league is higher on drama and excitement than quality, and its leading teams are not nearly as good as they might imagine? 

Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN's lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.


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