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It's a funny old game

Steve Jones considers the parallels between the apparent disputes between Jose Mourinho and the Chelsea Board of Directors that led to his recent departure from the club, and the current management issues affecting the European Patent Office.

So Chelsea FC have finally parted company with Jose Mourinho, the self-styled “Special One”, who led the club to glory in the past, but this year has presided over a spectacular decline.

In a season marked by one calamity after another, Mourinho first fell out with his club’s medical staff, criticising their conduct and calling them “impulsive and naïve”. The club doctor left, and has since begun legal proceedings against the club and Mourinho personally, alleging constructive dismissal.

Criticism of referees in general, and a half-time rant at one referee in particular, led to further brushes with authority. Throughout, Mourinho’s post-match assessments were widely regarded as so far removed from reality as to be ludicrous. A 3-0 hammering by Manchester City was for him “fake”, and his team had had the game “completely under control” against Everton, despite conceding two goals in 22 minutes and ultimately losing 3-1. It has been suggested that the “Special One” had become the “Deluded One”.

Most significantly, under Mourinho’s leadership, his key employees have underperformed, those who scored the goals and kept the clean sheets last season playing like a shadow of their former selves. It was widely speculated that Mourinho had “lost the dressing room”. The club’s Technical Director spoke of “palpable discord between manager and players”.

Rumours emerged that the Chelsea Board of Directors had met to discuss Mourinho’s future. Sure enough, they had, and when the end came, it was brutal: “results have not been good enough this season and [we] believe it is in the best interests of both parties to go our separate ways”.

Meanwhile, at the European Patent Office, a parallel drama continues to unfold. An unnamed member of the Boards of Appeal remains suspended following allegations of misconduct. That employment dispute rumbles on. Representatives of the EPO’s key workforce, the examiners, are reported to be at loggerheads with their management. Industrial action has taken place on several occasions, and like Mourinho, the EPO’s President Battistelli has criticised his strikers. Those who might be regarded as the EPO’s star players, the members of the Board of Appeal, are similarly at odds with Mr Battistelli, and resistant to his proposals for reform of that body, including his proposal to play it out of position in Vienna, instead of Munich. The pronouncements of Mr Battistelli are widely criticised, and representatives of the examiners, representatives of the Boards of Appeal and representatives of patent attorneys’ organisations feel it necessary to set out their concerns publicly. Has Mr Battistelli too “lost the dressing room”?

The EPO’s “Board of Directors”, the Administrative Council has the ultimate say in the direction of the EPO. So far, the Administrative Council has apparently not intervened in the struggles within the EPO. However, if unconfirmed reports are correct, it now seems that Mr Battistelli’s proposals for reform of the Boards of Appeal have been rejected outright by the Administrative Council. If true, that is a serious blow to the President.

Was Chelsea’s Board too quick to act? Has the Administrative Council been too tolerant?

Will a change of management at Chelsea win back the dressing room and reverse that club’s decline? Would a change of management at the EPO solve the problems currently besetting that organisation? We will soon know the answer to the first of those questions. Perhaps in 2016 we should be given the opportunity to learn the answer to the second.

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