Everton have resolved to pursue Jose Mourinho with the same tenacity that has enabled Chelsea to reel in Manchester United and will take legal action against the Portuguese manager unless he retracts allegations that Andrew Johnson dived during the champions' stunning late victory at Goodison Park on Sunday.
The club released a statement yesterday in conjunction with the England striker's agent, Anthony McFarlane, which urged Mourinho to apologise for accusing Johnson of cheating and for the football authorities to study those comments with a view to disciplinary action. A formal complaint is to be lodged with the Football Association today. The depth of Everton's anger is such, however, that unless a public retraction is forthcoming they are prepared to sue for defamation.
Mourinho erupted furiously when the £8.6m forward leapt over Chelsea goalkeeper Henrique Hilario in the 16th minute at Goodison Park having been pushed in the back by Khalid Boulahrouz. Though he chose his words carefully in a post-match press conference with the written media - insisting Johnson " is a dangerous opponent because you cannot trust him" and "in my country he would be called an intelligent player" - Mourinho told television the 25-year-old had dived and Everton, having sought legal advice ahead of the statement's release, believe there is sufficient evidence to pursue their grievance.
Everton are determined to act on the grounds that Mourinho's allegation could damage the value of their asset, that he was offensive and may effect the player's mental state. There is little doubt that Johnson's form has suffered since the inquest into his balance began and it is now 11 games since the former Crystal Palace striker scored.
"It's probably the reason Andy isn't getting penalties now," Phil Neville said yesterday. "He was pushed over against Chelsea, he was pushed over at Fulham, at Blackburn, against Arsenal here in the Carling Cup. Maybe he [Mourinho] should have a look at the incident on video, then have a look at himself in the mirror."
Everton have also been prompted to act by what they perceive as the hypocrisy in Mourinho's condemnation of Johnson. Only nine weeks ago, Mourinho vented his spleen at Steve Hunt of Reading for not pulling out of a challenge with Petr Cech, a collision that left his first-choice 'keeper with a fractured skull, yet wanted Johnson booked for taking evasive action against Hilario.
"In my eyes the referee gave what he saw," said Moyes, who shared Mark Halsey's opinion that it was not a penalty. "It shows that even such a good coach as Jose Mourinho gets it wrong and doesn't choose the right words at the right moment."