London – Players and ex-professionals spoke out in support of Eden Hazard on Thursday after the Chelsea winger was sent off for kicking a ball boy in a League Cup game at Swansea City.
Hazard was shown a straight red card by referee Chris Foy in the 80th minute of Wednesday's semi-final second leg after attempting to kick the ball from beneath a ball boy who was lying on top of it, apparently deliberately.
The pair later apologised to each other, but Hazard could still face charges from the Football Association after receiving the first red card of his career.
The boy was identified in media reports as Charlie Morgan, the 17-year-old son of Swansea director Martin Morgan.
In a message on his Twitter account written before the game, Charlie Morgan appeared to joke that he would try to waste time in a bid to help the home side protect their 2-0 aggregate lead.
“The king of all ball boys is back making his final appearance #needed #for #timewasting,” he wrote.
By 1.30pm on Thursday, the account had attracted over 84,000 followers, although Charlie Morgan had not written anything since the incident.
Stoke City striker Michael Owen defended Hazard's actions on Twitter, writing: “Both the kid and Hazard were in the wrong. Not having (accepting that) Hazard tried to hurt him though. He just tried to toe poke it out of his grip.”
Tottenham Hotspur winger Gareth Bale also sided with the Belgian international, tweeting: “Unbelievable decision by the referee to send Hazard off but congrats to Swansea.”
Hazard, 22, was Chelsea's star close-season signing, arriving from French club Lille for a reported fee of £32 million. He has made an impressive start to life at Stamford Bridge, scoring eight goals and laying on 12 assists in 37 games, and one of his Chelsea predecessors, Pat Nevin, believes he was more sinned against than sinning at Swansea.
“I would have kicked the ball out from underneath the ball boy if he had been lying like that, 100 per cent,” Nevin told BBC Radio 5 Live.
The former Chelsea winger also branded Charlie Morgan's behaviour “disgraceful”.
“I was very, very disappointed by the way the ball boy acted, and I say 'acted',” he said.
“He must have been watching footballers, the way he rolled around and pretended to be more injured. He only has one job and his job is to go and give the ball back, and what did he do? He keeps the ball.
“I have to say I was absolutely amazed this morning to find he is 17 – not 12, not 13. He should know what his action should be in that situation. His behaviour was disgraceful.”
However, former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher said Foy had made the right decision in showing Hazard a straight red card.
“The referee has taken the correct action,” he said.
“It's against the laws of the game to commit violent conduct on anyone under the jurisdiction of the game.
“I can't reinforce how switched on the officials were. It would have been so easy for the assistant referee not to pick that (incident) up – but he did.”
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez criticised the ball boy for “wasting time”, but Swansea vice-chairman Leigh Dineen said Hazard had been wholly in the wrong.
“You can't kick out at anybody. I don't think you can do that. If it was done on the field of play, there would be plenty of questions to be answered,” he said.
Swansea will face fourth-tier Bradford City in the tournament final on February 24, and Dineen joked that the south Wales club would consider taking their own ball boys to Wembley for the game.
“If we need to,” he said. “I am sure Wembley will have their own.” – Sapa-AFP