It would be wrong to demonise the Chelsea player as a flint-hearted bully for trying to get the ball from a 17-year-old who knew exactly what he was doing
Apologies in advance if any of this sounds harsh but there was a point, before Eden Hazard was shown the real thing, when it would have been no surprise if Charlie Morgan had bravely staggered to his feet and started waving an imaginary red card towards the referee.
That doesn't mean Hazard was right to deliver the sharp little kick with which he tried to dislodge the ball from beneath the Swansea City ballboy, even if it was a mix of naivety, impatience and silliness rather than anything genuinely malevolent. The basic fact – footballer kicks ballboy! – still represents something ignominious for Chelsea whatever the defence argument and however much the boy in question appears to have had a premeditated plan to annoy the hell out of Swansea's opponents.
They are, however, mitigating circumstances that should persuade the Football Association that it is probably better to leave it be rather than punishing Hazard any further than his automatic three-match ban for violent conduct.
Certainly this is not the story of some gnarled old professional booting a teary 11-year-old innocent. Charlie was not there because he had won a competition at school. He is 17, only five years younger than the Chelsea player, and sitting in a place surely more appropriate for children just coming out of that age when it is still acceptable to exchange milk teeth for pound coins.
The photograph on his Twitter account shows him clutching a can of Strongbow while his mate prefers Foster's. He is not a particularly big lad but still roughly the same size as Hazard and, plainly, he was willing to use every inch as he played dead on top of the ball instead of returning it the old-fashioned way. The Swansea Evening Post is calling him "a cult-hero" and, if he's not busy arranging a deal with a tabloid newspaper, one suspects Charlie might enjoy recounting the story to his mates this weekend, holding his ribs and pointing out where it hurts, much like Basil Fawlty used to reach for the old shrapnel wound.
Whatever the scale of thespianism, however, the bottom line is that Hazard was inviting trouble by kicking at the ball when he should have had the common sense to take a step back and point out to the referee what was happening. Various footballers have spoken out on his behalf, citing some form of teenage entrapment, and they would be right, to a degree, but Rafael Benítez's view on the matter was pretty accurate. They were both in the wrong, Chelsea's manager said. Charlie, the director's son who got the job as a family perk, thought he had the right to try to influence a sporting event watched by millions of people. Hazard, the professional who should have known better, let him do just that.
The irony here is both delicious and dismaying: a Premier League footballer sent off for kicking a ballboy (deliberately or not) who seems a dab hand in the art of time-wasting and exaggerating injury and who almost certainly learned these tricks from – that's right – watching the Premier League.
There was a time when a ballboy's basic duties were simple: get the ball and return it to the nearest player as quickly as possible. Very often that boy or girl would be so young they would have to use both hands to carry it. At times you would see them make a nervous, unco-ordinated attempt to catch the ball as it dropped from the skies. The crowd might even cheer a successful catch.
What happens now – not everywhere, but enough places for it to be a definite pattern – is very different. Rules have been put in place. Not official rules, but everyone is drilled with the same instructions. Ballboys are ball-teens now. They might be given towels if the pitch is wet and told to give the ball a quick dry if it is a throw-in to the home side. If it's the opposition, don't bother – keep the ball greasy, roll it back slowly rather than throw it. Don't worry if it's a few feet short, as long as it breaks the opposition's momentum. Neil Warnock's teams, particularly Sheffield United, have traditionally been very good at this – or bad, depending on where you stand.
But it's a common trend. "You tell the people who are instructing the ballboys that if you are winning, don't give the ball back quickly," Glenn Hoddle admitted during his television analysis of Wednesday's match. "That's your home advantage, in a way."
Charlie, it turns out, has been sitting by the touchline at Swansea's home matches for the past six years. Which puts himself alongside Leon Britton in terms of long service. Is this a regular thing then? Are Swansea in on the act? Naturally, they deny it but Charlie doesn't half give himself away on his Twitter feed, describing himself before the match as the "king of ballboys" and saying he was "needed for time-wasting."
None of this excuses Hazard's own decision-making but, at the same time, let's not demonise him as a flint-hearted bully. He was trying to get the ball, which was his right bearing in mind Chelsea were losing 2-0 in a cup semi-final with 12 minutes of normal time remaining. He went about it the wrong way and, for that, he will be fined, suspended and embarrassed. What this case does not need is an FA inquiry or the involvement of South Wales Police, unless it's a criminal offence these days to land Chelsea with another load of embarrassing headlines. In which case half the dressing room would be banged up.
As for Charlie, he is old enough to be playing professional football but also at an age when the odd moment of immaturity can probably be expected. Whatever his local paper says, though, when he is older and wiser he might realise, perhaps, that his sudden piece of notoriety actually went a long way towards shifting the focus from what should have been a night of immense celebration for Swansea.
The club Charlie supports have never been to a final in their 100-year existence, yet the first question for Michael Laudrup in his post-match press conference was nothing to do with Wembley or what it felt like to beat the Champions League winners over two legs. It was about a silly footballer and a silly boy, both of whom are probably old enough to have known a little bit better.