This week an interesting football match broke out in Scotland! The final Old Firm game of the season was expected to be a strange affair and surely it was – strangely full of decent attacking football and strings of passes from both teams. Maybe the lack of meaning in the game allowed football to emerge instead of the usual frenzy.
It was also notable, after the fact, for an outburst of plain speaking from the two managers. Wily Walter Smith raged against Celtic’s Andreas Hinkel’s pre-match comments (“He should ask himself if he is proud of the way they have played over the last few seasons”) while Neil Lennon retorted that it is not Smith’s place to criticise Celtic players – that’s his job.
This makes me wonder. Why don’t football people speak the truth more often instead of the usual facile platitudes?
I can think of a handful of footballing people who give good quote: Mourinho, Ferguson, Strachan, Holloway. Wenger’s recent Playstation football comparison for Lionel Messi was genius. Cantona’s quote, the title of this article, has achieved cult status. But interview most managers and almost any player and you get blandness on a Michael Owen scale: at the end of the day, it’s all about putting the ball in the net, the players are 100% behind the manager, blah blah blah.
Well, for a start it’s fair to say that many footballers are not that bright. I don’t say that to be elitist, but the fact is many people are not that bright (I read somewhere that half of all people have below-average intelligence!). Also throw in the fact that most footballers are taken out of the education system relatively early – it’s always noted with wonder when a footballer holds a degree (Steve Coppell, BA in Economics!) or even has a decent set of secondary school results (Frank Lampard has three A-levels!). And that’s no surprise when you can get a full-time job playing football at age 16. Hell, I’d have given up my highers for that. But maybe they should be taught to deal with the fourth estate instead.
Reason number two would be mistrust of the press. And for good reason: when they’re not busy exposing England’s father of the year as someone who cheats on his wife with a co-worker’s girlfriend, they’re liable to twist and sensationalise anything you do say. Taking the Hinkel example, what he said wasn’t really that inflammatory: “We know we cannot turn the season around but our next game is against the champions and we can show we can beat them.” The Record headline? “We’re still a better team than Rangers despite losing title race”. So best to avoid saying anything remotely interesting, eh?
Reason number three: some footballers are just dull. I have it on good authority from a London Tartan Army (“Loony Alba”) member that a prominent Scotland international and Rangers player is the most boring person he’s ever met. I think he went along to one of their Player of the Year awards and has never been invited back! Again, in every workplace there’s that guy you don’t want to be stuck talking to at the Xmas party. You think football teams don’t have them? Think again.
Reason number four: talking about your work is boring – it’s work, after all. Say you work in an office, and as you’re leaving at the end of the day Chick Young jumps out with a microphone. “How do you feel about today’s business,” he asks. “Errr… well… I didn’t get much done in the morning but after lunch I managed to plough through a lot of email that had been building up.” Insightful, eh? Football is a job to footballers – they’re training five days a week and playing on the sixth – so it must be difficult to get worked up enough to say anything interesting. If you’ve ever read the average footballer’s autobiography, well, you know what I mean.
Reason number five: It’s all been said already. Some say that there are only seven plots in literature, and similarly how much is there really to say about football? Especially when some games are, frankly, pretty mundane. All the hype over the wonderful English Premiership only exacerbates this – there are whole channels that need to fill airtime so everything is regurgitated and repeated endlessly. Maybe Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport is the original problem here – does any country really need a daily newspaper devoted to sport?
So with such a mountain of repetitive and uninteresting news out there, it’s no wonder the occasional blast of truth stands out a mile. It’s also why the press mess their trousers over the likes of Jose Mourinho – the man has made a career over giving memorable press conferences. He even managed to christen himself “The Special One” at his first meeting with the press as Chelsea manager.
I’ve always wondered if this reticence in dealing with the media is a uniquely British phenomenon. In the US, it is standard for reporters to be allowed into the locker room where they have complete access to all players. Contrast this to the tradition in the UK, where at 5pm on a Saturday one player is hauled out to talk to the Sunday papers, and a different player for the Monday papers (so the quotes aren’t the same). In the US it’s part of the job description, in the UK it’s a pain in the arse.
So, I’d like to make this offer to any professional footballers out there: I guarantee I can boost your profile and income more than either of those by mastering the media and making yourself stand out with sublime verbiage that sells papers. You have your coach working on your football skills, and your agent looking after your financial interests, but a few well-placed words to the right reporter is a surefire short-cut to success.
You can reach me via The Dear, and my rates are reasonable.
Photo Credit: Kenny Maths