It’s been a bad week for football managers. Quite apart from the growing pressure on the pitch as the season enters its home straight, there have been several high-profile problems in front of the cameras too.
David Moyes’ comments to BBC Reporter Vicki Sparks were arguably clumsy and somewhat cringe-worthy. But in my view, they weren’t intended as sexist nor vicious – just misjudged in the heat of the moment. Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho’s dismissive tone with another BBC reporter, Conor McNamara, in a post-match interview on Saturday was, at best, a little unnecessary.
Whatever you think about the severity (or not) of these individual incidents – there was another one a couple of months back involving Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola – they do belie what I think is a bigger issue. Namely, the media once again wanting to have their cake and eat it.
Picture the scene. You’ve just emerged from a high-octane, high-stress day at the office. One played out in front of a baying crowd and where tiny margins, some of them out of your control, could directly affect how long you remain employed. Then someone puts a camera in your face and asks you questions with the sole aim of coaxing you into saying something controversial so they can splash it all over their news ticker, social media or tomorrow’s front page.
These flash interviews are instigated by the media for one reason: to capture the intensity of match day and evoke the emotions of managers fresh from the battle to attract more viewers, listeners or readers. And that’s true whatever people like Jason Mohammad claim about being motivated solely by ‘doing it for the fans’. Yet when the managers show that emotion and react like most normal human beings tend to when deliberately antagonised by someone under pressure – namely by being a bit touchy and, dare I say, rude – the media run off complaining about respect and fair treatment.
Is it respectful when the entire print and broadcast media rounds on Wayne Rooney, branding him a national disgrace for having the temerity to make two newlyweds’ day by enjoying a drink with them on his night off? Is it fair when they chip away at people in a press conference desperately trying to expose a verbal chink, before spinning it into something crude and context-free on their back page? The examples are countless.
What’s more, when managers and players, long since burned by this treatment, go the other way and simply spew out a stream of safe nothing, the very same journalists and reporters complain about that too. What’s happened to our game when its protagonists are so heavily media trained that we can’t get anything interesting out of them? they ask. The hypocrisy is hard to ignore.
For the communications industry, there’s a learning in here. With media outlets battling harder than ever to differentiate themselves with bigger, bolder, more controversial story angles, our job is to help clients be brave enough to have an opinion without being at risk of becoming the next public punchbag – be that through brilliant storytelling, smart reputation management or by selecting the right representatives for the brand.
Sure, most of us don’t work in the increasingly divorced-from-reality world of Premier League football. But, whatever our sector or specialist subject, if the media want to have their cake and eat it, we must be more careful than ever about how we feed them.