They have, at the end of the day, become a cliché-driven staple of all sporting occasions, where managers and players alike give 110% and take each question as they come so as to keep their feet on the ground and not get ahead of themselves. I am, of course, talking about the performance art that are sporting press conferences and post-match interviews. Now accepted as part and parcel of the beautiful game of two halves, men whose jobs are ostensibly organising eleven superstars are forced to come up with witticisms to rival Oscar Wilde or rhetoric to match Winston Churchill.
In recent weeks, however, there has been a few high profile challenges to this institution on both sides of the Atlantic. Following his side’s 1-1 draw with Champions Manchester City, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was nowhere to be seen, having already sent coach Steve Holland to the pre-match duties. Mourinho has always had a tempestuous relationship with the media, especially in Spain where he repeatedly fell out with the Madrid-based newspapers. He often displays all of the failings with the interview culture that has developed, in which obvious double-speak is criticised and yet genuine honesty is monetarily penalised. Perhaps his most memorable performance was following his side’s 2-1 shock defeat to Sunderland last season, he described referee Mike Dean’s performance as ‘unbelievable’ in an interview dripping with sarcasm. The system the FA use to charge managers for inappropriate comments could not handle this most British of humour and Jose escaped unpunished.
In a similar act of defiance, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch answered almost every question at his side’s pre-Super Bowl media day with the phrase, ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined’ a reference to the rumoured $500,000 penalty he was threatened with had he not made himself available for the event. Lynch has also had his fair share of fallouts with the American media and this drastic step was his way of fighting back.
It needn’t be like this, however. Post-match interviews should exist to allow players and managers the chance to connect with fans and explain their ideas with journalists, should they so choose. They should not be a chore or a burden, they should not be done on journalists’ terms. We want all sporting personalities that we talk with to feel like they can express themselves freely without being tripped up, taken out of context or even worse, fined for speaking their minds.
This climate of battle between mangers or players and the media creates disdain and mistrust on both sides, a trait clearly displayed by Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal and British tennis superstar Andy Murray. Both have media personas of being curt, dismissive and obstinate, due simply to their unwillingness to play the PR game expected of sports stars. Van Gaal especially, a man who has won a Champions League and seven league titles in a twenty-three year career has earned the right not to have to respond to moronic questions with tired platitudes. He is instead following the example of Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who when once asked for ‘a quick word’ in the tunnel after a game, replied ‘velocity’ and walked away.
This is just one of a vast array of one liners, or often many more in the case of Ian Holloway, that fill the pages of ‘football funny’ books, or get hundreds of thousands of hits on the Lad Bible but still undermine the process. Holloway, who’s press conferences whilst Plymouth and Blackpool boss bordered on self-parody, only talks about ‘badgers in mating season’ or getting a bad looking bird into the taxi as an attempt to subvert the humdrum protocols of press officers and PR experts. Indeed, we are coming up to the twenty year anniversary of Eric Cantona’s infamous, baffling ‘seagulls following the trawler’ metaphor when he was wheeled out in front of the British press following his suspension for kicking a Crystal Palace fan. There is little to say in such a situation, Cantona had already expressed his contrition and yet he was still hounded, so he thought he’d have some fun himself. It is understandable.
If these charades are to continue, we need to get to the heart of why they exist at all. They quench our thirst to idolise our sports stars, we hang on their every word as disciples of their bullshit. This cult of celebrity undermines the whole process. Every word is poured over, scrutinised and criticised all over the world to the point where clichés, sarcasm or silence are a manager’s only option. Jose should not be punished for criticising poor match officials when the situation justifies. Instead, we should complain about the journalists asking boring questions, managers for giving untruthful answers and press officers and governing bodies for tying their hands in the first place. Maybe then we will get some quotes worth talking about.