Dalglish’s Problems With Press Are Often Justified

I haven’t been very kind to Kenny Dalglish in the past. I questioned his appointment as manager as I felt it a decision made by the heart not the head (a view that backfired at first, now I’m not so sure). I also detested the morose approach to the press, which borders much of the time as outright contempt. I’m no fan of many a journalist, but dealing with them is part of his job. And as for the handling of the Luis Suarez affair……. However, further comments he made this week could reveal more about his approach to public relations, and his attitude to the press, and he has a point really. Maybe the press deserve this off-hand approach. After all, it must wear down managers and club staff alike to constantly read the baseless speculation, sensationalism and outright lies that appear day-in, day-out in our national press.

Comments he made this week related to constant speculation linking Suarez to the cash-rich Paris St. Germain.
“It comes as a surprise to myself, that yourselves [journalists] don’t know how the media work,” Dalglish said in a press conference.
“It was a journalist that mentioned the list of names and it was the chairman that said ‘oh they are interesting’. It was a list of names and Suarez’s name was mentioned, but I don’t know if it was Luis Suarez. I don’t know what Suarez it is. Also if the guy who sends the story in, if it is not repeated anywhere else and it has no soul and is not attractive to a newspaper, they don’t get any money. So I think it will be interesting to yourselves to disclose to the general public where the story comes from, how they get there, instead of asking us questions every time somebody’s name appears in a paper,” he concluded.

Times change of course, and though Dalglish stayed involved with Liverpool throughout his managerial sabbatical, he now manages in a different world. That doesn’t mean he has to accept it.

And it’s a point I have also made many a time in the past. This is the world of 24-hour news, where endless broadcasting time, website space and pages of print must be continually filled with football news. The problem is, there really isn’t that much interesting news going around most of the time. So Apart from opinion pieces and outright lies, the void has been filled for years with speculation, normally little more than an agent trying to get his client a better deals. But hey, whatever works.

You’d think that the introduction of transfer windows would have helped stop this year-round speculation, but it seems to have had little effect. Out of contract players can sign any time, players can sign pre-contracts, and of course speculation can start for the next window.

And it is little surprise that the likes of Dalglish get upset. Quite simply, such speculation has the ability to unsettle players, though of course this works both ways. The problem is that it can backfire on a manager to be unfriendly to the press, even if the unfriendliness is justified. Many journalists are sensitive souls, happy to hold a grudge for quite a while. A great example was Garry Cook, who not only was lampooned regularly for his many utterances, but was hated by many a journalist, because he had the temerity to lie about looking for a successor to Mark Hughes (they clearly think he should have made this public. Deluded). Harry Redknapp is the perfect example of how the opposite approach can work – get your mates in the media, always have a quote and a quip to hand, and you’re pretty untouchable. Even a slump in form can be brushed aside as being due to uncertainty over the vacant England job.

Unfortunately for Dalglish, everybody loves a sensational news story. This is the era of churnalism, and using news wires for stories. As one regional reporter recently commented:

“A couple of websites report (a rumour) in Italy and then it gets picked up and reported as news by the website branch of a national radio station – this much-listened-to radio station employ their own Midlands’ reporters, who would have swiftly put their own web colleagues straight had their opinion been sought.”

“People are in such a rush to break stories that diligence no longer applies. Nobody bothers checking with clubs to see if a story is true. They might check with an agent to see if it’s true – in 11 years of working in football I’ve come across about a dozen agents I really trust – but even then they might not bother. Social media has not so much changed the way we work, it’s shredded the rule book too.”

Just think of some of the stories being reported by mainstream journalists in the summer (the January window was too boring to mention). Neymar was signing for Real Madrid. Manchester City were close to signing Gary Cahill. Manchester United had sealed the signing of Modric. They were definitely about to put in a £20m bid for Nasri. And so on, and so on. Were these stories checked out? Were the relevant people spoken to, or did they just run with it so the news could be out there before everyone else?

Nigel Reo Coker’s agent talked of a move to Napoli. The Daily Mail reckoned that ‘Jose Mourinho is ready to rival Manchester United and Liverpool in the £15m race for Ashley Young’. The Daily Star on the claimed Manchester City were to bid £30m + James Milner for Gareth Bale. The same day it was reported that Juventus wanted Ipswich striker Connor Wickham and Blackburn defender Phil Jones. The Mirror reported that City were going in for Christiano Ronaldo. City had previously been linked with Xavi by the same paper. The Metro newspaper, always first with the big stories, reported in mid-June that Manchester City and Chelsea would submit bids for David Villa if Barcelona choose to cash in on the Spanish international forward in order to fund a move for Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas. The next day, the Mirror said that Blackburn were after Emmanuel Adebayor, as part of a £30m spending spree. Next, at the People, came news of Joey Barton going to Arsenal. The Sun brought us news that Barcelona were planning a £27.5million bid for David Luiz. Manchester City were soon linked to Aquilani. The Daily Mirror then announced that ‘Blackburn are making a remarkable move for Spanish legend Raul – and hope to talk him into a final move to the Premier League.’ The Sunday Times gambled (and lost) its credibility by publishing the bombshell claim that Manchester United were considering buying Joey Barton from Newcastle. Into August, and the Mirror reported that Everton were willing to swap Jack Rodwell for Peter Crouch. On the 11th August, the Daily Mail ran a story linking Joey Barton to Zenit St Petersburg. And on, and on, and on……

It must drive managers mad to see this speculation every day, but it must madden them more to then have to answer questions in press conferences about it. The problem with Dalglish is he can’t hide his contempt. Though is that really a problem? Some of the questions asked in press conferences deserve contempt, deserve sarcasm, deserve a put-down. But ultimately, if Dalglish is to prosper as a manager once more, he might just have to accept that this is how it works now, and stop fighting it. Otherwise, it will drive him insane in the end.