Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a Harry Redknapp press conference at Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground. The assembled journalists knew the drill. Wait outside the front entrance until you are called, then go straight through to the conference room and wait for Harry. Don’t take any detours and don’t talk to the players. Sky Sports ask the questions for the T.V. section then it’s cameras off and the print journalists get their time. Unless Redknapp himself says something astounding and controversial, (which is highly unlikely in these tightly run affairs, co-ordinated by the Spurs press officer) it is up to the press to find the angle and make the headlines.
The players are unapproachable these days, and heavily PR trained when they are allowed to face the media but has this distance, this inability to get a direct source of quotes, led to an increase in sensationalist journalism? I don’t think so. I think this distancing of the players is a response to such journalism and a response to the increasingly high stakes in football. Players must now be far more careful what they say so it’s best just to keep them away from trouble.
The English media has an ever-worsening reputation for it’s ruthlessness in chasing and generating headlines. As the current News of the World scandal shows, there are no depths they will not stoop to. The pressure in football has been escalating for years. (It is particularly noticeable in World Cup years as papers simultaneously support and undermine the national team). In April 2006 Luiz Felipe Scolari became linked with the England job and ruled himself out because of the media pressure. ‘There are 20 reporters outside my house…If that is part of another culture, it is not part of my culture…. I don’t want this situation involving England because in two days during which I was not coach, I never agreed to anything, my life was invaded. My privacy was totally under siege.” Scolari highlighted the problem of the English media perfectly.
It is the right choice to keep the players away from this feeding frenzy. Whilst it may force newspapers to speculate endlessly, I feel quite sure that they would do so anyway. If you give them an inch they will take a mile, best not to give them anything at all.
The media is sensationalist in all aspects, not just football. Keeping the players away from journalists has not escalated sensationalism, it is a response to it.