Another weekend, another cocktail of football fixtures shrouded in controversy. The world’s press have had time to chew over, digest and reflect on all the action and as usual there’s little focus on the actual football that was on show.
The game at Old Trafford was inevitably going to grab the headlines, with such games steeped in a rivalry and tradition unrivalled throughout the league. But alas, it was the notorious sub-plot between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez that stoked the fire underneath this clash of behemoths.
United emerged victorious from a match comprised of feisty tackles, excessive celebrations and tunnel bust-ups. A typically defiant Dalglish gave a less than flattering post match interview, which he has since apologised for, in which he suggested that Sky’s round the clock news coverage served only to magnify the pre-match tension.
Seemingly angered by the innocuous and foreseeable questions from Sky reporter Geoff Shreeves, Dalglish retorted:
“Do you know something else? See when we had the FA Cup tie, because it wasn’t on a 24-hour news channel in the build-up to the game, nothing like this happened.”
He refused to place sole blame on the news channel but has nevertheless stirred up an interesting debate, is media scrutiny having an adverse affect on football?
The arrival of Sky Sports undoubtedly revolutionised the sport with its innovative technology and in-depth coverage. Before Sky established a mainstream foothold in society, we had to make do with Grandstand, a TV series I only watched for its theme tune before seeking out Football Italia on Channel 4.
Football is relentlessly shoved under a microscope, with an army of people analysing and dissecting every aspect in pain-staking detail. Swarms of TV cameras capture every incident, leaving plenty of professionals red faced as they realise there’s nowhere left to hide.
Sky Sports News enables us to hook ourselves up to a continuous drip feed of information, which gently ekes out content as they await the next big news story. Their coverage often runs dry of interesting subject matter and ends up staining your eyes with the same monotonous footage over and over again. This in turn forces the presenters – who often resemble the old fashioned and slightly unnerving Uncle/Niece format – to blow any new developments way out of proportion. Their breaking news ticker, which was ripped from parent channel Sky News, famously considered the arrival at the studio of popular co-host Jim White as newsworthy during a particularly uneventful stage of the transfer deadline day.
The transfer deadline day has become a landmark in the sporting calendar, and I will gladly admit to being one of the hoards of football fans glued to the screen for its entire duration. However, despite its obvious appeal, it does raise the issue of the media’s worrying new intrusive measures implemented to uncover that elusive story. All creditable news sources are largely ignored as the event descends into chaos, thriving on speculation and petty gossip.
Sky deploys its journalists at training grounds across the country, who camp outside the gates hoping for any arrivals, developments or simply a quote from a club representative. In any other circumstances, these traits of a seasoned stalker would force the police to quickly escort them from the premises.
Another worrying aspect of the exhaustive coverage is its ability to completely destroy a player’s confidence. Whether it’s an ongoing goal drought, a mistake in the previous game or a particularly large transfer fee, the constant heat from the media spotlight is almost impossible to ignore.
Fernando Torres has endured a torrid start to his Chelsea career and despite his series of promising performances, all the talk in the media has focused on his impotence in front of goal. The pressure builds and builds each week until they ridicule him for finally finding the net or he leaves the club like a certain other expensive European striker.
At the other end of the pitch, David De Gea has found himself the centre of attention thanks to a few suspect performances and a stray doughnut. United’s much publicised troubled past with replacing their veteran goalkeepers has arguably placed a degree of unnecessary pressure on the young Spaniard.
It has to be said that it’s not all ‘the medias’ fault. Players often make themselves an easy target with their misguided and often ill-thought out online presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s only fitting that instances like Ravel Morrison’s recent homophobic tweet are brought to light in order to set an example of wrongdoing, not just to fellow professionals but to the young viewing public as well.
The power in the symbiotic relationship between Sky and the Premier League has slowly started to shift towards the media giants, with clubs increasing dependence on the income from TV revenue. Sky has shrugged off the competition from ITV digital and most recently Setanta Sports to establish itself as the leading sports broadcasting organisation. Their hype-fuelled coverage is undeniably at the peak of technological advancement but there will always be an insatiable greed for more.
At its best Sky showcases a vastly entertaining spectacle but its cold-hearted, vulgur nature is all too eager to emerge and divert attention away from the sport. It’s the pump that has inflated so many egos and it’s increased financial benefits for clubs has arguably allowed chairmen to be more ruthless with their managerial axe.
I simply long for the day when I can watch a match without hearing the phrase, ‘the game today was overshadowed by…’
Come and find me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I’ll be endlessly protesting until Georgie Thompson returns to Sky Sports News.