Why honesty is rarely the best policy in football

We may watch football on a daily basis, read the tabloids from cover to cover and enjoy every success while playing Football Manager, but the truth is we know very little about the intricate make-up of the modern game.

Our limited knowledge is tainted by speculation and rumour, which seem to abandon every facet of truth as they filter into mainstream consensus. This is why we strive to listen to player interviews, in an attempt to gain genuine insight into a life we can only dream of living.

However, the ramifications for complete honesty are increasingly severe. Players risk fines, suspensions or being dropped by their manager should they offer criticism and attract ridicule if they smear on the compliments for their team-mates or more likely, themselves.

Therefore players are trained in the ‘art’ of delivering mind-numbing clichés, while their agent or swarm of media professionals sit patiently in their shadows, waiting to pounce if an interview starts dancing around a controversial-yet-interesting topic. The only real occasion players can be sincere is while penning their autobiographies, but even then, how can we be sure players aren’t exaggerating events in order to flog more copies?

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Reporters endeavor to coax the most evocative answers from their subjects, but it’s rarely to gain interesting views and more to do with generating the most contentious headline. Post-match interviews are the worst, as players barely have the energy to stand up straight let alone form coherent sentences. But that doesn’t deter the likes of Geoff Shreeves, poking and prodding their way through questions with all the poise and grace of a bull in a china shop.

It’s no surprise that more and more players alienate themselves from the world’s media, forcing journalists to prey on the inexperienced and often naïve. Last weekend, on the eve of the January transfer window, Wilfried Zaha gave a candid interview announcing he was ‘ready for the Premier League’. The timing of the article will not have gone down well with Crystal Palace.

However, his ‘come and get me’ plea to the Premier League elite has been slightly twisted to provoke a greater reaction. Stories of him being desperate to leave or handing in a transfer request will inevitably follow, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of the exact words he said:

“To be honest, if I had the chance in January and Palace agreed, it’s something I’d want to go for.” (Daily Mail)

This isn’t a statement of intent, merely an honest answer that demonstrates an understandable level of ambition. I would rather he opted for this approach, rather than pledge his future to the club only to depart shortly after, like a certain other fallen idol in the form of Dougie Freedman.

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart is another player to have fallen foul of his decision to provide refreshing honesty. His cutting-yet-ingenuous remarks in the wake of the defeat to Real Madrid earned nationwide praise, as a demonstration that disproved the stereotype that players don’t actually care. However, Roberto Mancini wasn’t impressed and dished out criticism to the England international for his ‘unprofessional comments’. If the club possessed a competent number two, he may well have been dropped as a result.

Staying in Manchester, is it fair to suggest Mario Balotelli has fallen from grace since the initial enigma eroded away? In an interview with Noel Gallagher, the pair dismantled rumours of his fun-loving antics and merely showcased a deeply misunderstood man. Nowadays all that remains is a series of uninspiring performances, which has made it far easier for the media to turn against him. Perhaps he would have been better off maintaining the mystery.

In the latest issue of FourFourTwo, the magazine has assembled an anonymous survey of players across England and Scotland, obtaining a frank assessment of everything from match-fixing to racism. The results are fascinating, even haunting in the details but it also highlights the vast lengths people have to go to obtain honest answers from those within the game.

It’s perfectly understandable, players spend years carefully crafting a financially secure bubble to live in. Why would they risk threatening such a lifestyle with a carefree remark during a press conference or one-on-one interview? Then again, the advent of Twitter seems to have provided a detrimental platform to advertise the first thing that pops into their head.

There might be a thin veil that separates the opinions of supporters and players, but in truth they’ve never been further apart. For fans, football is a far cry from employment, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it’s nothing more than a job for the professionals. Once you realise that players will never be as dedicated to the club as you are, it’s difficult to view them in the same light. Honesty isn’t the sole reason there aren’t any idols in football anymore, but it certainly hasn’t helped.