Loose talk abroad sows seeds of doubt
It’s been eerily quiet on the tittle-tattle front this week. I can’t recall any high-profile players agitating for this, that or the other from their clubs. Now last week, that was a different matter. Because it was international week and normal rules don’t apply. Hugo Lloris, Bacary Sagna and Marouane Fellaini all spoke about their employers in unflattering terms.
There will have been other players abroad, too, planting the seeds of doubt from afar by “placing” well-chosen quotes from the apparent safety of their national squad and with trusted scribes who speak the same language. Yet always, after those quotes have caused a stir “back home”, they will retreat into the default mode of “it was lost in translation”.
Much of it will have been. Foreign players who play in the Premier League feel more comfortable talking to journos in their native tongue and although they might be a tad more open with their comments than to the UK media, and more open than they possibly should be, there is always the danger that their words will be miscontrued when converted into English.
Any newspaper hound worth his salt will be looking for the mildest form of criticism, on the wire services or worldwide web, to quickly turn it into a “Player X hits out at Club Z” shock horror probe. And let’s face it, in a slow period for day-to-day Premier gossip, the hard-pressed hound still has column inches to fill.
From a journo’s perspective, for those who operate on the “Home Nations” beats, international breaks can be mind-numbingly boring. The Press conferences are so rigidly controlled by the respective FAs that little of any value is said by the manager and/or players. “Yeah, we’re hoping to get a result,” is about all you’ll get. It’s scrape-a-nail-down-the-mirror stuff. Honest.
In my experience, though, the “pressers” of other countries often offer a service that is only to be dreamt of in the UK. Holland used to sit down all of their players – yes, all of them – at individual tables and invite the salivating hack pack to take their pick. Now that’s what I call Freedom of the Press!
Not sure if the Dutch still do that. I’ve not covered one of their open days since I and several of my colleagues were kicked out of their team hotel, during a major tournament finals, shortly after the presser. So, it was OK for us to chat amiably with any player we wanted, for as long as we wanted, but not to write our stories in the same comfortable – now empty – room? Anglo-Dutch relations plummeted and having to compose our incisive copy in the nearby greasy-spoon cafe did not go down well with the indignant troops. Oh well, can’t have it all ways …
I don’t know whether Lloris, the new Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper, did voice his displeasure at hearing that his manager, Andre Villas-Boas, had remarked that he would have to fight to win a starting place at White Hart Lane. Lloris said this, allegedly, while on international duty with France and to Didier Deschamps, their coach.
Nor whether Sagna, the Arsenal defender, did make disparaging remarks about the other North London club’s summer transfer policy, especially the departures of Alex Song and Robin van Persie. “I understand why the supporters are nervous,” it is claimed he said, like Lloris, when in the France camp.
And nor whether Fellaini, the Everton midfielder, did say that he wanted to leave Goodison Park in the January transfer window, despite having signed a five-year contract only last November. Fellaini swiftly retracted his alleged comments – made while with the Belgium squad in Anderlecht – by issuing a statement on his Facebook page. But the damage had been done.
All of which, no doubt, will have had an element of “lost in translation” when the players returned to their clubs and were asked to explain. Villas-Boas, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes will have had fun clearing that lot up. I bet that the messages from the Portuguese, Frenchman and Scot – strong wills, the lot of them – will have left no room for misinterpretation.
So, the players will have made their points, somewhat craftily, and their club managers will have been forewarned that trouble may be afoot in the not-too-distant future and that it is time to put their foot down. And the journos will have got their titillating stories in a notoriously bland week for Planet Football. Job done all round, really.
Only three months ago, I paid tribute to Danny Fullbrook, the Daily Star chief football writer. Danny had died, criminally early, at 40. Yesterday, Brian Woolnough, the Daily Star chief sports writer, passed away. At the age of 63, also a victim of cancer. Another top writer, another top bloke, another top colleague. Gone.
I remember Brian in action, at his best, when the shit had hit the fan before a game in eastern Europe, just an hour before kick off. A leading manager back in England had been fired and “Wooly”, sitting next to me, shifted into overdrive and effortlessly wrote an authoritative article off the top of his head – it was in the pre-web and pre-Wikipedia days – and in no time at all. I was in awe and just thankful that my desk had not required me to do the same. I would have failed, miserably.
“He asked good questions, sometimes too good,” Sir Alex Ferguson said of Woolnough yesterday. Ferguson is rarely moved to offering such praise, especially towards members of the Fourth Estate. Says it all. Farewell, Brian …