A footballer does a BAD THING. To make matters worse, the referee doesn’t punish him at the time of the incident.
Twitter goes into meltdown.
The offender’s manager comments that he isn’t that sort of player.
High profile player? The Sky Sports Trial begins.
This can last weeks, more than a real-life murder trial. It begins with a 24/7 looping replay of said incident. This incident will be slowed down to virtually a standstill and replayed from numerous angles.
An ex-player who can just about (on a good day) string a sentence together will be wheeled into the studio to give his views, which will include being horrified, may well contain a hint of xenophobia (if the offending player is from foreign parts), and will probably hark back to the good old days.
Ollie Holt will bemoan the lack of black managers in the game.
An ex-referee may also be called upon to give his expert opinion.
These opinions will then appear as news articles on Sky’s (and many others’) websites.
If this is a very high-profile club, there may be the need to interview a police commissioner.
”If he’d done that in the street, he’d be arrested,” the commissioner will state with a straight face.
(Let’s face it, we all know someone who has served “ time” after going in knee-high on someone with a slide-tackle outside Greenhalgh’s.)
Finally, Sky may merge in some “vox-pops” with members of the public, though only those that are disgusted and wish to repeat the line about him being-arrested-if-he-did-that-in-the-street.
Articles will now appear in newspapers. At least one football journalist will unfavourably compare football to rugby, or if the incident occurs during a certain year, the Olympics. Ollie Holt will bemoan the lack of black managers in the game.
Fans of the club of the offending player will point out that other players have done worse things before.
Fans of the club of the offending player will point out that the recipient of the tackle/punch/stream of saliva “made a meal out of it”. Mental notes will be made to boo the fouled player vociferously the next eighteen times the two clubs meet.
Reports emerge that the police are investigating the incident after a member of the public made an official complaint.
The FA announce that there will be no further action against the player as the referee dealt with it at the time.
Twitter goes into meltdown again. It crashes for three hours, meaning posting a tweet takes a whole morning.
Two hundred and seventy articles are published slamming the FA. Various journalists comment on how they have now lost all credibility. Ollie Holt will bemoan the lack of black managers in the game.
Another footballer does a BAD THING…………..
They’re everywhere. They say that in England you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. Similarly, if you log onto any football site, you’re never more than six seconds from seeing an update from an “in-the-knower”.
Some people foolishly used to think that to be an in-the-knower, you had to like, know stuff. How ridiculous. This is not necessary at all – and with a few simple steps, you too could be one within a couple of weeks, and have thousands of desperate football fans hanging off your every word.
- Set up accounts on the relevant football message boards, and on Twitter.
- User name is important here. On twitter “in the know” could be used somewhere in the name, or you could take an alternative approach and use footyagent64, footballspy1 or something similar. Anything that suggests that you are important, and have got news to dispense. In the know suggests a wind-up merchant immediately, but football fans just can’t help themselves. It’s like moths to a light bulb, they’re hooked. Even if everything you say is rubbish, it might be entertaining rubbish.
- You now have to gain people’s trust. This is the most difficult part. If you are patient you could spend time building these accounts with innocent posts that gain trust in those that read them, and save yourself for the following transfer window. This takes dedication. Whatever you decide, you must start gently, before building up momentum. It is essential though that you get off on the right foot – so best to start with some rumours that you are confident in and are this probably easily available already – but embellish the information with some wishy-washy details that make you look like you’ve got the inside track without committing yourself to being exposed further down the line.
Example: Lets say Nasri wants to go to Manchester United, and this is fairly common knowledge
You write: Nasri definitely keen to go to Old Trafford as his first option. Meetings planned with Wenger hopefully this week, but Wenger is known to be adamant he won’t sell to United. Initial bid expected of £20m from United, who are reluctant to bid any higher for player with only year left on contract. Ferguson known to have given up on Sanchez or Modric, unless there is a sudden change in circumstances. Nasri now main target for Ferguson, but he is keeping watch on other players as a fall-back.
- Follow reliable people on Twitter, and do some surfing to sniff out information – then when presenting as your own, it might be information not yet widely available, and if it comes to pass, it makes you look genuine.
- You might want to take one early “all-or-nothing” gamble that will destroy your credibility or cement your position for good. Take a leap of faith, an educated guess, call it what you want, and make a bold prediction. Remember, if it doesn’t come off, you can always salvage your reputation with the age-old excuse of terms not being agreed, problems over fees, etc.
- Vagueness is the key. After all, you need to protect your sources, who go right to the top. You can dispense endless rumours without actually saying much at all (see example above). You are aware of discussions on a number of players becoming more advanced this week at Arsenal. Your sources tell you Manchester United are looking at sealing a loan deal for one of their unwanted players, but negotiations have hit a few snags, but hopeful of conclusion by end of next week or soon after.
- Throw in a few titbits about signings for lower-league teams. Most won’t check if news was already common knowledge, or even true.
- Occasionally post at 4am in the morning, giving the impression you are sealing an important deal in Kuala Lumpur.
- Occasionally post that you have no new news, no new information, and that things are “quiet”. This will make you appear more genuine.
- Have your excuses ready. So you said there was no new news at Manchester City ten minutes before they announced the signing of Xavi? Don’t panic, you can get round this. There’s an excuse for every occasion.
Example post: Xavi signing admittedly taken me by surprise. Heard rumblings last week that deal was a possibility, but source said not to mention it as negotiations at critical point – clearly they have kept very tight counsel on this, to ensure move went through. Great signing by City. More news as I get it.
- If you are truly found out, burn your bridges. Delete what you can, bury your head in the sand and deny having ever made the comments. Claim you have been misquoted. A long period of silence will ensure most people will forget what you have said in past, and you can return with a clean slate.
- A good tactic on a message board is to make it clear you are NOT an in-the-knower, but simply passing on good information. This apparent modesty will gain trust.
- If you’re well established as being in the know, you are allowed a mistake. In fact, you’re allowed a hundred, there will still be people who will seek out your posts eagerly.
- Another option: find someone who actually is “in-the-know” and just use their information. But subtly.
- Deadline day – this is YOUR day, a day of wild speculation, manic developments and last-gasp deals before an autumn hibernation. Until Big Ben goes bong at 5pm (or midnight), the world is your oyster. Go for it. As clubs are often desperate at this point and try any number of deals unsuccessfully, you might as well throw around plenty of wild rumours. No one will really know whether they were made up.
- September, October, November, December, February, March, April, and a bit of May. A time for silence? Far from it. These are the most fruitful months of all for an “in-the-knower”. No deals can be done now, but plans can be made, so you can make claims without being proved wrong.
- Everything else is up to you. Perhaps settle on one team, claiming to have a source within the club, or perhaps fling your net wider, claiming to work within the game. It can be whatever you want to be, and whatever you say, someone somewhere will believe you.
So as you can see, pretty easy. Just a few hours gets you started, and before long you can have the adoration of thousands. I’m not sure why you would, but it seems plenty would disagree – a feeling of power can come in many forms
“He did very good things for the club. He stayed there for three years, which is a lot of time. He brought the club to a winning club. Now we are just looking for the next step, the next cycle.”
And so another chapter in Manchester City’s history came to an end, and another begins. The 2012/13 season was a major disappointment for City, beginning with a second early elimination in Europe, then continuing with the failure to retain their Premiership title, won in such dramatic circumstances in May 2012. By the end of the season, Roberto Mancini’s fate was sealed by an FA Cup final defeat to Wigan Athletic, though victory would not have saved a manager known to have lost the support of players, staff and the owners alike.This book tells the story of another dramatic season for the Citizens, not through match reports alone, but mainly through the stories that shaped the season, from player revolts, Mario Balotelli’s antics, through to the media coverage and constant headlines away from the pitch.
Bonus features: Book Reviews, Q & A session with senior football journalists, plus reports on the campaign for cheaper tickets and much, much more. Click the link below to purchase on Kindle – or try the free sample first.
A paperback version of the book will be available within a week or so…..
As the season drew to a close, I sent a few questions out on a number of topics to a few journalists whose email addresses I had successfully guessed. Thanks to Mark Ogden (Daily Telegraph Northern Football Correspondent), Oliver Kay (Chief Football Correspondent for the Times) and Daniel Taylor (Chief Football Writer for the Guardian and Observer) for taking the time out of their busy schedules to reply. These were their answers to my questions:
Do you think that Roberto Mancini deserved to go?
Mark Ogden (MO): If you base the decision on trophies won, then no, because Mancini’s success in winning the FA Cup and Premier League earned him the right to endure a trophy-less season.However, there was real disharmony in the dressing room, with many players unable to work for Mancini. The players must take some blame for that, but ultimately Mancini was the manager and if he could not motivate his players to perform then there really was only one outcome.There was no sign that the situation would have improved next season, so the club had to dismiss him on that basis.
Oliver Kay (OK): I don’t know if “deserved” is the word, but it was the right decision. The dynamic between Mancini and his players had been unhealthy for a long time – as we’d been trying to tell you, but it seemed unsustainable by the end. I know some like to portray it as healthy tension, but the evidence on the pitch says it was unhealthy. For a group of such talented players, who are actually fairly close-knit, to look as demotivated as they did for much of this season, is a problem. Given the quality of players that City have had over the past few seasons – better, man for man, than United’s in my view – I always thought the Mancini situation was something of a leveller. I know some reporters believe Mancini was a source of strength for City. I thought he – or at least the situation – was a serious weakness.
Daniel Taylor (DT): I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘deserved’. Am I surprised? No, not at all. In fact, I’m just surprised that so many other people are so surprised. I think a few people have been found out on this one. It’s not a question of whether it’s harsh; it’s a question of whether you understand ADUG’s ambitions and expectations. And if you do, you know that they are not going to tolerate a team that is going backwards.
I feel like a bit of a stuck record on this, but it doesn’t matter to the people in Abu Dhabi, or Txiki/Ferran, what the fans think, or what happened in a game at Old Trafford almost two years ago, or even what happened a year ago. City were eight points worse off and 20-odd goals down on the same stage last season when Mancini was sacked. The league was all but over by mid-February and the performances in Europe were poor again. Of course he was vulnerable. It was just naïve, in the extreme, to think he wasn’t.
If you have had dealings directly with him – what was Mancini like to deal with?
MO: I always found him good to deal with. He was bold, outspoken, mischievous and very much his own man.
But we only saw the public side of him. The stories I hear from people who worked with him at the club talk of a different man entirely.
OK: I never had any one-to-one dealings with him – only press conferences etc. The Manchester reporters speak well of him on a personal basis. I was told by someone at City at an early stage that he seemed more interested in being courteous with the media than with his players or his staff. Even in this PR-sensitive age, that strikes me as a strange way to be.
DT: Good. Generous with his time, streetwise, tough. He could be charming (first season), he could also seem permanently dissatisfied (second season onwards). He’d take us out every Christmas to San Carlo. You could ask him anything in his press conferences, or anything in those social gatherings and he would be happy to talk on or off-the-record. He could be a bit aloof sometimes, he wouldn’t give out his numbers or develop relationships that way, but maybe I’m living in the past there. Very few modern-day managers do. Overall, he’s been good to deal with and he got on pretty well with the Manchester-based football writers. He generates good copy. He has an opinion, he shares it and that’s always welcome when so many other managers are trained to see nothing and say even less.
City appear to be carrying out something of a PR war v Mancini now to win over fans. Without referring to this episode, are journalists “fed” news from clubs on a regular basis?
MO: I wouldn’t say we are fed. It is more a case of asking the right people the right questions.Most of us operate on the basis that somebody will always have an axe to grind and, when they do, you have to decide whether their information is given with an agenda or not. If it is, then there will always be scepticism on my part. You don’t want to become a mouthpiece for either camp.
But the negativity about Mancini has not come from one, two or three people. It has been widespread for months.
OK: It depends on the club and the situation. There will be times when clubs will spin like mad, but it’s only usually when there’s an issue when someone else is spinning against them. Mostly I would say that Premier League clubs are reactive rather than proactive in a PR sense. Some aren’t even reactive. The real spin doctors in football these days are some of the managers..…
DT: Every club has press officers and, in a lot of cases, they are acting as spin doctors, bending the truth to help themselves. It goes on a club-by-club basis. Some clubs are just useless (Sunderland, Blackburn, Villa, Stoke etc). Others have very proactive press offices and realise there are benefits of leaking info. To clarify though, a lot of the stuff about Mancini is coming from other sources – disgruntled players, agents, staff, former colleagues etc.
And on a similar theme….It’s well known that Alex Ferguson can be rather, well “troublesome” to deal with. Has it been a constant struggle during your career to handle him, and are you bound by what your bosses demand? After all, United are big news, so being denied access to the club must hurt. And will your job be that little bit easier now?
MO: Even when you are not denied access at United, everything is still very limited and hard to get into. Much of the time with Ferguson, you knew that some things were guaranteed to annoy him, while there were other times when the most random things led to him banning people, myself included.
City tend not to ban journalists, so that is a good thing on their part, but I suppose it ultimately comes down to who the manager is and how he wants the club to manage the press.
OK: There are a few myths about Ferguson and the banning culture. If it had been successful, if it had brought people into line, he wouldn’t have spent the last few seasons handing out more bans than ever, would he? If you were talking about a teacher who gave out far more detentions than everyone else, would you conclude that he had more control over his pupils’ behaviour? Or less? It amuses me that people accuse the media of being sycophantic to Ferguson. If anything, I thought his approach to media relations meant that the inevitable praise, for his achievements, was slightly grudging from some quarters. People talk about “bias”. It doesn’t exist. Or rather, if there is any subconscious “bias” among sportswriters, it is more likely to be towards someone with whom you have good relationships. That’s human nature. There was never any of that with Ferguson. If he had a good press, it was because his achievements merited it, not because journalists were awe-struck or terrified. Newspapers always want to be in rather than out, but I don’t remember any journalist being in trouble for being banned by United. Some see it as a badge of honour for the paper and the reporter. I think things will probably be a little bit more cordial between United and the media next season. Provided they keep winning under David Moyes, of course …
DT: He didn’t make life very easy for me. I’d been banned since 2007 for writing a book he never actually read (“one of us is going to have to read this shite and it isn’t going to be me,” as he told his press officer). I’m sure you know about his bans – the PA for “asking too many questions”, MUTV (MUTV!) because one presenter was impertinent enough to suggest the team played 4-4-2,. Sky for (again) asking too many questions – and only allowed them back if their reporter didn’t sit on the front row, etc etc . .
It’s always been a struggle for any journalist covering him on a regular basis (well, anyone below the age of 60) but that was the culture under him and it’s not much good me wandering in halfway through and saying it should change. Was it unpleasant? Yes, frequently. Was it an incredible experience covering the guy? Totally. He also generated more back-page headlines for us than any other manager in history.
Ironically, it was easier in some ways being banned because, after that, you don’t have to worry about the ‘rules’ that are in place. For example, he banned me once because I’d flown out to Antwerp to interview Dong Fangzhou. There was no reason for it. He just wanted to get the message out there that people shouldn’t do that sort of thing (I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s all about his control). At least when you’re banned, you don’t have to worry about that kind of nonsense. But equally, you always knew you were covering one of the really great football managers. So there were good bits and bad bits.
Has the Premier League been weaker this season, especially compared to the other major European leagues?
MO: I think it has been weak for a few years now. Since Cristiano Ronaldo left, only City have been able to attract world class stars to the Premier League and that is because of the money they were prepared to pay to sign the likes of Silva, Aguero and Yaya Toure.
Nobody else had that kind of money, so the European clubs have been able to close the gap and now overtake the Premier League.
Still, beyond the top two in Germany and Spain, there is not a great deal of depth, so let’s not beat ourselves up about the quality of our league. You would not get the Spanish or German equivalent of Wigan beating one of their CL clubs in a cup final, so maybe the strength of the PL is its depth, rather than its absolute quality.
OK: I’ve been arguing since 2009 that the top teams are not as strong as they were, particularly relative to the top teams elsewhere. I don’t think United’s post-2009 team has been anything like as strong as their 2006-09 team, yet they’ve ended up winning two league titles and missing out on the other on goal difference. Likewise, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool look weaker than four or five years ago. If City had become as formidable a team as they could be – and I do appreciate the difficulties they’ve had with Champions League draws – then they would be a serious force within Europe, but they haven’t. If City had punched their weight this season in the Premier League or the Champions League, the perception would be a different, but I’d say all the English clubs have to improve if they are to make a stronger challenge in the Champions League next season.
DT: It’s been a strange Premier League. Just look at the number of clubs who you could say have had a good season and there aren’t many: Man United, Southampton, Swansea, West Ham, Everton maybe, Chelsea-ish (it hasn’t felt that way), anyone else?
The title race was never going to match the previous season’s but, then again, it’s been a one-horse race in Germany, France, Italy and Spain too. So it’s not just us. I think it’s been duller and the fact City have regressed has got a lot to do with it.
Do you think the Financial Fair Play rules are a good thing?
MO: Yes, but only on the basis that they will make clubs more responsible and end the ridiculous escalation of player salaries. Nobody wants to see clubs going into meltdown like Leeds or Portsmouth and FFP will help stop that happening.
And from City’s perspective, while FFP obviously eats into the power of Sheikh Mansour’s weath, the flip side is that the club is having to grow off the field and become a bigger entity commercially.
Long-term, that is good news for City.
OK: The principle of (lower case) financial fair play is undoubtedly a good thing, but I really dislike the version that UEFA have ended up with. It’s not about “fair play”. It’s about ring-fencing an established elite and it is obvious that it will increase the enormous gap between the rich clubs and the poor. FFP was an opportunity to combat all kind of financial excesses – leveraged buyouts, debt, parasitic owners, exploitative ticket prices and unfair distribution of TV money in certain countries – but after talking to the ECA, which is dominated by the very biggest clubs, UEFA decided that it should all be about controlling spending. Funny, that.
DT: No. I think it’s unfair on City. They’re being implemented so the rich can stop the super-rich from catching and overtaking them. Yet that has been the history of football for donkey’s years. They want a closed shop at the top and so they have established these rules purely as a means of safeguarding themselves.
Are you worried about the future of print journalism?
MO: You have to be concerned, but also have the attitude that the Internet is a great opportunity for the industry to survive and grow. When Fergie retired and Mancini was sacked, you heard it first via national newspaper websites. It didn’t break on Sky or via club websites, so that week was a good one for newspapers in that it reminded people of the relevance of good journalism.
OK: Naturally, yes. It’s depressing when you’re on buses or trains and so few people are reading a (paid-for) paper. The quality and content of most newspapers is extremely good, depending on what you’re looking for. They’re certainly extremely good value. I can’t understand why most papers persist in giving away their content online. The future is in paid-for tablet apps etc. I really enjoy the football coverage, and much else, in The Guardian, but what incentive are they giving anyone to buy their app – never mind the paper – when the whole thing is published for free on the website? Buy The Times (or the digital app – £2 a week for the first three months, £4 a week thereafter) and hoover up all the free content you can find. Impartial advice, there.
DT: No. It’s a strange time for the industry and everything was a lot more straightforward a few years ago when people actually bought newspapers but this is the age we live in. The Guardian has been the first to go digital-first and you can see the others – Mail, Telegraph, even the Sun now – putting more and more into their websites. I don’t think that means the end for newspapers, it’s just moving with the times.
Similarly, how do you feel about stories breaking on the internet first, rather than stories being held back for the morning newspapers?
MO: It’s fine. I suppose we’re facing the same dilemma as the guy who made carts for horses when cars started to be made. You either look to the future or live in the past.
DT: I had this when I interviewed Mancini earlier in the season and we broke it around 3pm. A lot of journalists at other newspapers couldn’t work it out. But we want people to see what we have written and, by doing it our way, we ensured X times more hits. Stories are still held back for the morning in certain cases but, to go back to the previous answer, it’s a moving industry. You can’t afford to be a dinosaur or you will be left behind.
Do you ever wish Twitter had never been invented? Or do the pros outweigh the cons?
MO: Twitter is a pain in the arse and the cons outweigh the pros. However, it does have its pluses. They are becoming fewer and fewer though.
OK: I do actually. It’s just this ever-present noise and you can’t ignore it, so instead you have to embrace it. You could say I embrace it more than most. There are some very good things about it, particularly on the football side, and I do like engaging with and explaining myself to readers, but, like most journalists, I would say I preferred life BT.
DT: Twitter’s fine. It’s so big now it’s difficult to have an opinion – or, at least, you know that you might have to brace yourself for weeks of abuse if that opinion is different to someone else’s. It can all get a bit silly but I’ve tried to kick the habit, I’ve gone cold-turkey for a few days. I always come back. #addict
Your Premier League player of the season?
MO: Tough one. I won’t say Bale or Van Persie because neither has done it from August to May.
I’d go for Christian Benteke. Great first season at Villa and a player who will become a huge star.
OK: Van Persie.
DT: Boringly, Gareth Bale. You just have to put together a portfolio of his goals. From a City perspective, Zabaleta (but from a small pot of candidates).
The biggest disappointment/flop of the season?
MO: Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers.
OK: City were one of the biggest disappointments. Newcastle were another. QPR were terrible. As far as individual players are concerned, I was really disappointed by Tiote and Cabaye at Newcastle. They were magnificent last season, but unrecognisable this season. But the same could be said of a few of City’s players.
DT: I support Forest, and losing in the last minute of the last game, against your local rivals, is always going to hurt . .
What would you change (briefly!) in the game?
MO: 5.30 kick offs on a Saturday. Just a waste of time. I don’t know anybody who thinks they’re a good idea.
OK: Briefly? It has to be something to stop investors coming and committing the type of ruinous ownership we’ve seen at Blackburn, Portsmouth etc. I would add Manchester United to that, but somehow, despite draining £500m+ from the club’s accounts since 2005, the Glazers seem to have got away with it. People will say “it’s business”. Well football shouldn’t be about “business”. Something should be done to give football clubs a special status that protects them from ruinous owners.
DT: It’s not going to generate any widespread sympathy but it would be nice – selfishly speaking, anyway – if football clubs knew how to deal with the media properly. It’s amazing how many non-qualified people are in charge of media departments for big clubs and regularly make a pig’s ear of it.
Leading on from that…I’ve followed closely (and written for fanzines about) the call for cheaper tickets for fans. Do you think that day will ever come? Is it a topic that newspapers plan to give major backing to in the future?
MO: The new TV deal should ensure cheaper prices, but players and agents need to drop salary demands first, otherwise clubs won’t be able to afford the best players.
City and United appear to be sensible with prices at the moment, but yes, it will become an issue if things don’t change and I think the German model will be used as justification for that.
OK: It depends what you mean by major backing. It’s hard to have a formal campaign when market forces say that the demand is still so big. I’ve spoken to people at clubs who suggest that the price paid in secondary ticket sales (to touts, agencies etc) suggest that, if anything, tickets are under priced. I completely disagree. With the TV deals and commercial deals as huge as they are, regular ticket sales – as opposed to corporate, hospitality, boxes etc – are no longer a major driver of revenues. I suggested that there should be some consensus reached on maximum ticket prices as part of the Premier League’s new financial regulations – and particularly something to encourage younger fans. It’s not something the big clubs seem interested in.
DT: We’ve covered it quite extensively already. It’s a worry – even in the last two of three years you can see a sharp drop in the number of away fans at games. You hear people moaning about the atmosphere at games and clubs bringing in sound engineers or tinned crowd noise and it’s fairly simple – the decibel levels have gone down because so many hardcore football fans are being priced out of it. I’ve lost count of the number of my mates who used to devote their entire lives around going to games and just can’t be bothered any more because of the money and the way they’re messed about.
Embargos – why are you asked to hold back news sometimes?
MO: To keep stuff fresh for the morning papers, otherwise who will want to pay for old news in the morning?
OK: Mostly for our benefit and at our request. Daily newspapers want fresh coverage, fresh material and fresh quotes, so where possible we look to place an embargo so that people aren’t running it on websites during the afternoon. And because there is this embargo culture, sometimes clubs ask us to do likewise with statements that they are announcing on their club website or whatever. That’s fair enough in most cases.
DT: So the Telegraph can break them, of course (only joking).
And finally, what’s been the highlight of your job over the past season?
MO: Being involved in Champions League games. It really is the best place to work and streets ahead of international football. We are so lucky in Manchester to be able to cover two CL teams and long may it continue.
OK: There hasn’t been a moment to compare with City’s title triumph last season. At risk of upsetting you, I’ll say the send-off for Ferguson at Old Trafford was the most memorable occasion. In terms of matches I’ve reported on, I’ll pick from opposite ends of the scale: at the Allianz-Arena for Bayern Munich 4 Barcelona 0 in the Champions League and at the Coral Windows Stadium for Bradford’s wins over Aston Villa and Arsenal. The best nights are those when a crowd are wide-eyed in disbelief at what they’re seeing. The Bradford games were the perfect example.
DT: Probably the interview with Mancini I mentioned earlier. It might not sound much but those interviews are so rare these days. It took 13 months to set up and there were 11 different PR/marketing people involved (including three Etihad air stewardesses who turned up on the day in case we needed them for the photos). It’s all a bit ridiculous, to be honest, but the top managers pretty much don’t do one-on-ones these days so that was a nice one to get.
MANCINI’S REIGN OF TERROR
•BANNED ENGLISH IN THE DRESSING ROOM
• YOUTH PLAYER MADE TO WEAR CLOGS
• BALOTELLI ALLOWED TO KILL “AT WILL”
• PASTA HAD TO BE FIRM
The shocking details of Roberto Mancini’s reign of terror at Manchester City have been laid bare today as new details have leaked out about his three-year stay at the club.
A source from within the club has laid bare the barbaric regime under the temperamental Italian during his time with the Citizens.
The source said: “It all started well with Roberto. He was charm personified, and everyone got on. He would bring flowers for the female staff, and spicy sausages for the men. He, Garry Cook and Brian Marwood used to drive out to the country together and bond over a cider and a Lancashire hot pot. But slowly, cracks began to appear.”
After the honeymoon period, Mancini became increasingly cold to those near him. It was around this time he started acting irrationally, and the seeds of his own downfall were sewn.
After one poor performance, Mancini was alleged to have had a huge strop, and banned English being spoken by anyone. Having failed to get everyone to speak Italian, he eventually decided that all communication would be by sign language, semaphore, or smoke signals. This alienated some of the senior members of the squad.
One of the main bugbears of the squad though was the special treatment enjoyed by Mario Balotelli.
A City source said, “Balotelli could do what he wanted, and he knew it. He openly smoked in the dressing room. Once, he lit a Cuban cigar and blew the smoke into Mancini’s face as he gave a half-time team-talk. Mancini did nothing. Another time he invited his mates in and was smoking one of those Turkish bongs, a hookah pipe I think, whilst playing cards. The noise of the bubbling water was putting other players off focusing for the upcoming match, but players were told in no uncertain terms to leave him alone as he was a young kid in a strange, foreign land. There was so much smoke pouring out of the changing room one day that I thought City were choosing a new pope” he added.
When Balotelli hit a youth player with a dart, the youth player was disciplined for getting in the way of the dart, and made to wear clogs in training for a week. He was soon loaned out to a Belgian 2nd division club.
But the ex-manager’s control over the club was total, and extended to all areas of the training ground. Mancini insisted that all pappardelle in the staff canteen be served “al dente”. There was to be no discussion on this. This alienated a lot of the squad, especially Joe Hart, who preferred alphabetti spaghetti. When Mancini was once served a passata-based sauce that contained too much garlic he trashed the canteen, before storming off muttering something about the mafia. The next morning the head dinner lady received a bullet in the post with her name badly scrawled on it. There is no evidence that Mancini sent this bullet. Mancini was equally obsessive about the size of the meatballs.
On arrival each day by bicycle, Mancini insisted that he be presented with a yellow shirt, a bunch of flowers and a photo opportunity with two glamorous women kissing his cheek. This alienated some of the junior members in the squad.
Mancini was obsessed about his appearance, earning him the nickname “Mr Moisturiser” amongst the players because he often used moisturiser. He also had the nicknames “Mr Tan”, “Mr Pluckedeyelashes” and “Mr Shinyshoes”.
A source said, “To be honest, players don’t have very active imaginations.”
Mancini’s obsession with appearance alienated some of the fringe players in the squad.
By the end of his reign, Mancini’s relationship had broken down with virtually every member of staff, bar his loyal Italian underlings. Even Micah Richards had stopped smiling, and Chappers had stopped pulling faces. It was then that the owners realised he had to go.
A Sneak Preview of City’s Next Customer Survey
To be emailed out to fans in late May……
When City next dismisses a manager, would you like it announced:
a) On the official site
b) On Twitter
c) An undisclosed leak
d) On City’s tunnelcam feature/ Inside City
e) Via a series of riddles and cryptic clues
In order of preference (1 being – would most like, 10 being – would least like), please rank these proposals:
i. Multi-lingual signage around the ground and its environs
ii. An organic falafel kiosk in City Square
iii. A free moustache trimmer with every season card
iv. A 3-5-2 formation for all games
v. A holistic approach to beverages and hot pies
vi. An aggressive marketing campaign against Manchester United
vii. Higher ticket prices with lots of fun, exciting, unique free add-ons!!!
viii. In-match live replays beamed live to your retina
ix. A red home kit to help maximise Asian revenue streams
x. Pimms behind the bar
Would you like your next season ticket to be:
1) A physical card
2) An e-card, via your mobile phone
3) A book of tear-off strips, just like the old days
If the stadium was to be rebranded, which name would you prefer?
I. The Blue Glory Camp
II. The Citizens Arena
III. The Abu Dhabi Success Stadium
IV. New Maine Road
V. The Aero Bubble Booth
VI. The Tesco Express Checkout Ground
VII. The Emptyhad
VIII. The Council House
IX. The Boo Camp
How many times per season would like to enjoy a “corporate experience”?
a) Every game
b) 20-30 times a season
c) 10-15 times a season
Who would you like the new manager to be?
4) MANUEL PELLIGRINI
How much would you be willing to pay for a half-time massage?
How much would you be willing to pay for a customised seat?
How much would you be willing to pay for a Gael Clichy pencil case?
Would you want the pencil case to include a Manchester City eraser, pencil and felt-tip?
If not, why not?
What do you mean, you don’t need a pencil?!
Roque Santa Cruz is looking like a great player again isn’t he? Eh?
No one else could do it this way. No one. No other team would dominate headlines on the eve of the biggest domestic cup final in world football due to reports that their manager was about to be sacked. Ah, Manchester City, it’s good to have you back, just how I remember you. You been well?
One disastrous game and a weekend of recriminations later, and he was gone. Many commentators without a sentimental attachment to City will not see Mancini’s impending dismissal as harsh. Supporters of other clubs have often derided his ability as a manager, though they were probably clouded by the foolish notion that with money at his disposal, a manager should win everything. Now the few in the press pack that have pursued Mancini all this time and doubted his ability can perform their traditional U-turns and talk of City’s lack of class, how hard done by Mancini is and thus transform him into one of football’s greatest martyrs. After all, as many have already commented, City are no better than Chelsea because they got rid of the country’s 9th-longest serving manager.
But Mancini has not been sacked for finishing second in the Premier League. I’m not even sure he has been sacked for failing in Europe. If he had been sacked on results alone, I’d agree it was a disgrace, and City’s official statement mentions his failure to meet the goals set out for him. But he hasn’t left just because of results, and wailing that he has on Twitter, Facebook and message boards doesn’t change that. There are mitigating circumstances, but the constant chatter is of a breakdown in relationships repeatedly, not only with internal staff, not only with those in the dressing room (you lose the players and you are always doomed), but also according to a friend of Mancini, his relationship with City’s owner has broken down irrevocably. And if that last point is true, makes everything else redundant. This is all speculation of course, with Stuart Brennan at the Manchester Evening News saying a lot more will come out that will show that his relationships at the club had broken down. He can’t stay if this is so, though Mancini supporters will wonder how much propaganda is being fed to the media to paint a picture that suits them. Yes, the club are feeding a particular angle to the nation’s journalists right now, but these stories have been around before, and there are too many of him. The sheikhs’ 5-year contract for Mancini last summer showed they were not out to get him from the start, but during a truly disappointing season, Mancini has burnt his bridges.
It seems that Mancini does not help himself. You wonder if he will ever spend more than a few years at any club. He is not a people-person, he manages as he played – with fire, arguments and conflict. This is his way, and that is that. There is no right way to manage a football team, but when the results don’t follow, his way starts to look flawed. He has publicly duelled with pretty much everyone at the club, and criticised players in the process, though this is a method that can bear fruit. Zabaleta and Lescott hardly rushed to his defence this weekend, whilst Joleon Lescott hardly masked his distrust of the man, but then it is not their job to fight his corner, and you can read too much into banal comments. Mancini does not manage by making friends.
And players can be precious souls of course. Managers can fall out with them and still succeed, it just depends which players (and how many) he falls out with. If the squad feels generally as one, then there can be no happy ending, and Mancini’s many power struggles have a Machiavellian ring to them.
And let’s be honest, the club has gone backwards this season. The list of truly poor performances outstrips the truly great ones. Key players appear to have gone backwards, and whilst Mancini did not get the players he wanted last summer, he still had a damn fine squad. No one season should kill off a manager at a club that once had a perpetual-motion revolving-door, but it hasn’t helped when the owners want a Barcelona Mk II. And let’s not get started on him not having a man upfront for opposition corners. His inability to suss out certain teams, his stubbornness, his failed 3-5-2 system (not flawed in itself, but a flop at City), his strange substitutions and his occasional inability to react during matches have all helped seal his fate. The reports that he never stepped foot in the academy could be the most damning story of all, but it’s all speculation.
But he has still been let down. There is a palpable sense that he has been hung out to dry. It feels like Mancini has been a dead man walking since the day he was appointed. Rumours of his demise have followed him around like a loyal dog since the start. Questions about Mancini’s future should have been banned from press conferences. No further discussion should have been allowed. This is the man that brought the club success, and is a legend to most fans. If he leaves, it feels all a bit tawdry that it is happening like this.
City’s PR department is widely lauded as one of the best in the country by journalists, though you wonder how much of that is due to City being so accommodating. Either way, it is clear that this PR department was nowhere to be found on the two days before the Cup Final when journalists were keen to know if there was any truth in the Pellegrini rumours. But having said that, I’m not sure what else City could have done about the rumours, which were little more than irregular betting patterns. If, as seems the case, the rumours are true, they couldn’t confirm it obviously. Nor could they lie and deny it. Perhaps a quick statement about a review at the end of the season and Mancini having their full support for the rest for the season may have helped? Whatever, the team was a disgrace at Wembley. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, no player should need encouragement to perform in an FA Cup final, especially against a depleted relegation-threatened opposition.
Still, hysterical wailing on Twitter for news and a campaign to get Vicky Kloss sacked makes us all look like idiots. Classy. After all, I’m sure Vicky decides City’s policy herself, and gets no guidance from above (#sarcasm). To think that Vicky is solely to blame for any PR gaffes is buffoonery of the highest order, unless you know something we mere mortals don’t. Criticise City’s PR all you want, but the perceived mistakes do not come from one person. And Mancini made spats public as part of his own agenda, so don’t blame City’s PR for not clearing up the mess every time.
As for making the announcement a year to the day after we won the title, I really couldn’t care less. Nothing will ever diminish that day. Fans were wailing for days for City to make a statement, and when they did, they bemoaned the timing. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Once the decision to remove Mancini had been made, and the news had leaked, his position was untenable. We all wanted to say goodbye next Sunday, but it wasn’t a realistic wish.
But as the owners move on, the Pellegrini rewriting of history has begun, before he has arrived. I didn’t want Mancini to be sacked, but I can still be excited at the possibilities of our new manager, a man who gets the most out of squads, who maximizes potential, a people-person who will fit into the ethos of the owners’ vision and embrace the new academy. Quoting a lack of trophies won (whilst ignoring the trophies won outside Europe) is a very simplistic viewpoint considering that the likes of Mancini or Ferguson could not have done more with Pellegrini’s Malaga and Villareal squads, and his single season at Real Madrid saw a 96-point haul and the sale of two key players against his wish. And if a single season of failure is an argument not to hire someone, presumably it’s enough to dismiss Mancini too.
The owners are not interested in sentiment. They didn’t go to Lincoln or Wycombe, or have 25 years of taunts from across the city (and beyond) rammed down their throats. They aren’t swayed by a lovely video of Mancini with an emotional soundtrack on vimeo, nor obsessed at ripping THAT banner down. They are interested in making City one of the greatest clubs in the world, and will act accordingly to reach that aim. They are looking at the widest of pictures, and are planning long-term. And if you don’t like it, well tough, because without them we wouldn’t have any silverware, we wouldn’t have our Aguerooooooo moment, and we’d be discussing on Bluemoon whether it was worth taking a punt on bringing Joey Barton back to the club whilst bemoaning finishing 8th in the Championship. Harsh I know, as we are all entitled to express our disquiet at anything that happens at the club we love, but the truth is harsh, and perhaps we can’t handle it. I wanted stability and perseverance at this club, but it seems that will have to wait, for now.
But the vast majority of City fans are deeply upset at Mancini leaving. They don’t care about internal rifts, PR (until now), or how much money we spend. All they know is that the last three years have been the best of our football-supporting lives. Roberto Mancini was the man who brought us our first trophy in 35 years. He was the man that brought us our first league title in 44 years. He brought us one of the greatest moments of our lives. He masterminded a 6-1 win at Old Trafford, and a Wembley win over United. He challenged Ferguson, he argued with him on the touchline, he brought success, and he punched the air in delight with the rest of us at the madness of it all. He had style, panache and a winning smile. He was, as Sam Wallace commented, a perfectionist at an imperfect club. All those memories he gave us will never be forgotten, in a wonderful period in this club’s long history.
And I swear, we’ll never see anything like it again.
As Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund swept all before them in the Champions League, there has been much debate about the merits of the Bundesliga, especially compared to the money-obsessed English Premier League. Having compared the two leagues, the differences make for astonishing reading. Here is how the two leagues compare:
Most Bundesliga season tickets cost under £100, and include free transport, as many bratwursts as you can eat (currywurst available on request), and a half-time massage. Free entry on the day can be secured with a cheeky wink and a winning smile at the turnstile (subject to availability, terms and conditions may apply).
In England, fans have to pay just to get the chance to buy tickets. Tickets prices average a month’s wages, and a hot dog costs more than a flat screen TV. Children get a 10% discount.
Soon German fans will experience this for themselves. Apparently a burger meal at Wembley will cost Dortmund fans more than a 30% stake in their own club.
Bundesliga actually comes from the Bavarian word “bundleschnak” which loosely means “a family who go through life together as one, united in spirit, the soul of its fans carrying the spirit to its glorious ends, and all for five euros”.
The English Premier League was named for commercial profit. It is always sponsored by the highest bidder, usually a nasty bank.
Under German law, a policeman is not allowed to touch a football fan at any time, not use threatening or insulting language. The law came about after the infamous trouble at a Schalke v Hamburg game in 1986, when a policeman was alleged to have raised his voice to Schalke fan Ernest Schmidt after Schmidt complained to bar staff that his 10 cent Pils did not have a sufficient head on it. Schmidt explained that “I was shocked by the tone in his voice and was emotionally scarred for years. I still struggle to sleep, and have violent flashbacks”.
The policeman in question was fired, as were many of his superiors, in a scandal that rocked Germany. Schmidt’s Law was brought in soon after.
In England, the blood of football fans often lines the streets, usually due to little more than relieving a bladder in someone’s geraniums.
German football abhors foreign ownership. Clubs are on average 94% owned by the fans, who meet regularly to thrash out policies, transfer deals and to plot the way forward. There are rarely disagreements. Board members must have been born within 5km of the ground (as the crow, or “luftlinie” flies), must pass a test on German history, and also look brilliant in lederhosen.
Most English clubs are run by charlatans and shadowy foreign cabals out for personal gain, or on the run from the law. Any potential owner would have to have committed either well-documented war crimes or brought down a whole country’s economy in order to fail the “fit-and-proper” test.
German football is a breeding ground for young talent. The race is on to emulate England’s production line that has churned out the likes of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones, and there is a real optimism in Germany that they too can produce the “neu Duncan Edwards”.
Yes, there are fences around the pitch at many German grounds, but this was at the insistence of fans, so they could hang up their coats should they underestimate the in- ground temperature, and because it helps prevent stray litter blowing onto the bowling-green pitches.
English fans often carry out pitch invasions whilst under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and many players are often left fearing for their lives, especially if they’re playing Leeds.
On average, German grounds are filled to 102% capacity. Fans usually arrive 4 hours before kick-off to practice their choreographed swaying, which can often be seen from space. The songs speak of harmony and desire, plus biting social satire.
English fans sing “where were you when you were s**t?” and question Arsene Wenger’s sexual practices. Such chants would carry a mandatory life imprisonment sentence in Germany (see also the Benelux countries and Albania).
Most English grounds are rarely full, and last season’s Premier League champions Manchester City often play in front of 20,000 seats. Fans also often leave early as they are all alcoholics.
German fans are often reimbursed if their team does not perform to the desired level. Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness often reimburses fans from his “secret” account. Players drive many of the poorer supporters to matches.
After a bad performance, English clubs bring out a commemorative shirt and bombard fans with emails urging them to purchase it.
German teams are always set up to play attractive, attacking football. There is no German phrase for “parking the bus”, but there are phrases for “beautiful counter attack” (versplickenschnidt), “flowing football” (DasistSprecjenlievenschautt) and “entertaining score draw” (michendiestenbittestock). It is illegal to play more than four defenders at any time, and the average Bundesliga game in the 11/12 season had 12.4 goals.
The Premier League contains Stoke City.
And the Bundesliga is clearly more competitive than the Premier League. Yes, Bayern have built up a 20-point lead at the top of the table, but this was due to a nasty bug that crippled the players of many other teams for two months, an isolated incident that allowed Bayern to capture their 23rd title.
English football is a closed shop for competition, where money talks, except for Manchester United who have grown organically like their German counterparts.
Despite all this, Uli Hoeness recently expressed his fears that the Bundesliga was becoming less competitive. To help level the playing field, Bayern have purchased Dortmund’s best two players.
And finally, sponsorship. English clubs will have anything sponsored in a desperate attempt to make money. Even a minute’s silence was once sponsored by a library. German sponsors are just there to lend moral support and business advice, and all free of charge.
So as you can see, the English Premier League has got a long way to go to match the organic, fan-owned, cheap, passionate, organic, competitive, democratic, organic Bundesliga. We have a lot to learn.