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Memorable Football Press Conferences

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Gordon Strachan.

Football managers don't have much in the way of job security. If their team wins, the players take the credit; if it loses, they get the sack. With a few notable exceptions, the career of every manager consists of a series of short appointments punctuated by failure. Even if their team wins a trophy or promotion to a higher division, it's only raising the expectations of the fans and board of management alike. If they can't repeat it, they'll be out on their ear before they know it.

One of the least enviable requirements of the manager is to go and speak to the press. A conference before a game will build up the excitement on the day. A post-match conference allows the manager to either bask in the glory of a fine victory or apportion the blame for an unlucky defeat. The club will seek to use these opportunities to promote itself, but the football journalist is after something else – information for the exclusive story. If the club unveils a new signing, say, the press will want to know who's been dropped from the team, whether they're unhappy and which clubs would want to sign them. If they don't get the information they're looking for they'll just go ahead and write it anyway. It's not altogether clear whether the relationship between club and media is a symbiotic or a parasitic one.

These days, most football managers are well-skilled in dealing with the media. The canny ones know exactly how to get malicious gossip published in time to unsettle their next opponents, or how to court an intended transfer target. Any hairdryer-style1 berating of players is usually confined to the dressing room. That's not to say that press conferences are always dull. It only takes a manager under extreme pressure or one with an axe to grind to turn a routine chat about team selection into a memorable piece of theatre. This Entry celebrates a few managers who have done just that.

Giovanni Trapattoni

Bayern Munich coach, Giovanni Trapattoni was not having a good day at the office when he arrived at a televised press conference on 10 March, 1998. His team was the 'Manchester United' of the Bundesliga2, the most successful and best-supported club in German football, with a star-studded squad of international players. The trouble was, they weren't winning matches; in fact Bayern had just lost three league games in a row, and had all but handed the title to their unfancied rivals, Kaiserslautern.

Trapattoni had his critics. Veteran defender Lothar Matthaus had sarcastically described how the team had made a Valentine's Day gift of their game against Hertha Berlin. Midfielders Mehmet Scholl, Mario Basler and Thomas Strunz had spoken of disharmony in the dressing room after Trapattoni had dropped them to the substitutes' bench for the home defeat to Schalke. The club president Franz Beckenbauer had even criticised the coach for being too soft on the players. On top of all this, the fans were unhappy, and the press were sharpening their knives.

So the lights came on in the press room, the cameras rolled, and the normally placid Italian, resplendent in his red white and blue tracksuit, delivered an unexpected and astonishingly brutal attack on his players. It was one which will long be remembered in Germany. It wasn't so much what he said, but the way he said it. This was an Italianate outpouring of raw emotion, complete with hand gestures and everything. Trapattoni chose, however, to speak in German, and although he was a commendably fluent speaker, some of his chosen phrases didn't translate too well, and a few have entered popular culture as a result:

Diese Spieler beklagen mehr als Spiel! Wissen Sie, warum die Italien-Mannschaften kaufen nicht diese Spieler? Weil wir haben gesehen viele Male dumme Spiel.
(These players complain more than play! Do you know why Italian clubs don't buy players like these? Because we have seen them play badly all too often.)

Strunz! Strunz ist zwei Jahre hier und hat gespielt zehn Spiel. Ist immer verletzt. Was erlauben Strunz?
(Strunz! Strunz has been here two years and has played ten games. He is always injured. How dare Strunz!)

Ich bin müde jetzt der Vater dieser Spieler – der Verteidiger dieser Spieler! Ich habe immer die Schulde über diese Spieler!
(I'm tired of being father to these players, the defender of these players. I always take the blame for these players.)

And when he had finished he turned, said Ich habe fertig ('I have ready'), and walked out.

Trapattoni's words earned Beckenbauer's admiration, but failed to shock the players into action on the pitch. Kaiserslautern won the Bundesliga, and the Italian stood down at the end of the season, however he did become popular with the German public at large. As with Manchester United, most German 'neutrals' enjoyed seeing Bayern lose, and were somewhat fed up with the superstar status accorded to the players. Trapattoni moved on to coaching roles with other clubs, as well as with the Italian and Irish national sides, but has supplemented his income by advertising yoghurt and mineral water on German TV.

Joe Kinnear

On 2 October, 2008, it was the turn of the normally jovial Joe Kinnear.

English Premier League side Newcastle United were in free-fall soon after the beginning of the 2008/09 season. Their previous manager Kevin Keegan (whom we'll cover later) had stormed out following a very public row with owner Mike Ashley, who in turn had gone into virtual hiding amid death threats from some fans. On the pitch, the team was plunging ever closer to relegation. The club was put up for sale, and the experienced Joe Kinnear was brought in to steady the ship. The press were dining out on Newcastle stories, but when one broke that the players hadn't turned up for training3, Kinnear snapped:

Kinnear: Which one is (the Daily Mirror journalist)?
Journalist: Me.

Kinnear: You're a ****.
Journalist: Thank you.

Kinnear: Which one is (the Daily Express journalist)? You are out of order. Absolutely ******* out of order. If you do it again, I am telling you, you can **** off and go to another ground. I will not come and stand for that ******* ****. No ******* way, lies. ****, you're saying I turned up and they ****** off...

And so it went on. Approximately 51 ****s, three ********s and a **** later, it was over – an incredible, cathartic experience for the manager, and one which indeed broke the cycle of negative Newcastle stories. They had a new one now, of course – reporting Kinnear's foul-mouthed outburst4  – but he got off lightly: the English Football Association, perhaps with their own reasons to distrust the press, chose not to punish him.

Kinnear was unrepentant, as he told the BBC:

It's the language I have grown up with... I'm not trying to be something I'm not. I grew up on a council estate in Watford.

Jose Mourinho

The Ego has Landed
The Sun, 3 June, 2004.

If you had attended a two-day-long job interview on the luxury yacht of one of the richest men in the world, you might be forgiven for feeling a little inferior to the boss. Not so the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who at his press unveiling gave the distinct impression that it was he who had in fact been interviewing Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.

I'm sorry if I'm a bit arrogant, but we have a top manager, so we want top things for us.

The line that elevated this particular conference to memorable status, however, was one which was seized upon by the press and became his label ever since. John Lennon once joked that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, but only Mourinho could mean it:

What I am saying is true because I'm a European champion. I'm not one from the bottle, I'm a special one.

Rafa Benitez

If there's anything a seasoned newspaper hack can sniff from a hundred yards it's a disgruntled club board. They don't usually need a lot of persuading to start filling out the manager's P455, but it's customary for them to publicly throw their weight behind the manager, even if he's only a hair's-breadth away from the sack. Where there's a hint of doubt, an undiscernable waver of tone, maybe revealing a tiny hairline crack in the board's resolve, then the press will jemmy it open, then unleash a fierce volley of questions to the manager. Does he feel safe? Will he jump before he's pushed? Has he lost the confidence of the players?

Liverpool FC's Rafa Benitez was feeling the pressure more than most in this situation. The season had got off to a bad start. He had publicly criticised the club's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks for not investing enough in players, and also for their lack of contact with him to discuss it. Having bitten the hand that feeds him, we can only guess at what conversation might have taken place between manager and owners prior to the press conference on 22 November, 2007. Benitez arrived 30 minutes late, but was in no mood to talk about why, or indeed about anything. He answered every question he received with the same phrase:

Journalist: How much will you have to spend in January?
Benitez: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Journalist: Are there assurances you'll have what you want?
Benitez: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Journalist: So what is the long-term plan?
Benitez: My plan is training and coaching the team.

Journalist: Is there anything upsetting you?
Benitez: As always I am focused on training and coaching my team.

Kevin Keegan

If ever there was a manager who endeared himself to the fans, it was surely Kevin Keegan, who twice brought his managerial style to Newcastle United. Despite a relative lack of success on the pitch, the team played with passion and no little individual flair. In 1996, however, the team was in Manchester United's slipstream at the top of the Premiership as the season drew towards its climax.

The Magpies6 had beaten Leeds United 1-0 to close the gap at the top of the table, but his Manchester United counterpart, Alex Ferguson had punctured Keegan's pride by claiming that Leeds hadn't tried to compete. When Keegan was asked by Sky TV whether he was under tension, the heckles rose and the tears welled up.

Some of the comments I've heard over the past week have been close to slanderous. There's no doubt about it – the man [Ferguson] has gone down a lot in my estimation... You simply don't say things like he did in this game... I've kept really quiet until now... I'd love it if we could beat United.

Keegan's raw emotion struck a nerve. All neutrals would have loved them to beat United too, but inevitably it wasn't to be, as the Red Machine hung on to secure the title. However, the episode cemented his place in Newcastle folklore: 'King Kev - the Geordie Messiah'.

Avram Grant

After Jose 'The Special One' Mourinho walked out on Chelsea in 20087, the experienced Israeli manager Avram Grant took the helm. Chelsea were still in with a chance of winning the FA Cup, the Premiership and the Champions League titles, but as these fell one by one along the wayside, the pressure grew. Grant's way of dealing with it on 17 April, 2008 was to tell the press as little as possible:

Journalist: A deserved win Avram?
Grant: Yes.

Journalist: What pleased you about the performance?
Grant: I'm pleased.

Journalist: What in particular pleased you?
Grant: I don't know.

Journalist: Is it a relief to win here?
Grant: Yes.

Journalist: Are you more satisfied with the performance or the victory?
Grant: Both.

Journalist: You seem distracted. Do you have a problem?
Grant: No problem.

And so it continued: an extended session of clipped answers with long silences in between. Was Grant unhappy with a particular item of press coverage, or had he recently found out that his contract was to be terminated at the end of the season – who knows? Chelsea's season rallied but Grant's final act was to oversee an agonising defeat in the Champions League final in Moscow: arch-rivals Manchester United won on penalties. Maybe more is revealed by the fate of Grant's replacement, World Cup winner Luiz Felipe 'Big Phil' Scolari, who was sacked after a similarly short tenure.

And Finally - Gordon Strachan

We've seen managers cope with the stresses of the press conference in different ways: anger, denial, emotional outpouring and outrageous over-confidence. Gordon Strachan on the other hand is the master of the comic one-liner. Woe betide any journalist who asks him a question with an obvious answer; they'll be mercilessly cut down with a withering retort. We'll close with a few examples:

Journalist: Can we have a quick word please, Gordon?
Strachan (walking off): Velocity!
Journalist: In what areas were Middlesbrough better than you today?
Strachan: Mainly that big green one out there!
Journalist: Any changes, Gordon?
Strachan: Naw, still 5ft 6ins, ginger hair and a big nose.
1This refers to 'Fergie the hairdryer god' (Sir Alex Ferguson) whose legendary fiery rants are akin to a hot air blast.2The German Premier League.3The truth was that no training had been scheduled for that day.4He also acquired a new nickname: 'JFK'.5The tax form you are given when you are made redundant in the UK.6Newcastle United.7You can't sack God.

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