In the cut and thrust of professional sports, athletes, coaches and clubs must use every conceivable tool available to achieve success. With the global media coverage that football receives, media management has never been so important both on and off the pitch.
Off the pitch, clubs have glitzy interactive websites, their own print media and even their own TV stations, designed to increase revenue and manipulate their captive audiences.
The media circus can also have an impact on the pitch, a choice comment here, or a mind game there, may induce a refereeing mistake or a loss of focus by the opposition.
Subtle and difficult to measure this part of the game cannot be ignored, and when it comes to the dark arts of manager mind games few have mastered or utilised this aspect of the game more than Alex Ferguson.
Over the last 15 years Alex Ferguson has proven himself to be a master of media manipulation, whilst many others have tried, few have measured up to the Manchester United kingpin and many have cracked under the pressure trying.
In the 90’s Kevin Keegan was reduced to his ‘love it if we beat them’ rant, Rafael Benetiz got caught up with his ‘facts’ and well Arsene Wenger has never really been in the game.
In fact the only person that has even come close to rivalling Alex Ferguson was the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ who was more than happy to go toe to toe with the media. Like his Manchester United counterpart, Jose Mourinho often sails close to the wind with the audacity of his comments.
Unfortunately bar the odd exception I fear the tactics of managers in this regard are becoming increasingly stale and predictable, losing the subtlety and beauty they once had.
It seems as if referees are always subject to comment now, before, during and after big games regardless of the events of the match. Equally questioning the oppositions squad rotation dynamic seems to be equally part of a manager’s pre-game repertoire.
I will in fact go as far to say that I can see the future, I will wager £10 ($15 USD)* that Alex Ferguson will attempt to cause ripples in the Liverpool and Chelsea camps ahead of next weeks fixture at Anfield.
As he did before the Chelsea vs Bolton game, I predict he will cast aspersions on the opposition’s desire to beat Chelsea given the 18 title record being under threat. Declaring that the 3 points have pretty much already been awarded to the London club.
It is not that I think the mind games are wrong, I think it is quite acceptable for professionals to do what they can to achieve success in this way. The mental side of sport is critical to a player or clubs aspirations and with the title race so close and the margins for error so small I expect nothing less.
I just wish they were a little bit less predictable, so come on Alex, Carlo and co give us all something different to think about during the run in.
* If he does not make the statement I will make the £10 donation to the ‘Help for Heroes’ charity.
Manchester United fans: LUHG support the campaign today!