It’s hard to understand how a club of Real Madrid’s size and importance within the Spanish footballing scene did not orchestrate this earlier:
Real Madrid’s players have begun giving regular news conferences again in a sign the club is seeking to improve its relations with the media and may want less attention focused on the coach José Mourinho.
The club’s captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the forward Cristiano Ronaldo and the defenders Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa all spoke to reporters after training this week, prompting the headline “Is the iron curtain falling?” in Marca sports daily on Friday.
Most fans and even most journalists don’t pay much attention to the importance of a club’s media relations strategy. After all, how does a press conference compare in importance to a transfer deal or a player injury story?
Consider however that football media, once a daily published section in your local paper, is now a 24-hour global operation comprising of real time Tweets, instantly published blog posts (why thank you very much), and online newspapers tasked with filling up column space with, well, columns. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, “Son, we live in a world that has football websites, and those websites have to be filled by men with words. Who’s gonna do it? You?”
If those columnists don’t have concrete quotes to go on, they’re going to use what little they have and pave over the gaps with thinly (and sometimes thickly) disguised speculation. Much of it will take on a kind of journalistic truthiness. Hence, for many in the Spanish press, Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer a Real Madrid player, and Jose Mourinho was sacked back in September.
If you think that the media tail can’t possibly wag the dog, consider the Jen Chang debacle at Liverpool, in which the now ex-communications director sought out the author of a fake journalist Twitter account to inform them they were damaging delicate transfer negotiations by leaking what turned out to be— coincidentally or no—correct information about the club’s player targets.
Media reporting has a real effect on how clubs go about their business; savvy agents have long used the rumour mill as a means to spark offers or drive up bidding wars for their clients. Some managers like Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United have admitted to interacting with the media carefully so as not to release information that could be useful to rival teams.
In Real Madrid’s case, allowing Jose Mourinho to be the sole spokesperson for the club was a PR disaster, particularly as many Spanish rags—Marca in particular—have no compunction about printing stories that resemble pulp fiction. His dramatic speaking style was for too long the lone source of dressing room information for the press.
The genius behind throwing several players in front of the media is their press conference quotes are almost universally banal. Players always support their coach. Players never have a problem with other staff or colleagues they’ve been reported to be at odds with. Papers are beholden to print whatever these various stars say, and craft their stories accordingly. Even if the press doubts their veracity, even the act of including them casts doubt in the mind of the reader over whether the club really is in total crisis.
It’s for this reason that I’ve long held the post-match press conference to be a waste of time. Smart clubs use them to their advantage, and a media in desperate need of primary source info has no choice but to package shitty quotes by press time. It could be a strategy that the otherwise savvy Man City might consider as well…