What are press conferences for?
The ostensible purpose is for the media to gather information about a topic of public interest. So, ideally, when a manager or a player sits down in front of a little table facing rows of sitting reporters, the reading public have an opportunity to learn how they prepared for a match, their impressions of a game, their future plans for the squad, etc.
What has of course happened over the last, say, fifty years (an exaggeration), is that both managers and players have become adept at offering stock, boilerplate answers to various journalist questions in order to not to reveal the underlying truth of the situation—that a manager may not be happy at their club, that a player may not agree with the manager on tactics and so on. In some other cases they offer interesting answers that aren’t true in and of themselves, but rather a means to an end (see Jose Mourinho).
The purpose of the press conference, in other words, is now to provide subtext, not context. So the answers themselves become less important than the demeanor of the person doing the answering. Pressers now involve a bit of seduction between player/manager and reporter. Interesting answers sometimes make the front page, but not as often as interesting reactions.
We witnessed this last night when Guardian Man United reporter Jamie Jackson asked Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola a fairly routine question over whether he thought David Moyes’ side was tactically negative at Old Trafford. What followed was a tense exchange in which Pep demanded Jackson look him in the eye while answering.
It’s pretty funny, but the point wasn’t the answer: it was Pep’s little hissy fit, the subject of a standalone article and the front page of Bild. This is now generally considered solid gold in presser terms, and why eccentric, chatty managers tend to be beloved by the press.
There isn’t anything wrong with this, it’s not limited to football by any means, and it’s hard to see an alternative. Moreover, we still do learn a lot of important information at these regular events. Yet this little act of seduction has established an atmosphere of conflict and distrust, which arguably leads to clubs being secretive on even the most banal details. This routine bit of pantomime is great fun, but where does it end?