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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Web Of Deceit

"Am I allowed to go back to Liverpool now?"

Spurs season ticket holder Hugh Lindley makes his debut for Magic Spongers

Official football club websites fascinate me. Getting the ‘official line’ on any controversial story is usually as fascinatingly false as the seemingly implausible scandals pedalled in newspapers are true. On club websites, journalists are routinely derided as liars, stirrers and heathens – before their stories invariably turn out to be true.
Therefore, official club statements are generally accepted as being buried in a cocktail of salt, bullshit and dirty bathwater. However, the norm in England is to at least dress the tramp of lies in a tuxedo stitched from the very finest threads of subterfuge. Hence, much-despised players are ushered out the door with a routine ‘wish all the best for the future’, and much-loved players are prodded with sticks until they say that they’re really excited about the prospect of travelling to Gyeongsangbuk-do for a pre-season friendly against Pohang Steelers.

Most obviously, clubs enjoy lying about sacking their managers right up until the moment that they actually do, just like they were always going to. So in a way, you’ve got to admire Internazionale’s current stance with Rafael Benitez.

I am not sure if this article is representative of their website’s usual output but it’s an interesting approach. Why bother issuing a proper club statement about the manager you’re about to fire when you can get some journalists to wait outside, say that your meeting wasn’t very long (as indeed it probably wasn’t, since Benitez was obviously toast as soon as he issued his buy-players-or-sack-me ultimatum), issue a particularly half-arsed denial of his dismissal and successor’s impending appointment, and pop home in time to roll around in money Scrooge McDuck-style before bed? After all, when you fire Benitez it’s not really worth the effort to do any more than that, or to bother your PR Officer with such minor annoyances, and you might as well have a bit of a laugh while doing so.

The contrast to England is stark. Tottenham Hotspur’s website is a fine example of the sort of straight-batted, stiff upper-lipped official line that the English do so well. The recent detailed, but ultimately meaningless, statements about the club’s future stadium plans demonstrate this. The board like to keep up a pretence of keeping fans informed.

In the summer of 2007 senior board members decided that Martin Jol should be replaced as manager after guiding Spurs to two successive 5th place finishes and an unprecedented level of worrying consistency. Hence Spurs officials met hapless comedy foreigner Juande Ramos in a Seville hotel in August, but the ‘2 points from 8 games’ star did not agree to take the job immediately. In the following weeks, Jol was left as a lame duck as inevitable rumours spread about his lack of backing from the board and, unsurprisingly, form and morale dropped.

Jol was eventually fired and replaced by Ramos in October, but the intervening period saw an official website which featured several impassioned personal letters to fans from Chairman Daniel Levy, denying everything and insisting everything was fine and dandy. But why bother?

Why take over Blackburn and say you’re going to give Sam Allardyce a chance to prove himself, promptly sack him, and then feel the need to spout off a load of guff about the caretaker working long hours and finishing in the top 4? Nobody believes a word from these people anymore, and they are only fooling themselves if they think such platitudes protect the club’s reputation, share price or global marketing synergies.

In contrast, Inter and Moratti’s approach is disarmingly casual and refreshing. He isn’t telling the whole truth but his contempt for Benitez is obvious and somewhat charming – he’s a far more honest vicious liar than his Premier League counterparts. Why can't they be more laughably obvious when about to strike?

Tottenham fans back in August 2007 would have much rather logged onto tottenhamhotspur.com to read reports of slimeball former Director Paul Kemsley, emerging sweatily from his hotel rendezvous with Ramos, saying something like:

“Yeah Jol’s still our manager I suppose – until the paperwork’s sorted anyway. I don’t even know who that bloke in there was and he couldn’t understand me anyway. I definitely didn’t write down a really big number on a piece of paper and hand it to him.” (he winks, nudges, laughs, tips his hat and does a cockney walk)

So as Moratti says – come off it. Come off it Premier League chairmen – just come off it.

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