Diego Forlan: Sam Allardyce, stings and the other side of the media equation

In his weekly column, Diego Forlan touches on the Sam Allardyce scandal and offers some perspective on the difficulties of being scrutinised and probed by the media as a public figure.
AFP photo; The National illustration
AFP photo; The National illustration

Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

Sam Allardyce has ruined his big opportunity to manage England after only 67 days. It’s the job he said he always wanted, a prestigious position, especially for a man who’d found success by managing smaller clubs rather than one of the giants in England.

Now he’s unemployed after a quick media witch hunt. He blamed entrapment from an English newspaper who filmed him being less than guarded in what he considered to be a private environment. The journalists were pretending that they were not journalists.

The most important matter here is honesty. If you’re honest in what you do and stay within the rules, you won’t usually have problems. Allardyce knows that what he did was silly and admitted it was an error of judgement. It seems he stood to make a little bit of money, but nothing like the manager of England receives. It’s one of the best-paid jobs in football, even though the England national team always underachieves in tournaments.

More Allardyce

• Richard Jolly: Failure can be defining, so can scandal – Sam Allardyce and a dream destroyed

• Osman Samiuddin: Stings may hurt men like Sam Allardyce but we can’t help watching them fall into the trap

But if a player or manager has to stay within the rules, what about the journalists? I’ve seen entrapment before. Marcelo Bielsa, the legendary Argentinian coach, was at a BBQ with friends in Uruguay. Bielsa was being honest in a private setting, yet unbeknown to him, he was being recorded and his words were later broadcast. Regardless of what he said, I don’t think it was fair that he was being recorded furtively. People have a right to say one thing in public and another in private.

When you’re a high-profile footballer, manager or actor, people will naturally be curious about your job and the people in your industry. People ask me what Luis Suarez is like all the time, or what he’s really like. I tell them about my friend Luis, my honest opinion. Maybe people are looking for scandal, maybe they are curious about what makes one of the best strikers in the world tick. I know how to answer the question.

As a player, you usually learn the hard way. You might be a youngster coming through and speak to a journalist for a minute or two. You might think they’re a decent person and think that you have a chemistry in the conversation. So you’ll be open and interesting with them – only to be let down when you see your words have been twisted into something that you’ve not said.

Maybe it’s not the journalists, but their editors or headline writers, but it makes you far cagier the next time. I’m experienced with the media now. I keep my answers short and less open to misinterpretation. I’m less trusting and more private. I think that serves you best.

It’s sad for many footballers who would like to talk more openly, but they get punished if they’re interesting, especially now with social media. You can be filmed for 90 seconds making a sensible point, yet only 10 seconds of the footage can go online and it looks like you’re saying something else. If I’ve been stung, I’ll tell the journalist and maybe not speak to them the next time. Some don’t care, but you learn to trust the right ones.

But it’s not just about journalists. High-profile people get approached all the time. People want the association, they want to talk business. After all, why was I approached to do this very column?

You need good people around to protect you. If it’s an accountant, they should know the numbers. If it’s business, advisors should know the reputation of the person they are speaking with because if anyone suffers when things go wrong, then it’s their client in the public eye like Sam Allardyce.

More football

• Thomas Woods’ Big Weekend Preview: Chelsea’s issues, Real Madrid’s crowded attack in spotlight

• Steve Luckings: James Milner, a true and quality jack-of-all-trades, has become Liverpool’s Mr Dependable

Greg Lea: Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, a man of many false dawns, may finally be seeing the sun rise for real

But should the newspaper be judge and jury? Investigative journalism can be very important at shining a light into dark areas of society, but the reader only gets the evidence the paper wants to present.

Football can be a dirty industry. That’s inevitable when there’s so much money. There’s a lot of envy and jealousy. There are always people trying to trap you. I remember a former teammate at a big club being told that he’d been asked for money after signing papers. Except he hadn’t – someone had forged his signature.

Clubs give advice to players training to be a footballer, but it’s harder to train them for life. They can advise on what to put on social media, but they can’t live their players’ lives for them.

I also try to give advice to younger players. They’ll have their debut or score and everyone wants a piece of them but they have almost no media experience. There’s usually a “did you really say that?” conversation a few days later. The young player will probably say, “Yes, but I didn’t mean it like that.”

A good media officer at a football club can help. They’ll know which player to use in front of the press and TV depending on the result. If you’ve had a difficult defeat, you want a senior player out there, the captain or someone who knows just how to deal with difficult questions.

At one club I was at not long ago, we lost a game and the senior players didn’t go to the press conference. Nobody asked me to go, either. Two young players went and had to deal with really difficult questions. I said to the media officer: “You have to know the experienced guys”.

Sam Allardyce should have also gone to the experienced guys for advice. He has paid a heavy price for not doing so.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM

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