The British media does not portray many foreign players in a favourable light. On countless occasions, I have cringed at some of the quotes attributed to German, Spanish or French players, indeed managers.
Our intrepid reporters might argue that they are merely repeating what’s been said in a post-match interview or training ground conversation, but if they were to be as accurate with English players, we would see quotes that are punctuated at every available opportunity with the post-modern footballing classic, “yer know”.
Perhaps it is the desire to make them sound like a stranger in a strange land. Maybe it makes them more interesting, almost an exotic product. But is can also reduce them to a laughing stock at times. Eric Cantona saw through the media – his comment about “Sardines” was a sideways swipe at the gullability of the press. Jose Mourinho knows how to play the game, too. He can get away with making “sleepy” gestures to explain a cheap defeat in Switzerland, but I can’t see Sam Allardyce doing likewise.
The media love to make Arsene Wenger sound a little like a visiting professor, a “deep” Frenchman raised on the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and the novels of Albert Camus. But at the end of the day – excuse the match de la journee cliché – Wenger’s just trying to get through an interview in a foreign language. He may be a thinking man’s football manager, but he’s not sharing great nuggets of wisdom – it’s football, after all.
I have a theory. Most top-class footballers are clearly media trained these days. Just listen to the likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and other (past and present) England players and they have perfected the art of saying nothing in a TV or radio interview. Gerrard, in particular, is a master at this. While some offer nothing but a cliché and a cup of tea, others demand that you “listen” to them or adopt the air of, “it’s right because I tell you it’s right”. They epitomize the zeitgeist – footballers saying nothing are no different than the tight-lipped and evasive corporate leaders, politicians and police chiefs interviewed on BBC Radio 4 every morning.
All of this makes it hard for journalists to conjure up a credible story. The world doesn’t just spin on its axis, it spins itself to death when it comes to communicating. When a foreign player comes along, with limited English and, dare I say, a good level of education, he is fair game.
There’s no excuse for players to sound as though they are a 19th century explorer from Europe stepping of the cross-Channel ferry for the first time. Poor old Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea was made to sound like Basil Fawlty’s Manuel in the Evening Standard.”We can play better and do better games…..[the fans] came from London and a lot of countries to be here and we didn’t have our best game (describing Chelsea’s defeat in Basel).” It would not have been out of place if he had added, “I speak English…I learnt it from a book.”
And then there was Arsenal’s “******* big German”, Per Mertesacker, who came across as the antithesis of a rugged centre-half in the same edition of the Standard. Mertesacker said, “I am very delighted here”, when asked about his career with the Gunners. “The club and the manager always trusted me in a very special way.” Mertesacker, by the way, loves the word “delighted”. And there are other examples. No wonder Joey Barton put on a cod French accent to fit in with the Marseille press….