Saturday 14 February ~
Ahead of today’s derby, AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti talked this week of how he envied the ability of his Inter counterpart Jose Mourinho to speak his mind. “It is true, I almost never say what I think,” said Ancelotti (is he being truthful?). “The truth causes disruption and controversies.” That was a nice way of saying he thinks Mourinho should keep his big trap shut. But the astute Ancelotti would never say such a thing, because it would cause disruption and controversy. In truth, of course, he is not at all envious of Mourinho, that super-smooth adherent to the final lines of Shakespeare’s King Lear in always speaking “what we feel, not what we ought to say”.
With so many football journalists to write so few genuinely interesting stories, it’s little wonder that the media love it when the coverage-hungry Mourinho speaks his version of the truth. The Inter coach has the charm and the wit to carry it off, and can refresh any old hack’s tired match reports with a couple of sardonic one-liners. When Mourinho speaks honestly, he still looks good. When others try, the journalists still pounce, but the quoted personality ends up looking a fool, and the rest of us wonder, “Why did he have to say that?” Take Liverpool’s Daniel Agger, for instance.
We all know that most footballers prefer to play than to be on the bench or in the reserves, just as we know that many musicians would ideally like to embark upon a world tour and sell lots of albums rather than play open mic night at The Hoary Punter. We know this because players, when asked, like to talk about fighting for their place, and how they don’t expect to be an automatic selection, and you’re only as good as your last game, and so on and on. It’s not their fault they get asked such inane questions by moronic reporters, but they know they have to be tactfully bland in the interests of dressing room harmony. Agger, though, this week chose to whine at length about being on the bench, and issued an ultimatum to his club, Liverpool – pick me or I leave. “Which window would you prefer?” might have been one of Rafael Benitez’s politer responses.
“It's never fun as a footballer when you don't play every time,” said Agger, sounding like an aggrieved schoolboy running his finger down the team list on a Friday afternoon only to find he’s been co-opted onto the cross-country squad. “But that's my situation in the club right now; that he [Benítez] won't let me play. I feel I'm good enough. For the same reason it's annoying that I don't play. I'll wait for the chance and then I will prove that I'm good enough. I'll show them – no doubt about that.” Oh yes. But might it not be better to prove it, and then bleat it all out, maybe a few years down the line in some execrable autobiography? Or better still, don’t say anything. It’s just embarrassing, like when a stranger sits down next to you on the bus and starts crying. It’s not that your truths are disruptive and controversial. It’s just that we’d rather not know at all. Here’s a concise Media Training Guide that would benefit all players and a few coaches too – shut up and get on with the game. Foreword by C Ancelotti. Ian Plenderleith