5 November 2009 ~ Sir Alex Ferguson’s suggestion that Rio Ferdinand’s loss of form was a result of critical examination by the press marked another low point in the United manager’s relations with the media. There is no doubt that Ferguson is, at best, grumpy. But his behaviour comes as no surprise to anybody and fits a pattern that is well understood. His press conferences resemble some kind of asymmetrical WWF tag match: the lone Sir Alex “the by no means extinct volcano” Ferguson versus the press pack. His conference ahead of the recent Champions League tie with CSKA Moscow followed the usual well choreographed pattern.

Ferguson was questioned on the FA charges that resulted from his unnecessarily personal remarks about referee Alan Wiley’s fitness. The Volcano met the attack with an often seen dodge: “Silly question, gets no answer.” A new member of the press pack entered the ring with “It’s not a silly question,” after which Ferguson pulled his classic move and stormed out. This was reported as if it was news and is used as yet a further example of Ferguson’s arrogance towards the press. It is impossible to defend the attack on Wiley, but the press seized eagerly on the demands by Prospect, the match officials’ union, for Ferguson to receive an extensive “stadium ban”. A more balanced report may well have examined the proportionality of the suggested punishment. Just as easily, there might have been an examination of the ways in which match officials could respond more constructively to criticism.

It is mandatory in any discussion of a referee’s performance to acknowledge the difficulties of the role. That said, referees wield the power to determine the outcome of matches but are rarely held accountable for the way in which that power is discharged. It may be the case that referees' chief Keith Hackett issues an apology here and there, or withdraws an official from a scheduled match but that is often the end of the matter. How much more constructive would it be if officials were required to explain the factors they took into account when reaching a decision? It would help managers, fans and players to understand better “the judgement calls” that are made.

Take for example this past weekend which saw the egregious Phil Brown complaining that Geovanni’s free kick at Burnley had been disallowed for what the referee gnomically described as “an upper body offence”. In no sense does that meet the requirement of an explanation, but surely it would be legitimate for journalists to examine the point in more detail.

Which brings us back to Ferguson’s relations with the press. Rather than simply triggering an easily anticipated response, it would have more productive to ask a question about how the relationship between managers and referees might be improved. The outcome would, in any event, have been preferable to the sad sight of well paid journalists scavenging for headlines in the ashes of the latest volcanic eruption. Brian Simpson

Comments (3)
Comment by ian.64 2009-11-06 08:03:52

"A new member of the press pack entered the ring with “It’s not a silly question,” after which Ferguson pulled his classic move and stormed out."

It's about time that some of the press pack, at the very least, started to question the childishness that some managers can display at press conferences. I say 'some' when I actually mean those few individuals in the Premiership who, with this feeling of superiority gained by regular media exposure, think that the football press is an element they can either ignore or play around with at their leisure. The newbie who challenged Fergie - if it can be called a challenge - should not have been the first. Oh, for the power of some bullshit-intolerant hack who listens to the latest game of 'Fergie's In Charge' and storms out with a fervent desire to find the nearest pub so he won't have to listen to such playground attitudes.

I still remember David Moyes's silent 'not-telling' act at one Everton press conference. He sits there, slighted like some arrant six-year-old with a smirk on his face, shaking his head at every question. Silent refusal at every turn. The juvenile prick. The press pack should have simply upped sticks and gone home.

I concede that the football press (tabs especially) can also win awards for infantile, simplistic attitudes (they're not the most subtle of beasts), but no-one is helped when a manager brings his pram along, brimful of toys to fling out when he feels the need. All becomes panto before Christmas is even here.

Or, better, do away with press conferences altogether. All that's heard is unsurprising, uninformed banality and 'will (place name of player here) be fit for the game on Saturday?'. You might get a Fergie Flounce or Rafa's List of Amazing Facts About Manchester United, but all we'd be doing is going back to enough farce as to overshadow Brian Rix's career. And you'd learn absolutely nothing.

Comment by stuart77 2009-11-06 09:19:54

Did Colina have to explain his decisions after his matches? If you command respect and have a physical presence, especially when it comes to eye contact, (is it too late to clone Pierluigi?) you won't face so many questions.
Looking for fitter refs Sir Alex? Why don't you ask Mr Lineker or Mr Hanson? Or maybe Mr Giggs will step in for you. Who really wants to be a ref. Making them explain their decisions wouldn't help when they get it wrong, as the ref did in the Hull match and he should have said so. Everyone can see the error and refs are less likely to succeed if they make them.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2009-11-06 12:20:26

Disagree with the thrust of this. Ferguson, even by his own dismally low standards, has made a tiresome tit of himself this season, ending virtually every game with some referee-related gripe or other. It shouldn't be too much for him to comment on the FA charges. After all, if he hadn't accused Alan Wiley of being unfit in the first place, nobody would have had to ask him about it.

What's more, demanding that refs explain their decisions just gives credence to bullies like Ferguson.

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