Hot off the press

Nick Dorrington on how footballers’ private lives are rich in gossip for sections of the Peruvian media, whether the stories are true are not

On the corner of every third street in every medium-sized Peruvian town people gather to stare intently at newsstands with an awe that suggests the advent of print press is still, to them, a new phenomenon. Very few of them ever buy the newspapers and magazines displayed; it is the headlines on the front and back pages that stick with them for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately for the nation’s footballers Peru is one of the few countries in the world in which the tabloid press match the voraciousness of their English counterparts in digging up dirt. Newspapers such as El Comercio take great pleasure in publishing stories of player depravity, while there is a glut of trashy gossip magazines willing to fabricate stories if nothing factually based is doing.

A recent example was seen in the magazine Magaly TeVe. Its front cover claimed a German girl was pregnant by footballer Reimond Manco, but it later turned out that this claim was based on little more than a Facebook chat with said girl and had no basis in reality. The magazine’s owner, Magaly Medina, issued an apology on her television programme, but for those without access to a television – Peru has 111.3 sets per 1,000 people – the damage was already done. They had read the magazine headline and in their eyes it was just the latest indiscretion from a player from whom they had been conditioned to expect such behaviour.

Manco is perhaps the best example of the harm Peru’s press can do. A child prodigy who shot to fame in 2007 after impressive performances for the national team at Under-17 level and a subsequent move to PSV Eindhoven, his career derailed to such a degree that while many of his contemporaries were turning out for Peru in this summer’s Copa América, he was without a club and taking part in Peru’s version of Strictly Come Dancing. “On one hand, I am responsible,” Manco told an interviewer earlier this year. “It would be wrong to say otherwise, because I am. But the exaggeration of the press is always there.”

Built up to be a world beater at the age of 17 and constantly told how great he was, there can be little surprise that Manco allowed the praise to go to his head. Upon moving to Eindhoven he discovered he maybe wasn’t quite as good as he’d been led to believe. After he returned to Peru, tail between legs, in 2010, the Peruvian press were all too happy to lay into him and declare him a failure. Build ’em up and knock ’em down – it was pure English tabloid stuff.

But Manco certainly isn’t the sole victim. Whenever European-based players return to play for the national team, the press is awash with stories of their night-time activities. There is such a huge disconnect between the means and lifestyle of these foreign-based players and the local populace that it is difficult for people in Peru to relate to them. The press play into this division, overemphasise with headlines that bear scant relation to the meat of the story and create an “us versus them” environment that is far from beneficial to the performance of the national team.

This atmosphere was one of the factors that contributed to Peru finishing last in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Home matches were played without the full support of the locals, who sat back and waited for the players to show why they earn more in a month than many in the country do in a lifetime. Unable to impress sufficiently to appease the majority of stadium-goers, the team were serenaded with boos – hardly the ideal conditions in which to mount a challenge for a World Cup place.

Peru go into the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup with a far more positive outlook after a third-place finish at the Copa América crystallised support for their Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarián. So far Markarián has dealt firmly with the press, refusing, for instance, to name the three players seen at a casino in the early hours (dubbed the “Panama scandal”), despite their names being bandied around in various publications.

With a young squad – the youngest of the South American nations at the Copa América – and promising talents such as Andy Polo and Álvaro Ampuero still emerging, Markarián will have an important role to play in shielding his charges from the media-induced pressure that has suffocated recent attempts at qualification. England may not have won the World Cup since 1966, but Peru haven’t even qualified since 1982. Maybe both would benefit from less tabloid intrusion on the road to Brazil 2014.

From WSC 297 November 2011