Football: Old Trafford V the Press: The Split That Is Shaming the Premiership ; `at the Top Level the Personal Relationships of the Past, Forged over a Pint or Ten, Have Gone and Not Just Because of Changing Lifestyles'

Article excerpt

ONE RECENT Sunday morning a Manchester United press officer was found reading, with growing bemusement, an `exclusive' interview with one of the club's most high-profile players. "Where's this come from? I know he's not spoken to them," was the reaction.

Elsewhere in the room was a mildly exasperated journalist. "I don't know how he can call that exclusive. I ran the same interview last week," he said. This hack then admitted he had acquired the interview from a contact in Italy who had lifted it from the original version in the player's home country.

Four versions, written in three languages, published in two continents. No wonder United's press officer found it hard to source. Nor, by this stage, would the player have recognised much of what he was claimed to have `said last night'.

This is not an isolated case. With very few exceptions every `exclusive' Manchester United player interview you read in a national newspaper is anything but. It has been usually been `lifted' from either United's in- house media, player websites, or foreign newspapers, which are often unreliable themselves. The exceptions are when the player is paid, either directly (Rio Ferdinand's column with The Sun) or through a sponsor. Ruud van Nistelrooy's recent Sun interview was arranged with Nike - the payback being a plug for their new boots. Any major magazine interview will be accompanied by pictures of the player sporting either clothing or footwear advertising Nike, adidas, Umbro, diadora, etc.

United claim it is not club policy to deny individual interviews but, recently challenged to produce any member of the first team squad for a one-to-one with The Independent, similar to the one recently conducted with Arsenal's Thierry Henry, the press office were unable to.

There are two main reasons for this. One is Sir Alex Ferguson. The only manager who will not conduct post-match print interviews, he might, if he is in the mood, have a brief word with TV after United's match at The Riverside today but he will then get straight on to the bus. This contravenes Premiership guidelines but the league admit he is "a law unto himself". Uefa, incidentally, insist he attends Champions' League press conferences and Ferguson obeys.

The other reason is that many players have had bad experiences with the press seeing their words `twirled' (exaggerated) and a damaging headline added. This was Ferguson's theme when he recently addressed a Uefa conference on the media at Old Trafford. In a nutshell Ferguson, supported by Peter Schmeichel, said he neither respected nor trusted the written press and discouraged his players from talking to them.

This outlook has pervaded the whole club. The day after Ferguson spoke the club denied Quinton Fortune had broken his leg. Then the press office wonder why reporters do not check stories out with them anymore.

Does this matter? Should anyone but journalists care? Yes and some reasons were subsequently outlined at the conference by Markus Horwick, the press officer at Bayern Munich. …