Jose Mourinho as Walter White (the one who knocks)… plus Serena Williams – the fallout continues, West Ham’s carpet and introducing the armchair factualist
Hello, Mr Samuel, what did you write about today? Jose Mourinho and when he will get the sack. And yesterday? Er, the same. Day before that? Er, same. Well, Mr Samuel, I’ve just got to speak to someone over there, if you don’t mind.
I don’t mind at all, because you’re certainly not holding my attention. You can tell this is a fictional conversation because the real one would go: Burnley and the perils for a small club in the Premier League, Serena Williams, West Ham’s travails with the landlords, Alastair Cook, Kevin Beattie, why Liverpool are the team to beat this season, the limitations of Gareth Southgate’s England team, it’s quite a list. When you write roughly 14,000 words a week, including match reports and rewrites, you really do get across the topics.
Of course, major football clubs are always in the news, so when Manchester United weren’t doing well, there was quite a lot about them and Mourinho’s reaction to their early-season blip. But I cannot recall discussing when he would get the sack because I don’t think he will get the sack, and I don’t call for people to get the sack, either, because that’s not my style. I have certain beliefs about, say, the job of England manager. I think if we fail to get to a major tournament, or to progress from the group stage once there, it is time to think again. So Roy Hodgson’s World Cup campaign in 2014 fitted that criteria. As far as clubs go, I am much more likely to support a manager – Mick McCarthy at Ipswich, Paul Clement at Derby, Tony Pulis at West Brom – than call for his dismissal. And if I do it is invariably not in a ‘sack this clown’ way, but because of circumstances.
So – I thought Chelsea should have changed Antonio Conte earlier last season, because it was obvious his internal relationships were irretrievably broken and it was going to happen this summer anyway. So make the break. If a manager is being undermined by the board, I think it better that they change rather than stagger on to a slow, inevitable death. Equally, when it was obvious Arsene Wenger was a point of division within Arsenal – particularly among the fans – I couldn’t see how he could continue. But that’s not the same as leaping around tweeting ‘Wenger Out’. I think Mourinho may get mentioned in the points ahead, but our poster from Preston is already having a scintillating conversation elsewhere, so I shouldn’t think that would bother him. And now, the question on everybody’s lips: what about acid? Five points up next.
Point one: Manchester United versus Liverpool, through the prism of the media.
The media need Manchester United more than Manchester United need the media.
They think that, yes. They look at their commercial success with very little media co-operation and decide the press is superfluous. But so are they: because we can find ways of writing about Manchester United, without the club being part of that. And then Jose Mourinho gets upset because he cannot shape that conversation and starts coming to press conference armed with reams of stats, which looks a bit whiney or tin foil hat. And what quickly develops is a vicious circle of antipathy. Now you might think that’s a great way to run a business, but I don’t. Manchester United’s latest fan milking exercise is that pink away strip – supposedly a tribute to the Manchester Evening News’s Saturday Pink ‘Un edition, which I used to file for occasionally in my agency days. Despite this being an homage to print media, no national newspapers were invited to the launch. So not only do Manchester United not do co-operation, they don’t do irony either.
We as fans do not need the media. It’s just an opinion with agendas. Seems to me the media are now trying to balance out their bullying assault on Mourinho for the last two years. It may please the haters but they look stupid doing it.
Oh gawd, every modern cliche tied up with string in this one. Agendas – check. Bullying – check. Haters – check. Tell me, doctor, what agenda would it suit me to have against Manchester United? The more successful they are, the wider the interest in them, the better for media. All these years, and you still don’t understand. It’s better for us if Manchester United are thriving, if England are winning, if Liverpool not Real Madrid collect the Champions League. As for bullying Mourinho, I think he’s a smarter user of the media than many in the room asking the questions. How can I put this? You ever seen Breaking Bad?
I seem to remember Liverpool using the press to make all sorts of accusations against Raheem Sterling such as refusing to go on tour, refusing to train, agreeing a new contract then refusing to sign it. It’s just a shame that none of this turned out to be true and the press made no attempt to question but just accepted rumours as fact. With managers even paying journalists annual salaries they no longer deserve any respect.
I’d like evidence of that last statement. I think some decades ago the Manchester clubs used to pick up the travelling expenses of the Manchester Evening News correspondents, in the days when they travelled with the team, but salaries? Not a chance. As for Sterling, I think if the club would be briefing negatively against him, his side would brief negatively against the club. So it was claim and counter-claim, like most transfer sagas. Liverpool are unexceptional in that.
In other words the media sucks up to Liverpool while making up stories about Manchester United. Use the media? Get over yourselves it’s not a club’s job to give freebies to a bunch of talentless hacks.
Look mate, you have no idea how the media works, so why bother exposing that? Who talked about freebies? I’m talking access, co-operation, trying to establish a working relationship. Clearly you would expect ‘freebies’ in my position, judging by your presumptions, but I just want to be able to do the job: to write about sport with enough information to provide insight. People don’t make up stories about Manchester United, but they survive on scraps in that patch, so obviously the space is filled with opinion or conjecture which is more likely to be negative if results are poor. Liverpool have a more open relationship with the journalists who cover them day to day, and unsurprisingly this makes it easier to get the club’s perspective across.
Jose Mourinho is a smarter user of the media than many of those asking the questoins
So effectively you’re saying that because Manchester United keep themselves to themselves the press create stories all week. Manchester United sells, so need to be written about, I get that, but how do you hope to improve that relationship with that stance? I don’t believe that opinion pieces like yours are what Mourinho talks about when he talks about lies, I believe it is the avalanche of these stories stating ‘facts’ about the camp as a whole. It’s these stories that brain dead ex-players read drinking their coffee that morning before they do a spot on Sky Sports News to perpetuate it all. Instead of doing things properly this mob culture attempts to hold people to ransom to do interviews and let people in. It’s Catch-22.
Manchester United do not keep themselves to themselves. They are selling themselves to the highest bidder everywhere in the world. They are un-cooperative with the media. That’s not the same. As for ‘brain dead ex-players’ do not presume they are distanced from people in football. They will talk regularly to those inside the game, particularly people at their old clubs. The idea that Paul Scholes, say, does not know anybody at Manchester United and has to rely on newspaper clippings is laughable. And nobody is holding anyone to ransom. Liverpool are not cowed by the press. They just realise it serves the club better to foster positive relationships. As Gareth Southgate did in the summer. England had a siege mentality under Hodgson, encouraged by Gary Neville. Now you tell me, which way worked better?
When Mourinho gives three minute interviews, he’s still the subject of your articles. Just admit it, without Mourinho some would be jobless.
That’s right because prior to 2004 all we used to see was unemployed journalists hanging around on corners, waiting for a job. Then Mourinho came along and it was like the Klondike gold rush. Give me a break. Sports journalism existed before Mourinho, it will exist after Mourinho and by the way – there were many more jobs in the industry 15 years ago than there are now. It’s funny, so many people sign off as the voice of reason and talk such utter rubbish. Instead, here’s the voices of Kwahn.
I can understand Martin’s perspective but can’t agree with the point. He says of Manchester United: ‘The club hasn’t tried to forge any relationship that might afford a sympathetic ear in a moment of crisis.’ When Chelsea won the league at West Brom, every journalist in the room got a glass of champagne and Conte raised a toast to everyone in the room. This didn’t stop journalists dragging his name through the mud and creating wild speculation before the following season even started. United were revered by the media when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge, and he put journalists in their place multiple times. They just don’t like Mourinho. Don’t make it seem like Liverpool are doing something United are not. They have history and are a huge club, but they get off scot-free with the media despite not winning anything for over a decade.
Co-operation isn’t a glass of champagne and a smile when you win the league. It’s a nice gesture but who cares? I didn’t even know that happened; I must have still been up in the press box writing. But even had I been presented with a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon, thanks, but I’ll buy my own and I’d rather have proper access. Time with the manager to talk football, time with players, insights into the club’s philosophy and where it is going. I know some things must stay private; by the same token, we can’t always write nice things. But it’s not about a half-time sandwich or a free bar. Logistically, I’d gladly pay for every cup of tea I’ve ever had at a football ground if you can give me a press box with proper room to work, and a stable wi-fi connection. And we weren’t wrong about Conte. We said he had fallen out with the club, and he had. If he was still there, your criticism would make sense. As it was, it panned out exactly as predicted. As for Liverpool, they most certainly are doing things that Manchester United are not and unless you are in the media I don’t know how you presume to know different. Liverpool provide things that make the job better and more manageable, whether that involves access to key personnel or providing press box facilities that cater for the demands of the job. In 35 years as a journalist the only press box in which I was unable to file in time for deadline – bearing in mind I’ve reported live from Burkina Faso, Albania, Moldova, Sutton United and Yeovil on a Friday night – is Old Trafford. Just the once, mind you, but there it is. And Liverpool do not get off scot-free over recent failings. Klopp is frequently reminded of his record in cup finals, the club that it is yet to win a title in the Premier League era. If you mean do we gloat and crow about it as United fans do, then the answer is no, because that would be juvenile. But that narrative is most certainly there. So co-operation does not afford a free pass, it just yields a more beneficial arrangement to both sides.
Point two: Ipswich – fascinating this season, so I’m told.
Martin’s comments about Ipswich are typical of people who never actually visited Portman Road to watch the turgid non-football that Mick McCarthy’s team played week after week. Thousands of fans had voted with their feet, me included. I returned this season and have seen two entertaining games. Yes, the new manager is inexperienced at this level, but so were our most successful managers when they were appointed. Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson did rather well given time, so most fans are happy to give Paul Hurst our full support.
Ramsey and Robson were a different era. Your new, inexperienced, manager is operating under Marcus Evans. What McCarthy did under this constraint really was remarkable. Tyrone Mings bought for £10,000, sold for around £8m. Aaron Cresswell before him, £240,000 paid, sold for £3.75m plus add-ons. Huge profits on your best players, having to scrape lower and lower down the barrel to replace. McCarthy had you in the play-offs, and just outside the following season, it was hardly poor form. You should direct your anger towards Evans, not McCarthy.
Looking at the timing of his post, I’m guessing the two matches that John had witnessed the season at that point were the 2-2 opening day draw to Blackburn, and the 1-1 with Aston Villa on August 18. It wouldn’t have looked too bad back then. Since when there have been a further two 1-1 home draws, with Norwich and Brentford, so I hope he enjoys repetition: four draws, three with the same scoreline. He doesn’t mention going away to watch, but that’s now four straight defeats, seven goals conceded to one scored. Oh, and a EFL Cup exit at Exeter. I’ve got to admit, it all sounds fascinating and highly entertaining, what with the thrill of being bottom after eight games, and all the resulting tension. I am certainly feeling chastened for saying that McCarthy was doing an excellent job in reduced circumstances, given the meagre levels of investment, and that the quality of football was more a reflection of that than his personal preferences. Anyway, enjoy the thrills of this season, John, and the heady anticipation of that first win. At this rate, McCarthy could be the first man to win Manager of the Year, 12 months after terminating his employment.
Point three: Burnley and the minnows fight for survival.
Burnley made a £48m profit over the last three seasons. They spent £28m in the transfer window. They knew they were in the Europa League and their squad wasn’t good enough. They could quite easily have spent the remainder of the profit and borrowed another £20m against this year’s TV revenue to at least give themselves a fighting chance. Instead they decided they were secure from the Premier League’s relegation fight and could get by. The only trouble is the rest of the clubs and those promoted from the Championship haven’t stood still and have invested. It’s going to be a long hard season for them.
Yes, but that was kind of my point. Because they are Burnley they have to get everything right: recruitment, tactics, match management, man management, or their reduced circumstances will become problematic. Then they start losing matches, then negative momentum takes hold, and the success story of 12 months ago become relegation candidates. That doesn’t happen at Manchester United because they have the residue of good players to cope. They might finish lower than they hoped but they will never go down. For Burnley – and roughly 14 other clubs – the consequences of misjudgement or a run of defeats can be so much greater.
Just ask Premier League winning Leicester – or free James Milner, £8m Andy Robertson, academy Joe Gomez, academy Trent Alexander-Arnold. I’ll stop.
Of course you will. Because if you didn’t you’d have to get to world-record goalkeeper Alisson, world-record defender Virgil van Dijk, £50m Naby Kieta, £29m Roberto Firmino, £40m Mohamed Salah, £34m Sadio Mane – and that’s before we even list £39m Fabinho, who can’t get in Liverpool’s team, and your stupid argument would slip down a big hole. Face it, Burnley’s record signing Ben Gibson cost 25 per cent less than Liverpool paid for Lazar Markovic, who hasn’t kicked a ball for the club since season 2014-15 and has spent the years since on four separate loan deals, including one at Hull. Currently at Anderlecht, if you’re interested. Oh, and for someone with such great knowledge of his club, Gomez was a product of Charlton’s academy, not Liverpool’s. No doubt he would have left them for Burnley just the same, though.
It could be a long season for Sean Dyche and Burnley despite last year’s success
Just ask little Bournemouth; and little Watford too.
Yes, and as I said in the column, the success of one season for a small club is no guarantee that next year will be the same. The tiniest margins are important. That was my point. Look up, you might see it.
Point four: Serena Williams, the fall-out continues.
Armchair moralists, the lot of you. Martin Samuel included.
Armchair factualist actually. Still, I understand: in this day and age many people aren’t interested in the facts if they don’t fit in with their opinions.
Armchair factualist – I love that. I’d have it as a title for this column if I wasn’t making myself a hostage to fortune. But you’re right about the latter day mindset, Archie. Emoting wildly, understanding sod all. See below.
Serena Williams is right. There is a double standard. All athletes have this combustible nature and it is expected to overflow. The umpire was wrong to take a game from her or from anyone at such a highly competitive moment. Men are allowed outbursts and rarely are penalised. That’s why NFL uses cameras to replay crucial points and make a consensus decision after reviewing the replay footage. Tennis should also adopt a higher standard of umpiring decisions for all players, male and female, so in the future in Championship matches no single umpire loses his cool to punish, not penalise, a player. A consensus of umpires would have cooled down this moment. The umpire was out of line. He didn’t put all the work in, all the sacrifices, all the training these athletes do to get where they are.
Jake, that’s utter rubbish. Trained athletes are not expected to lose their head the moment a call goes against them. That’s what the training, the sacrifices, the work, all that stuff you wrongly believes excuses them, is for. Handling adversity, handling pressure – that’s the challenge in elite sport. A penalty call might go against you – but you don’t lose your cool and the match as a result. You expect umpires to be neutered fools, unable to make a call because it’s a big match, and subservient to players? Alternately, they hand over judgement calls to a committee? Umpire Ramos got every call right against Serena Williams. He didn’t need help, or secondary endorsement. I’m sorry but you know nothing of professional sport and its demands. This next one, though? Whoo-whee. A new level, folks, really it is.
Not even going to read this. I don’t think a white man is in any position to tell us how or what a black women is thinking or feeling. I’ve had enough of white sports commentators expressing an opinion. Stick to what you know. I think Serena since the day she started playing tennis has dealt with your hate, racism, prejudices and sexism. She knows by now what it looks like. She called that umpire out, she wasn’t defending all women, she was defending herself because for years she has had to. I’m not a black person but have seen enough racial bias in my lifetime. I’m also intelligent enough to understand that unless you are a black person and a woman in a racial minority you cannot possibly understand what black women go through on a daily basis. So I will again say it. A white man cannot possibly know what Serena was thinking or feeling.
But you’re not intelligent, are you? In fact this argument is one of the most stupid things I’ve heard here in five years or so, and that’s some field you’re beating. Leaving aside your inverted racism and sexism, that divides rather than unifies our society, the bottom line is we don’t need to know what Serena is thinking or feeling. This is just about her actions. So all of that jumble of crap you have attributed as motivation is irrelevant. Did the umpire think she was being coached? Yes. Is the appropriate punishment a code violation? Yes. Did she then act in a way that was going to bring further code violations? Yes. Does every athlete black or white, male or female know the consequences of repeated dissent? Yes. Does my skin colour or gender make it impossible for me to draw these logical connections? No. Do you lack the wit to connect these very simple dots. Yes. Are you just, in essence, another anonymous poster with a false sense of superiority wittering on about subjects she lacks the intellectual sophistication to understand. Yes. Would our readers be better served with a decent tune. Oh God, yes.
Regarding Williams, I would also add that if demanding the lowest common denominator of sports behaviour is to be the bench mark for officiating, we are going to have to redefine the term sportsmanship. Even if Williams is 100 per cent right in her claims that the men do it and get away with it, that is no justification. In her scenario the real problem is that men are not being officiated properly, not that they are too unfair to women. So, essentially, would we rather see the men’s game cleaned up or the women’s game allowed to fester into inappropriate behaviour?
Spot on, Barry. As it is, the numbers show men are given considerably more code violations in every area other than coaching from the stand, which is permitted in WTA events, a fact that probably explains why women are called for it more in Grand Slam tournaments. Your conclusion is spot on. Even if Williams was right, the solution is to get the men’s game in check, not allow the women’s to degenerate into anarchy.
Point five: the, yawn, taxpayers stadium.
There is a legacy requirement on the London Stadium to host athletics. That is the root of the whole problem. People might not like it and want to blame West Ham but bit by bit, the truth is emerging. Staging athletics is the real driver of the losses. Athletics costs a huge amount including modifying the seating, but athletics can’t even come close to bringing in a profit. Indeed, just like West Ham’s rent, their low charges are written into the agreement. Athletics, rightly or wrongly, has to pay a fraction of what West Ham pays. So don’t blame West Ham, don’t blame athletics. Blame those who set up the legacy. And maybe, it is time for the athletics legacy to be moved to Birmimgham.
That would be my solution, too. Birmingham after the Commonwealth Games in 2022, allowing West Ham to buy the stadium and make the modifications for conversion to football. And you are right. The legacy arrangements were poor from the very start. The week that London got the Games, no less an Olympian than Sir Steve Redgrave said the stadium had to be built to be delivered to a football club after 2012. He knew it. We all knew it. Why didn’t they?
Oh my God Samuel, you really need to take off your West Ham glasses when working as a paid journalist. The stadium was given away by Boris Johnson and now the owners are trying to protect the few rights they and the tax payer still have. Why should the pitch and the naming rights be in claret and blue if the stadium is for everyone? West Ham’s owners should be in the dock for trying to extract rather more then a pound of flesh from this ludicrous arrangement.
What – taken to court for getting the best deal for their business? Are you a member of E20’s legal team with that logic, or do you really want the nation’s courts filled with people trying to extract the best value?. Maybe we should charge families for shopping around at supermarkets, or bidding on houses, cars and second-hand goods. Imagine – trying to get the best deal. What a bunch of rotters, eh? As for the claret and blue, can’t you see, the stadium isn’t for everyone. There is one company with a 99-year lease, using the stadium for 25 or so major events each calendar year. So wouldn’t it be an idea to enter into a beneficial reciprocal arrangement, rather than a war? They had a blank canvas for the branding palette. It shouldn’t have taken more than five minutes of thought to decide what the colours should have been. As my old man would say: there’s not a brain left in Britain.
West Ham lost their identity by moving to the Olympic Stadium. This was always about making money for West Ham’s owners. Martin Samuel, a good reporter, but also a dyed in the wool West Ham fan. Where was your column when your owners decided getting a stadium at the tax payers expense was a great idea? You reap what you sow. Suck it up and pay for your claret and blue carpet.
What do you know about West Ham’s identity? You live in Sydney, you’ve either fled this country or are far removed from it. And you clearly don’t know much about my column anyway. I have always been supportive of the move to the Olympic Stadium. Not for some great leap forward, but merely to maintain West Ham’s status as London’s fourth biggest club and to see it used, rather than deteriorating in mothballs as happened to the Sydney Olympic Park for many years. Stay where they were and West Ham risked becoming marginalised, another Queens Park Rangers, as Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea surged past. And if you had read it properly, you would know West Ham were prepared to pay for their claret and blue carpet – at what it costs, not with some exorbitant levy from their landlords who now think they can squeeze them to compensate for doing a lousy deal originally.
There’s no place like home – but West Ham’s move has not been without its problems
I thought Martin Samuel was better then this. Using his position in the press to prop up his beloved, hard done by West Ham. Decorating it claret and blue is hysterical. It’s not yours. In a house a tenant can’t paint a wall without permission.
A landlord generally controls their tenant, yes. But that’s because there are lots more tenants out there. How many organisations would want a stadium? Seems obvious that they should actually work together rather than waste money on lawyers doesn’t it?
To me it does, Sonic, yes. To any sensible individual, too. To Stan, obviously not. He thinks the London Stadium is a one room rat-hole in Catford, and should work on the same principles.
West Ham’s previous owners offered to pay a big chunk of the building costs before the designs were even made, with an aim of moving in after 2012. Lord Coe, Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell all said no, they didn’t want football involved. Great foresight. If they had accepted, the stadium would have looked different, more rectangular or oval than circular; something akin to the Stade de France, which coverts easily from athletics to football. The Moscow Olympic stadium is an even better conversion. I’m sure if our decision makers had a brain cell between them, it could have been done better than either of those examples.
Exactly. When Tessa Jowell died recently everyone was hailing her as a political visionary. Maybe she was in other areas. On this subject, however, she was party to one of the costliest and most misguided decisions in recent political history. And now something else rather smart from Norway. Until next time.