Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Friends like these?


Who would be an international manager? George Burley has been on a hiding to nothing since he got the job. Fabio Capello has to keep his cool in the face of increasingly hysterical attempts to get him to pick a woefully out of form and uncomfortable Michael Owen.

George and Fab are both bearing the brunt of some dishonest journalism. The group of Scotland players that took such great strides under Walter Smith was already beginning to creak by the time Alex McLeish presided over the failure to qualify for Euro 2008. Although some of Burley’s decisions have been questionable he is too often constrained by the lack of resources. The same lack of resources that Mcleish offered as an excuse for a timid defeat in Georgia that all but killed our World Cup plans.

But McLeish didn’t suffer the opprobrium of the Glasgow media in the same way that Burley has. Some of the pundits and journalists may well be making a principled stand against someone they see as an inferior manager intent pushing the team down a blind alley. If that were the case would they not have given him more time to show what he can do? Instead Burley was found guilty and then set the almost impossible task of getting the press on side before he’d even started. In truth anything he achieves with this Scotland team will be despite the fans in the media.

The difference? Why can one do no wrong and the other do no right? It’s a pattern that’s followed McLeish down the years – even in the darkest days at Rangers there were those in the media that would have defended him to the death.

His mates mainly. McLeish has cutely played the press throughout his career. In the lean times the friendships he’s developed have been allowed to cover a multitude of sins. Burley, apparently less comfortable in public, doesn’t have those relationships. Spending much of his career down south robbed him of the chance to ingratiate himself in the insular world of Scottish football. The result is the ongoing backlash now he’s back at Hampden.

In England, Capello has to answer the same questions about lost wunderkind Owen at each international fixture. One of the first generation of true English global superstars Owen has made money and found fame as being the bland, dull, boy next door antidote to Brand Beckham. Part of that role has been to cultivate journalists keen to tell us how this ordinary multimillionairre is just like any other bloke who happens to commute to work by helicopter.

Those journalists he charmed during his ascendancy are now on hand to act as cheerleaders. Paul Hayward often takes the lead. But then as Hayward moonlights as Michael’s biographer we would expect that, wouldn’t we?

This blog, of course, is based entirely on my opinion so who am I to judge? And Burley, Capello, Owen and McLeish are well paid wealthy men who can take whatever stick they get and run whatever media campaigns they want. I accept all that.

But when the media becomes so obsessed with its own agenda, when it bleats on and on about something until it becomes a distraction that managers and players do not need, then there is a problem. When that happens, and I really think we’re now past the point of no return, it is journalism itself that is devalued and it is us, the paying punters, who are short changed.