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Is there any point in having Premier League post-match interviews?

Managers more often than not give bland non-answers, so are they just wasting everyone’s time?

Jose Mourinho is one of the less predictable post-match interviewees.
Jose Mourinho is one of the less predictable post-match interviewees.
Image: YouTube

AS TELEVISION COVERAGE of Premier League football has become increasingly inescapable over the years, there are few bigger pet peeves among many fans nowadays than the post-match interview.

The ostensible concept behind a post-match interview is to get an insight into a particular manager or player’s feeling on how a specific game panned out. Yet generally, post-match interviews are insight-free zones — a glorified insult to the viewer’s intelligence. In fact, more often than not, managers will actually go out of their way to say nothing — figuratively and even, on occasion, literally.

Take Mauricio Pochettino’s reaction yesterday after Spurs beat QPR. Pochettino is undoubtedly an intelligent man and commonly regarded as one of the game’s most astute tacticians. Yet you would not come to this conclusion based on his cliché-ridden comments following the Loftus Road clash, which served little purpose, other than perhaps curing chronic insomniacs.

“I’m very proud of our performance, we showed big character against a difficult opponent on a difficult stage,” he told the BBC.

“The reaction after going out of Europe has been fantastic. It was difficult after the defeat against Fiorentina [in the Europa League].

“The response has been fantastic from the squad in the big games that have followed. We have to go away and train hard to focus on our next match against Manchester United.”

To be fair to Pochettino, English is not his first language, and some people are naturally less gifted than others at public speaking, yet it’s difficult not to suspect, on the basis of more or less all of his interviews to date, that he is going out of his way to be as bland and inoffensive as possible.

But while all managers are required under Premier League rules to give post-match interviews, they are not obliged to be honest. On the contrary, there is an unspoken rule in football that ‘what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room,’ hence it is incredibly rare for a manager to criticise his player, or say anything that risks upsetting the ambiance behind the scenes.

Yet if managers or players aren’t going to speak truthfully on the game, while going out of their way to be as bland as possible, it begs the question: what is the point of the Premier League post-match interview?

If managers and players are simply going through the motions, does that not essentially make the post-match interview a waste of time for all concerned?

Of course, other sports are by no means devoid of bland post-match interviews either. But the Premier League seems particular prone to instances of insincerity in these circumstances. Perhaps it’s owing to the fact that there is more at stake compared with most sports — at least, financially speaking.

Moreover, reconsider Pochettino’s aforementioned bland statements and compare them with the interview below, in which the interviewee is an American high school football player.

Source: Lauren Mickler/YouTube

One interesting point to note is that the interview isn’t exactly devoid of cliché (“you can do anything you put your mind to”). However, it’s all about the delivery, and in two minutes, Apollos Hester appears to summon up more passion, intensity and sincerity than many Premier League managers show in an entire career.

Although it helps that he is speaking in more low key and less pressurised circumstances, Hester’s excitable proclamations and forthright attitude are the antithesis of the modern Premier League post-match interview. Of the latter, football writer Adam Hurrey notes:

“Such is the reticence of the average footballer that the interviewer frequently finds himself forced to provide the answer before the question has even finished. “How crucial was that win?,” “How good is it to be back?,” “How magnificent were the fans today?” he will prompt, near-rhetorical questions that require the standard opening of ‘Yyyyyyyeahno…’ (followed by its close cousin ‘Yyyyyyeahasisay…’) in response.”

But one partial exception to the rule is Jose Mourinho — the Portuguese manager may be insincere, but few ever accuse him of blandness.

Mourinho will attack more or less everyone on the rare occasions his teams slip up, that is, apart from his own players, who can usually do no wrong (there are exceptions, of course, with the most notable perhaps being Iker Casillas). The excuse routinely offered is that the coach is merely seeking to take the pressure off his players by putting himself in the spotlight — though ‘altruism’ is hardly a word that ever comes to mind with respect to the ‘Special One’.

Mourinho’s style is surely inspired by that other highly successful and notoriously abrasive managerial legend of English football — Alex Ferguson. One trait that the Portuguese boss and Ferguson share with the majority of managers is blatant hypocrisy — if their player behaves poorly, they defend him or claim they “didn’t see” the incident in question. However, if an opponent is ever in anyway out of order, they normally have little hesitation in castigating his actions.

These tendencies were not always so prevalent — Brian Clough (see below), for instance, was perfectly comfortable publicly criticising his players. Nevertheless, he was of an entirely different era, where managers had much more control over players, and less financial pressure to deal with. Football was still just a game rather than the billion-dollar industry it has developed into today, while the egos of highly skilled millionaires are bound to be more fragile than those working classic heroes that populated English football in the 1970s.

Source: ZarkavasLover/YouTube

One notable anomaly, though, is Tim Sherwood, who has effectively broken the fourth wall in post-match interview terms. Last year, the then-Tottenham boss attacked his team’s character and gave a brutally honest assessment of their performance after they were thrashed by Chelsea. Yet the context was important in that instance — Sherwood had only been installed as Spurs manager on a short-term basis, and likely knew he would be replaced come the end of the campaign. Unlike most managers, by offering an honest opinion, the former Blackburn skipper had little to lose.

Yet Sherwood’s antics touch on why post-match interviews are perhaps worthwhile after all. As dull as they routinely tend to be, there are times when most managers, whether it’s accidental or not, allow the mask to slip, and suddenly, a seemingly more authentic portrait of their character begins to emerge. Notice below, for instance, the contrasting ways in which Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson respond to Luis Suarez’s infamous refusal to shake Patrice Evra’s hand back in 2012.

Source: gareth evans/YouTube

Source: gareth evans/YouTube

Ferguson understandably condemns the Uruguayan, whereas Dalglish plays dumb and attempts to deflect the question — behaviour that some critics speculate played a significant role in the latter’s eventual dismissal from the Anfield hotseat.

So whether it’s Brendan Rodgers and his obsession with accentuating the positives at all times, or Sam Allardyce and his willingness to fragrantly ignore the self-praise-is-no-praise dictum, the Premier League contains its fair share of characters, even if they sometimes try to hide these eccentricities.

Nevertheless, some are better at acting than others, which brings us back to Mourinho. In many ways, the Pochettinos of this world are preferable characters, as the Chelsea boss palpably manipulates the media and shows little empathy for anyone that’s not associated with his club. Stephen Hunt, for example, is one of the more memorable victims of Mourinho’s Machiavellian style — in 2006, the coach accused Hunt of deliberately injuring Petr Cech, despite having minimal proof that it was the case.

Writing in The Sunday Independent recently, Hunt recalled the incident, as well as a subsequent unexpected meeting with Mourinho.

“I was sickened by what happened to Petr Cech in our collision in 2006 but Mourinho said I had done nothing to avoid the goalkeeper and suggested I was laughing about it afterwards. He also made claims about the time it took an ambulance to reach Cech that were refuted in detail by the local ambulance service.

“By the time we bumped into each other in Harrods, I had been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse. I would have got some anyway but there is no doubt that Mourinho’s stance added some ferocity to the situation.

“But when he saw me in Harrods, he was serene. If he believed the things he said about me, I would have expected him to be angry, to come over in my direction and start jabbing a finger in my chest as you imagine would have happened if it had been, say Alex Ferguson. You can say what you like about Alex Ferguson, but there was an integrity to his rage.

“I expected the same with Mourinho but after that I wondered if the actor in Mourinho dominates above all else.”

Yet for better or worse, despite their ethically questionable behaviour at times, individuals such as Mourinho (and to a similar extent, Ferguson) are undoubtedly beneficial to the Premier League brand. Every sport needs big characters in order to thrive, and as tiresome as they can often be, post-match interviews are also sometimes crucial in helping to create a narrative that engages the imagination of the public as much, if not more so, than the actual football on show.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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