We've all seen the footage of André Villas-Boas calling out the Daily Mail by now, but of all the theories as to why the press seem to be out to get him, the most convincing seems to be this: it's because he reacts, every single time. As simple as that.
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Some may choose to commend Villas-Boas' decision to attack his detractors, but it ignores the fact that Neil Ashton balanced out his shoddy hatchetmanship with something much better: he created a story where there wasn't one. Journalists are very easily ignored these days, so for one to provoke a manager into an all-out attack is a rarity, and is probably worth some species of praise. It's certainly good business, and it gives everybody plenty of reason to do so again.
The problem with reacting to this sort of thing is that it shows an incredible naivety - appealing to higher standards or making some grand statement is simply not going to do any good. It's the Frasier Crane approach, a heartfelt reaction from someone too disconnected with the real world to understand the consequences. Some fans would disagree, but football journalists aren't expected to be David Frost or John Pilger. Ashton made a serious and almost certainly deliberate transgression on the face of things, but does it matter? No. Or rather, it didn't matter until Villas-Boas chose to take the bait.
Expecting people to take you at your word in football is plainly absurd. We know this because what people say on the record in football is rarely of any use. It's ridiculous for Villas-Boas to come out and demand people take him as a straight-talkin' kinda guy when he spent the entire summer insisting that Gareth Bale wasn't for sale, would be staying, was going nowhere, loved Spurs, had posters of Bill Nicholson in his bedroom as a child, and so on.
Now, everybody knows why Villas-Boas did that. It's standard practice. It would've been far more absurd for him to tell the truth in that situation, just as it makes little sense for a manager to pin the entire blame for a defeat on one defender having a shocker. This is why people read between the lines - because everything people say in public in football is, more often than not, lies. The fact that some people still haven't learned this is frankly baffling - demanding 'quotes' from transfer stories when it's proved twice every year that stories with on-the-record statements are always the least reliable.
So you play the game. You leave the clues there, you talk cryptically, and you say what you want to say covertly. Alex Ferguson was the master at this, always knowing what part of an interview would be picked up on, always knowing when to say something ridiculous as a diversion and when to simply shut up. Words are always twisted, no matter how much the press like you, because they are fully aware that it is essentially the job of a football manager to lie to them on a daily basis.
If anything, Villas-Boas was lucky that the press decided to pick up on words he didn't actually say. Some he did come out with in his response to his critics were "We have to remind people that we are on the brink of the semi-finals of the League Cup. We are also in the last 32 of the Europa League." That's a worse defensive performance than anything we've seen from even Michael Dawson this year, worthy of an 800-word hitpiece alone. You want beef, you better bring your best, and Villas-Boas will need something a lot better than that. It's almost as if the results you get on a football pitch have some bearing on how good people think you are as a manager, huh?
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It's Sports Personality of the Year time again, and we have a new manufactured outrage in the presence of Adnan Januzaj among the youth version of the award.
Critics were quick to suggest that the FA's Greg Dyke, keen to see the youngster in an England shirt, had called up some favours from his old pals at the BBC. A fanciful claim, as though the overwhelmingly most popular sport in England should automatically be disqualified from partaking - Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney have featured and won it before, so why should Januzaj be different?
So, let's look at the other bright young hopes on the Sports Personality of the Year list, the real heroes whom Adnan Januzaj insults with his presence among them. It's difficult to write much of an appraisal because, for the vast majority of people, Januzaj is the only one they'll have heard of. Someone's even on there for shooting, a nomination surely disqualified from the running by failing at the "Sports" criteria, the very first word in the title. When approaching the issue of what is and isn't a sport, this column uses the increasingly-accepted method of "if you can play it to a high standard with an erection, it isn't a sport", and it surely fails on that front.
Pointing out that Januzaj has only featured in a few games in his career is pointless when most of these sports are a lot less competitive and popular than even youth football. For all the impressive achievements, there are a lot more people trying to break into the Manchester United first team than fire a gun at a target for England. Really, though, the question is why people only seem to care about awards when they disagree with them. They're meaningless baubles until anything remotely controversial happens - as the Ballon d'Or voting extension confirms.