When it comes to the media, the Tottenham Hotspur manager can learn a lot from the Manchester United icon
Sir Alex Ferguson’s recently-published autobiography contains a revealing chapter on how the former Manchester United manager adjusted to the task of dealing with the media.
“Appearing beleaguered is no way to handle the press,” writes Sir Alex, recalling that the best piece of advice he received on the issue came from a Granada TV employee. “You’re showing your worries. Look in that mirror and put the Sir Alex Ferguson face on.”
During more than two decades at Old Trafford, Sir Alex became a master at dealing with the pressure of media attention. At his weekly press conferences, he fine-tuned the ability to bat away the loaded questions which were directed at him.
He rarely ‘gave anything away’ to the media, aside from what he wanted to.
As he puts it, he was ‘on the front foot’ when he came face to face with the national press.
Lord Sugar’s suggestion that Sir Alex replace AVB at the Lane was met with a furious broadside from the Portuguese, who fired back in the wake of a 2-2 draw with United.
He responded with emotion, with accusations towards Lord Sugar, and a tabloid journalist, of a ‘lack of respect’, and insults to his integrity, his values and his professionalism.
While his retort to Lord Sugar was entirely justified, to enter battle with a British tabloid is tantamount to professional suicide. Villas-Boas, already portrayed as stand-offish and aloof, has now merely provided ammunition for those who wish to frame him as a man cracking up.
Villas-Boas has made the fatal error of baring all, responding genuinely to criticism which is undoubtedly disproportionately fierce.
What he should have done – what Ferguson would have done- is close ranks. Adopt a siege mentality. Let every single player believe there is a media agenda against Spurs, and let them provide the answers on the pitch. Stay in control, stay one step ahead of the media.
By making enemies of the press, and in particular the tabloids, Villas-Boas is taking on a powerful foe. One which, make no mistake, can manoeuvre a manager out of a club.
AVB’s predecessor Harry Redknapp had the media eating out of his hand. Even with a reputation damaged by a long and embarrassing court case, Redknapp’s relationship with the press helped to keep his managerial career alive. When Redknapp went head-to-head with Roy Hodgson for the England job, there were few newspapers advocating the latter man.
Having made such wholesale changes during the summer, and with a squad which should be capable of challenging for the top four, Villas-Boas was always going to come under scrutiny.
But his mistake has been to lay himself open to criticism. As Sir Alex puts it: “Showing your torments to them is no way to help your team improve their chances of winning.”
image: © Vladimir Maiorov