Why Kenny Needs to be More Media Savvy

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Football, Media
Tags: , , , , ,

Anyone tuning in late to Kenny Dalglish’s post-match interview at Blackburn last week could be forgiven for assuming the Liverpool manager had just been on the receiving end of a grievous personal insult, such was his terse, curt and downright rude behaviour towards Sky’s Andy Burton. For those of us who have been observing the Liverpool manager’s media dealings over the past quarter of a century, however, Dalglish’s behaviour was nothing if unsurprising.

Burton’s questions were entirely reasonable, both in the context of the extraordinary game that had just played out, as well as in his non-confrontational delivery. That Dalglish declined to give his opinion on a sending off that he would subsequently appeal is entirely understandable. What was less understandable was that he should feel the need to walk out on the interviewer for daring to ask his opinion in the first place.

Critics of Dalglish’s media savvy (or lack thereof) have an ever-growing list of such examples to which they can point. Many will cite the Scots’ post-match interview at Old Trafford in February as the nadir, but in truth Dalglish’s treatment of the media has been remarkably consistent since he became the clubs player-manager in the summer of 1985.

And it is in the context of the summer of 1985 that the genesis of Dalglish’s hate-hate relationship with the fourth estate might well be explained. When the Glaswegian inherited Anfield’s top job from Joe Fagan, it was in the immediate aftermath of the Heysel disaster, a time when Liverpool as a club, city and people were on the end of a kicking of unprecedented venom from the world’s media, with the Thatcherite, right wing red tops wearing the steel-capped size twelves.

Considering Uefa had compounded their initial error of ignoring Liverpool’s pleas to have the final moved from the dilapidated Heysel stadium by then allowing rival fans into the same end, the club felt somewhat aggrieved at having to take 100% of the blame for the tragic events that unfolded. Many at the club, Dalglish included, felt the Governing body should have at least recognised their own, not insignificant, role in the tragedy, in particular allowing the game to go ahead in a stadium with no safety certificate.

However, with such a horrific loss of life, any temptation the club may have had to go public with their grievances would rightly have been construed as crass, self-serving and extremely insensitive, so they held their council and took their kicking. But significantly, it meant the Scot’s managerial career began amid a media onslaught, much of which Dalglish believed to be unwarranted. It’s impossible to know whether Dalglish would have adopted this overly-defensive, ‘give-em-nothing’ media persona had Heysel never happened, but it’s noteworthy in that it signified a marked difference to the far more approachable media persona he enjoyed as a player.

Dalglish had chosen his tone for dealing with the media and he stuck to it rigidly throughout his first successful tenure. But ‘successful’ is the key word here; from 1985-91 Liverpool were the top dogs in English football, the biggest draw and therefore, the biggest story. The press needed Kenny far more than Kenny needed the press. Fast forward twenty years and the opposite is true. Today, as far as the media are concerned Liverpool are a fallen giant living in the past, but conveniently still ripe for a kicking when they don’t emulate their sides of old. The all-devouring behemoth that is the modern football media can appoint and sack a manager with greater frequency than a dozen Jesus Gil’s on speed. For the manager of a team in transition, Dalglish needs the media onside, lest he succumb to the same fate as one of his predecessors Rafa Benitez.

Had the Spaniard granted more than the solitary on-on-one interview with the Times’ Tony Barrett during his six years on Merseyside, the media might have been more understanding and highlighted the many legitimate mitigating circumstances to Benitez’ first poor season at Anfield in 2009/10. Instead, they licked their lips and got stuck in, devouring the Spaniard with such savagery that a David Attenborough commentary would not have been out of place.

Compare and contrast the recent coverage of Dalglish with that of his Spurs counterpart Harry Redknapp, as both oversaw an almost identical run of abysmal results (a run that’s still on-going in Redknapp’s case). Where Dalglish was labelled everything from ‘archiac’ to the downright defamatory, ‘no better than Hodgson’, Redknapp may as well have been on his holidays for the sparsity of criticism the Tottenham chief has received. The difference? Redknapp plays the media game, Dalglish doesn’t. Whether it’s coming up with ‘amusing’ anecdotes or media-friendly sound bites, the Spurs manager can always be relied upon to provide great copy. For this the media love him and are therefore loath to criticise, even as Spurs’ once-promising season farcically implodes.

In an era of content-starved rolling sports channels, radio phone-ins and fans who respect Andy Gray’s opinion, the modern manager needs to thread carefully where the media is concerned. As Dalglish himself showed in his first spell in charge at Anfield you can only get away with dumping on the media if you do so from the top of the table. Liverpool fans hope that’s a position he regains soon, but until then, the Scot would be well advised to deploy a little of that latent Glaswegian charm.



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