The first rule of this Football Club is: You do not talk about this Football Club. The second rule of this Football Club is: You do not talk about this Football Club.
Joe Hart, you have been reminded.
On Tuesday night, fans across the land may have rejoiced at this rarest of sights, the lesser spotted honest footballer, giving a truthful and frank response to a question asked about his side’s performance.
But Hart’s assessment that Manchester City shouldn’t be satisfied with their display against Real Madrid really was a step too far. Within moments, a very public rap on the knuckles followed as Roberto Mancini made it crystal clear that the only person permitted to ‘judge’ his team, is well, him.
Criticise the team? Cast negative thoughts publically? Come on Joe, how dare you. You know the score. Players don’t speak ill of this establishment. Like, ever.
This isn’t a Manchester City thing. Don’t for a second think that this form of gagging is patented by Roberto Mancini or the ever-expanding worldwide conglomerate that is City.
Every club in English football from the top to the bottom adopts a similar approach. It’s an unwritten (and in many cases, actually written) rule that footballers must not under any circumstance discuss the team, manager or club in a way that could be construed as being, even just a little bit, unfavourable.
What about freedom of speech, gaffer? Nah, forget it son. Keep your thoughts to yourself.
Personal websites briefly changed the landscape a decade or so ago, but these have all but been quashed, you’ll notice. Those still in existence are carefully monitored and, in some cases, controlled by a burgeoning population of interfering press officers.
Twitter is all the rage now of course, and that’s thrown a spanner in the works. However, the timelines of the rich, and in some cases not even that famous, are stringently tracked nevertheless just in case a line or two is said out of place. Social networking is now so ingrained in society that it’s near on impossible to ‘ban’ players from using Twitter but warnings are in place for anything that’s said which could be perceived as revealing sensitive information.
Why the paranoia? Actually I can see the argument for it…
If what is meant to stay in the dressing room doesn’t stay in the dressing room there could, in theory, be carnage. Not-so-bright players may give their side’s tactical game plan away, if one player digs out a team-mate in full view of the world it might all kick off, if Joe Hart says one thing, Vincent Kompany another, and then Gareth Barry sticks his oar in saying something completely different, the red tops would hold their own street party in celebration at the newly-revealed “City Dressing Room Crisis”.
For an easy life, and to keep in your paymasters’ good books it’s much easier to say nothing; nothing at all. And clubs are happy to feed that fear into their staff.
The irony of it all of course is that players are encouraged to speak up within the confines of the dressing room itself.
I’ve heard so many managers moan about footballers who are ‘too quiet’ and rave about the winning teams that contain real men prepared to stand up and ‘tell it as it is’ and who aren’t afraid of criticising one another or ‘having an opinion’. It shows they care.
Honesty, brutal honesty, is encouraged. How else can a group improve if they’re not truthful with themselves?
But the public face of football clubs are rarely a true reflection of what really goes on. And that’s how they prefer to keep it.
Joe Hart will be fine. Inside, Roberto Mancini may even have felt a tinge of pride at his goalkeeper’s self-effacing attitude. Yet, he had no option but to castigate him, just in case the rest of the world began to question who was in charge.
Personally I think football clubs should give fans a little more credit. We’re not completely stupid. We know the players often can’t say what they really think. But the permission of a little bit more player honesty really wouldn’t do any harm, in fact we the public would love them more for it.
Sadly that’s not a risk too many clubs will ever be prepared to take in this media age.
So, next time the post-match player reaction flashes up on your TV screen, it’s probably a good time to put the kettle on.
Click here to read more from former Premier League footballer Adrian Clarke.