Sharuko on Saturday
DONALD TRUMP has built a political career, which has taken him all the way to the White House, on a foundation in which he, among other things, finds it very fashionable to describe American political journalists as a bunch of very dishonest people.
The maverick billionaire constantly attacks the New York Times, as a failing newspaper, regularly blasts CNN and at times refuses to take questions from their journalists and also slams other American networks like ABC, CBS and NBCNews as media organisations representative of what he claims is a cancer of dishonesty.
It’s a new era for these guys, they have never confronted someone like Trump who, when he feels he has been offended by them rushes to the comfort of his Twitter feed to hit back at them, with astonishing regularity, labelling them monsters past their sell-by-date.
“The Fake News media failing @newyorktimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN is not my enemy,” he tweeted recently. “It is the enemy of the American people.”
Of course, this isn’t restricted to the minefields of the American political world.
Even in our green fields of sport, things sometimes come to a head and Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful British football coach of all-time, had a number of running battles with the media in his country, banning the BBC from interviewing him for seven years after describing the corporation as “arrogant beyond belief”.
It took the intervention of the then BBC director general, Mark Thompson, who personally travelled to Manchester in 2012 to speak to Fergie for the feud — triggered by a 2004 BBC documentary, “Father and Son”, which insinuated that Ferguson’s son Jason, then a football agent, was involved in some questionable dealings — to end.
But all that pales in comparison to Ferguson’s outburst, on May 7, 2002, when the Scot — annoyed by the British media’s persistent claims that midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, whom he had signed at a huge fee, would not make it in the English Premiership — ordered the journalists out of Manchester United’s training ground, in the process yelling, “He (Veron) is a f****n great player and you’re all f*****n idiots.”
I have had my running battles, over the years, with footballers, coaches and administrators unhappy with what they perceived to be the negativity of my coverage of them, including being threatened with deportation from Ghana in ’97, after the authorities there exploded with rage following a report I filed related to a poor training ground offered to the Warriors on a ’98 Nations Cup qualification tour of duty.
And, only two years ago, the conservative media in Australia, led by Fox Sports and a number of influential newspapers, unsuccessfully campaigned to call for the cancellation of my ICC World Cup accreditation and subsequent deportation from Australia and New Zealand because they had been angered by a report I had filed for this newspaper.
A BARCA TRIUMPH THAT SHOULD PROVOKE A GLOBAL MEDIA INTROSPECTION
Wednesday night’s Miracle of Barcelona, when the Catalan giants overturned a 0-4 first leg Champions League deficit to score three times, in the last seven minutes, and power to a 6-1 victory over French giants Paris St-Germain has been hailed by newspapers around the world as a master class.
Of course, it was.
A refreshing feel-good story, which had a happy ending, about a club that refused to be buried under the weight of daunting odds, which dared climb heights never before scaled by mere mortals, which made a mockery of history and in one-and-a-half hours of a display of steely determination, overturned a 0-4 first leg deficit to power into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
That it had never been done before, that the experts said it could never be done, made Barcelona’s story special and that the Catalan giants needed the last touch of the match, to win the game, provided a fitting ending to a night when you didn’t need to be a Barcelona fan to appreciate the majesty and beauty of their incredible shift.
I have never been a Barca fan, the fact that this club reached probably the peak of its powers at a time when my beloved Manchester United was on the threshold of ruling the world and, twice, beat us in the Champions League final, only helped to isolate this club further away from my radar of affection.
But that doesn’t blind me to the reality that they play beautiful football, the way the game should be played, and they have also been lucky, of course, to have the service of a genius called Lionel Messi who has, now and again, provided the difference in this club’s endless quest for greatness.
And, as much as I felt for poor PSG and the French people after their club’s meltdown in Barcelona, triggered by an inspired opponent and some questionable, if not sickening match officiating in which their genuine call for a penalty was turned down — when Angel di Maria was fouled in the box — while their opponents received two controversial spot-kicks, including a blatant drive by Suarez — I also cheered Barca’s remarkable spirit and never-say-die attitude.
The world football media hailed the Miracle of Barcelona, telling us why this club is very, very special, justifying why they believe it is the best football team in the world, why it has always represented the purity of football and why it is different from any club in the world.
Brazilian superstar Neymar, who until the last seven minutes was having a horror performance, was now being saluted as a genius, thanks to the way he helped Barca turn things around, scoring a superb free-kick to spark the comeback, converting a penalty and then providing the assist for the decisive killer goal.
Suddenly, there were front page images of celebrating Barca players, all over the world, accompanied by articles saluting them as heroes.
But, shouldn’t the wave of all these articles we have seen around the world this week, saluting Barcelona as this mean machine that represents greatness, football purity, the epitome of the beauty in this game, the ultimate juggernaut, a club that represents all the virtues of the never-say-die spirit that this game badly wants, provoke a soul-searching exercise within the same media that has gone into overdrive hailing the events of the Camp Nou on Wednesday night?
Doesn’t the stunning flip-flopping that we have seen from the world media, which only three weeks ago was performing the last rites on the graveyard of this Barca team, telling us that this was the painful end of an era after the club’s 0-4 humbling in Paris, flooding us with a glut of eulogies as they mourned the death of this football franchise, paint a picture of confusion and ask serious questions about this profession we all love?
Isn’t the world media pushing itself towards irrelevance when, this week, it all unites to tell its readers and consumers that Barcelona, as we used to know it during the days of Xavi and Pep Guardiola, is dead and buried, in the wake of that pounding in Paris and, three weeks later, the same media reinvents itself as converts saluting the same Barca as the best football club in the world simply because it has defied its predictions of doom and turned things around?
Isn’t this the height of hypocrisy by men and women who, as in the Barca case, are easily seduced into rushing to premature conclusions, when their readership expect them to provide guidance, leadership and in-depth analysis, who flow with the tide and simply go where the wind blows and, when things suddenly change, as was the case on Wednesday night, don’t dare to offer any apology to their readers and, like a chameleon, simply change their colours and begin singing a different tune altogether?
Why should it always be sunny, in their world, that today they can tell the whole world that Barca is a club that is disintegrating, in a spectacular free-fall, on the basis of a pounding at the hands of PSG in Paris and then — after just three weeks — convert themselves into preachers, on basically the same subject, telling the same subject, telling the same readership that Barca are the greatest thing that ever happened to football simply because the Catalans have overturned the deficit?
When the should the people who are supposed to provide leadership, in terms of analysis of events, the experts who shouldn’t be lured by just a mere scoreline or whose conclusion shouldn’t be driven only by history, simply because it hadn’t been done before, fail in their primary duty to provide such leadership, isn’t there a danger that they lose relevance in the eyes of their readership?
Of course, I don’t believe Fergie’s assessment, in his moment of both weakness and fury, that they are “all f****n idiots,” but I think, after the events of the past three weeks, there are some people who have lost confidence in a number of people they relied upon for expert analysis and direction when it comes to football.
And that sports journalism, around the world, is on trial in the wakes of the prophets of doom who led the world to believe it was impossible for Barca to overturn that deficit, who told their readers that this was the beginning of the end of the golden era of the Catalan giants, only for them to change tune on Wednesday, praising the same team as the greatest football club in the world, is something that we have to accept.
A REMINDER OF WHAT THEY
SAID NOT SO LONG AGO
Diario AS is a very influential Spanish daily sports newspaper which concentrates, largely, on football and has a circulation of about 214 654 which has been rising all the time.
Just two months ago, after Barcelona lost 1-2 in the first leg of a Copa del Rey match against a nine-man Athletic Bilbao, the newspaper’s online English site ran an article, in which it captured the reaction of the world media to the result, under the headline: WORLD PRESS REACT — Barca are no longer the best team in Spain.’
“Teams like Bilbao now look at the Catalans and see vulnerabilities, chinks in the armour, where they once just saw a fearsome killing machine that chopped down everyone in their wake,” the Daily Mirror of England wrote.
A number of other newspapers, from around the world, also joined in the feast as they savaged Barca as a spent force that was disintegrating at an alarming rate.
And, after the Massacre In Paris, the world media amplified their attack on the Catalan giants, using that beating as further evidence that their empire had crumbled.
“The inquest into Barcelona’s 4-0 defeat in Paris agreed on one thing — this was not a team losing a football match so much as a club losing its way,” said Diario Sport under the headline, ‘THIS IS NOT BARCA,’ with the newspaper saying the “coach had signed his own death warrant with a performance completely devoid of any trace of Barcelona’s philosophy. That warrant will not be served until the end of the season but save for a miraculous turnaround in the second leg — which no one believes in — it will most definitely be served.
“A team built on the extraordinary talents of its front three and (as the coach’s critics would have it) little else, will be horribly exposed if those three don’t perform. It did not help Enrique’s cause that he was so out-thought by fellow Spanish coach Unai Emery who until Tuesday night had a terrible record against Barcelona with only one win in 23 attempts at various clubs.”
Crucially, the newspaper said Barca’s thrashing in Paris carried “the stink of the end of an era and the empty weeks that take them through to the end of the season — at least during Champions League fixtures — will need to be filled with something, and what better than the announcement of a bumper new contract for the club’s greatest ever player.”
At least, not everyone saw the gloom and I owe my boss, Caesar Zvayi, a Glenfiddich 18 reserve whisky after I questioned his confidence to go Twitter, just before the match on Wednesday, to boldly declare that Barcelona would overturn the four-goal deficit and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
I owe you one Prophet Caesar!
But what about the Barca coach, Luis Enrique, who correctly called before the match, that his men would score six goals with the sixth goal coming in the 95th minute?
“If a team can score four against us then we can score six against them. The result in the first leg was very clear but this is a knockout tie and we’re only at half-time. Over 95 minutes, an infinite number of things can happen,” he told a media conference before the big game.
And, lo and behold, his men scored six goals with the last one coming in the 95th minute.
Amid all this drama, my award for honesty goes to Barca defender Javier Mascherano for telling the media, after the match on Wednesday, that he had fouled Di Maria for that penalty that was not given.
“I made contact with Di María. It’s obvious it was a foul. I’m not going to lie about it.”
But, for all its challenges, sports writing can still provide a rainbow in the gloom and British journalist Sid Lowe, writing in The Guardian this week, did just that with this classic paragraph, “Even the goal, Barcelona’s fourth, should have been an afterthought. Neymar’s free-kick felt almost as cruel as it was perfect, curling into the top corner by the near post, a moment that would ultimately prove meaningless, a brief and empty hope inevitably taken away. The crazy thing was that somehow there was substance.”
And, on such occasions, I retreat to the world of my idol, the late Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who had a habit of always being late, which became the focus of his friend Mike Selvey, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, in a moving opening paragraph to the obituary he penned for his departed colleague under the headline “Cricket loses the best friend it ever had.”
“The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins — we always said it had a pertinent ring to it, because generally that is what he was. And, now, he really is,” wrote Shelvey.
Now, that’s a classic.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!