Rafa’s facts – January 2009
Liverpool had assembled their best side since their last title triumph and they were top of the Premier League having lost once all season by early January. Sound familiar?
Then Sir Alex Ferguson weighed in. His Manchester United side were on Liverpool’s tails so he used the club programme to turn the screw on Rafa and his men: “There’s no doubt that in the second half of the season they will get nervous. With the experience we’ve got at our club, having won a couple of titles in the past couple of years especially, it helps you. There’s no doubt about that. They are going into the unknown, and if you make mistakes, then you get punished.”
Kenny Dalglish was well versed in Fergie’s mischief-making and via the medium of Liverpool’s website, he brushed the whole thing off: “All I would say is forget about these mind games and concentrate solely on what’s going on around our own club. Whatever anybody else says is up to them but they won’t get into the minds of anyone at Anfield, that’s for sure. It may fill some column inches in the papers but it won’t distract us. The more others speak about Liverpool then the more worried they are.”
Sorted. Or at least it was until Benitez sat down for his press conference to preview Liverpool’s upcoming meeting with Stoke. After a typically-innocuous start to proceedings, Benitez was fed a question about Fergie’s comments. Then Liverpool’s season began to unravel…
Liverpool drew with Stoke – and in their following two matches – to surrender a top spot which they never retrieved, all while United p*ssed themselves to their record-equalling 18th title triumph.
Mourinho’s ‘special one’ – 2004
This is the Jose everyone admired. Many begrudgingly, but the magnetism of the man and the glint in his eye was undeniable and inescapable. Fifteen years ago, the Portuguese coach, fresh from guiding Porto to the European Cup, strutted into Stamford Bridge to take over from Claudio Ranieri and immediately captivated everyone.
Upon meeting the English press for the first time, with the perfect blend of charm and snark, Mourinho dismissed Ranieri’s doubts over whether a coach from Portuguese football could cope with the Premier League: “I heard that and I suggest if one of you is Mr Ranieri’s friend or has his number you should call him and explain to him that for a team to win the European Cup it has to beat many teams from many countries. I did not win the cup playing against 20 Portuguese teams. I played and beat a team from his own country, Italy, from your country and the one he was working in, England.”
It was already abundantly clear that Mourinho fancied himself but, in response to a question over the capabilities of his new squad, the then-41-year-old was happy to reinforce exactly how much.
“We have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, we have a top manager,” he said. “Please don’t call me arrogant, because what I’m saying is true… I’m European champion, I’m not one of the bottle, I think I’m a special one.”
It is a line that has been rehashed and mis-represented ever since – though not by our Nick Miller – but that barely altered Mourinho’s sentiment. The bravado even made Fergie sit up and take notice: “The first time I recognised Jose Mourinho as a potential threat was at his opening press conference as Chelsea manager. ‘I’m the special one,’ he announced. ‘What a cheeky young sod’, I thought.”
Sweary Joe Kinnear – October 2008
Newcastle were a basket case in 2008, even more so than they are more than a decade on. Kevin Keegan resigned just a few weeks into the season, citing a lack of control over team affairs, while owner Mike Ashley, executive director Dennis Wise, vice-chairman Tony Jimenez and chairman Derek Llambias were accused by the Toon Army of forcing Wor Kev out of the club.
Enter Joe Kinnear. While Ashley was trying to sell the club, with Nigerian and Dubai-based consortiums linked at the time, the owner put Kinnear in charge of the team for a brief-but-undefined period. Understandably, Newcastle fans were underwhelmed. A Tyneside hero had been replaced by a 61-year-old who hadn’t managed since being sacked by Nottingham Forest four years previously, and a boss who had not worked in the Premier League for almost a decade since leaving Wimbledon after suffering a heart attack in 1999.
The press coverage reflected the mood of the Toon Army and posed fair questions of the appointment and the process behind it. That didn’t go down well with Kinnear. At his first official press conference as Magpies boss, he came out fighting, opening by calling Mirror journalist Simon Bird ‘a c*nt’ before dropping 36 f-bombs in an expletive-littered tirade at the media present.
The Newcastle press officer tried desperately to limit the damage by declaring that the previous eight minutes of gold dust had been ‘completely and totally off the record’ before Kinnear went over his head to tell the journos to ‘print what you like’.
Unfortunately, on the audio below, you can’t quite make out the sound of the press officer’s head hitting the desk over Kinnear telling everyone except the two local papers to ‘f*ck off’.
A word of warning that you presumably don’t need, but just in case: don’t consume this absolute gold at work or within earshot of young, impressionable minds. Think of the children…
Eric Cantona’s seagulls and trawlers – March 1995
Manchester United’s lawyer Maurice Watkins felt Eric should say something to the world after his two-week prison sentence for launching himself over the Crystal Palace advertising hoardings and into Matthew Simmons had been reduced to community service. So Eric, not yet fluent in English, obliged and began drafting his words.
It didn’t take him long. After enquiring what the English words are for a boat that catches fish and the birds were that fly over the sea, he was ready. He entered the conference room of the Croydon Jury’s Inn and sat down to offer his statement.
The delivery is even more magnificent than the message. Even Cantona never managed a pass as perfectly timed as that sip of water.
What did it all mean? Cantona flummoxed everyone but the great man cleared it all up some years later: “These words, this line, it means nothing. After that, everybody tried to analyse the words, and I loved it.”
Nigel Pearson’s ostrich-like flexibility – April 2015
This wasn’t the first time the tetchy Leicester manager had come across as a bit of a dick in 2014-15. A month previously, from the same seat, he called a journalist ‘a prick’ but the insulted scribe probably realised he had got off lightly. A couple of months before that, a Foxes fan was instructed to ‘f*ck off and die’. When offered the chance to apologise, Pearson doubled down: “There’s no need for me to apologise to someone of that ilk.”
Pearson perhaps noted that he should tweak his tone so he swapped threatening for condescending when, after a defeat to Chelsea, he took exception to a query over his perception that his players had received unfair criticism during the season.
“I think you are an ostrich,” was a quirky, perhaps even amusing response and had it not been followed up by repeated attempts at belittling the inquisitive journalist, then it might have bought him some credit. But Pearson couldn’t let it lie.
Delightfully, the BBC’s Pat Murphy turned up to take Pearson to task the following day when the manager’s arrogance shone equally as brightly.