Mediawatch: The Manchester Evening ‘Fake News’?

Daniel Storey

Sign of the times
‘Manchester United transfer news and rumours: Jose Mourinho wants Tottenham Hotspur star, a move for Malcolm? Paul Pogba investigation latest’ – Birmingham Mail.

Yes that’s the Birmingham Mail, offering the latest Manchester United news. If ever there was an indication that websites are desperate for traffic, any traffic.

Surprised the Surrey Comet haven’t got a live blog for all those Manches… oh forget it.


Do as we say (not as we do?)
On Monday morning, the Manchester Evening News published a piece on its website railing against ‘fake news’ in football, and lauding themselves as the (new?) home of a different way. It was quite the ballsy message:

‘Sport, like news, is a perpetual motion machine. The pace of change is increasingly rapid, not just on the pitch but in the press box too.

‘After all, what is a sports journalist in 2017? Outstanding bloggers interrogate coaches at press conferences, long-loved fanzines have gone digital, reaching millions of readers every year and supporters are turning the cameras on themselves; democratising the games we love and presenting an unprecedented landscape to traditional media outlets.

‘Supporters and lovers of sport crave authenticity. To be a fan is to join a community, to share a common language that transcends accents or post codes. It is our job, as the regional experts around our clubs and personalities, to generate and reflect these communities and their conversations every day.

‘To be trusted by the people who go to games and know our teams inside out is a great privilege. Plenty changes in sport, but that remains the same. When you see a sea of headlines about your club, looking out for the title based closest to the club in question in the best way to ensure you’re getting the real story from your clubs.

‘Why? Because we don’t just report on our clubs, we live and work amongst its fans too. It’s a matter of trust.

‘We know what fans want because we are them ourselves. But we also know that fans want facts – no matter how much we’d all want to believe that Ronaldo is about to sign for our club. That’s what sets us apart from those organisations who just want your click. We want your trust.’

So there you go: big talk. No more sensational headlines about potential signings from spurious foreign sources, because the MEN want the trust of football supporters. They will be the Gradgrind of Manchester football news, obsessed with facts.

Quite why a newspaper felt the need to announce that they were doing this rather than…y’know, just doing it is unclear, but let’s leave the cynicism at the door. Positive change is positive change.


The very next day…
So, let’s just open the Manchester Evening News football homepage on Tuesday afternoon, and see what’s what. Ooooh, what’s this headline?

‘Gareth Bale agrees to join Manchester United from Real Madrid and more transfer rumours.’

That Bale headline (hey, they only said Ronaldo was off the table) is taken from Diario Gol in Spain, who claim that Bale had an unwritten agreement to move to Manchester United this summer, but that agreement is on hold because of United’s defeat to Arsenal.

Not only have you gone for the sensational headline you apparently want to shun, you’ve even been selective with which bits of the questionable story you report. To do that the day after that long, righteous call-to-arms is nothing short of taking the p*ss.


And the next…
‘Have Manchester United dropped transfer hints about the futures of De Gea and Rooney?’ – Manchester Evening News, May 10.

Both players were used in the club’s new kit launch, you see. Because that never happens before players leave.

‘We know that fans want facts – no matter how much we’d all want to believe that Ronaldo is about to sign for our club. That’s what sets us apart from those organisations who just want your click. We want your trust.’

Sure. When it suits.


Saints alive
The Daily Mail’s chief sports writer Martin Samuel has an opinion on Southampton, and he’s sticking to it. It’s definitely nothing to do with those damages.

In October 2014, Samuel predicted the demise of Southampton as a consequence of selling players:

‘The problem is Koeman has made it look a breeze. This way the Championship lies. Not this season, maybe not next season, but ultimately. If the board thinks it can get away with it year on year, there is an inevitable conclusion.’

In September 2015, he was back:

‘A year ago, the summer sales gave Ronald Koeman the chance to build his own team; this time he will have seen the departures as debilitating. Indeed that was the problem with last year: it made the process look easy. It never is.’

Now, with Southampton safe once again, Samuel is going in again:

‘Every summer, they sell their best players. Some winters, too. This January, Jose Fonte went to West Ham. The fee, £10million, was a lot for a 33-year-old centre half and no doubt Puel understood.

‘In the League Cup final Puel was forced to play 23-year-old Jack Stephens where Fonte would have been, with Virgil van Dijk injured. Stephens had started his first game for the club in January. He did well in the final, but there was no guarantee of that.

‘Sooner or later, the constant sales were always going to catch up with Southampton, and, if they have, it is to Puel’s credit that the club has still held its own. A club with Southampton’s philosophy could easily have got sucked into a relegation fight.’

Except they haven’t really caught up with Southampton, have they? Southampton finished eighth in 2013/14, seventh in 2014/15, sixth in 2015/16 and will go at least as high as ninth if they win even one of their two games in hand. Injuries to key players have hurt them, but it’s hardly panic stations.

It’s almost as if selling players at high prices and putting faith in young players (along with some added investment) is exactly the best way to flourish as a lower-ranking Premier League club.


Claude the fraud
‘Southampton are 10th and their manager, Claude Puel, is fighting for his job,’ writes Samuel in that same column. ‘It rather raises the question, where do they think they should be?

‘Sooner or later, the constant sales were always going to catch up with Southampton, and, if they have, it is to Puel’s credit that the club has still held its own. A club with Southampton’s philosophy could easily have got sucked into a relegation fight. Puel should be under no pressure at all; in the circumstances, he has done a very good job.’

Mediawatch does not entirely disagree with that assessment, although there are reports of Puel falling out with senior players. And if there is one club to back over managerial upgrades, it is Southampton. Nigel Adkins out, Mauricio Pochettino in, anyone?

But it is interesting to read Samuel so staunchly defending Puel when it comes to Southampton’s decision-making, given that he wrote this when the Frenchman was appointed:

‘At a time when 17million saw a benefit to not being European, Claude Puel, the new Southampton manager, is taking advantage of not being British. If we knew more about him, we might regard him as we do, say, David Moyes or Kenny Dalglish. We might have the odd reservation; the conversations around his appointment would be better informed.

‘British bosses can get talked out of a job even before they have got it. The owners take the temperature on Twitter and lose their nerve.

‘Compare Puel, for instance, to Michael O’Neill, coach of Northern Ireland. He has done an extraordinary job, given the resources at his disposal. A lot has been made of the minnows at this tournament, but O’Neill was not the beneficiary of UEFA largesse. Would O’Neill be considered for a Premier League job, though? Did Southampton give him a second thought?’

Isn’t it time to have a little faith that Southampton might know what they’re doing?


Nailed it
‘MANAGERS in the Championship play-offs include Reading’s Jaap Stam, Fulham’s Slavisa Jokanovic, Sheffield Wednesday’s Carlos Carvalhal and David Wagner of Huddersfield – from Holland, Serbia, Portugal and Germany.

‘All four turned round teams which had been struggling in the bottom half of the table under British management. And those fancied clubs who fell short of the top six – Leeds, Derby, Norwich and Villa – all did so with Brits at the helm.

‘Overseas bosses will rarely receive the hero-grams reserved for miracle workers like Sam Allardyce, who has lifted Crystal Palace from 17th to 16th in the Premier League. But these foreigners, eh? They come over here and they take our jobs and tend to do them a damned sight better than we do’ – Dave Kidd, The Sun.

*Stands to applaud*


What is it good for?
‘EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United set for war with Chelsea to sign Romelu Lukaku’ – Daily Star.

Seems a bit much. How about you both make bids and negotiate with Everton, the player and his agent?


Quote of the day
“Over the last two seasons, teams who have not big possession have won the league. Are teams who are not making the game doing well? Yes. I still think sport has to encourage initiative and, if it rewards too much teams who don’t take initiative, then we have to rethink the whole process because people will not, forever, come to watch teams who do not want to take the initiative. The responsibility of people who make the rules is always to encourage teams who want to play, because that is what you want to see” – Arsene Wenger.

Even by Wenger’s own standards of stubbornness, suggesting that it should be the game that adapts to overcome counter-attacking football rather than him is truly astonishing. Mediawatch is actually impressed.


Recommended reading of the day
Amy Lawrence with Slavisa Jokanovic.

Jacob Steinberg at Ajax.

Iain Macintosh on the benefits of no European football.