This is one of sports’ most pointless ritual; the banality of asking “How does that win feel?” seems to rob the viewers of any sense of excitement they must have felt upon their team’s exhilarating come-from-behind victory not 5 minutes previously when the victim (aka the player) reels off a standard reply, “That felt good. The team played well and we never believed we would lose.”
Reporter – “You scored a wonderful goal today. Talk us through that.”
Player – “I got the ball from my team mate and just decided to let fly and it went in. It felt good.”
Reporter – “Does that win give you confidence going into the next game?”
Player – “Yeah definitely, we have some momentum now and will do our best to continue to give our all to the cause.”
And then, whatever entertainment the viewer might have gotten from the match, dissolves into dust. The man of the match, the player who just moments ago was sprinkling stardust on the showcase occasion in front of an audience of millions on national television, comes up with the most ruthlessly banal answer to crush all elation.
But why do players give such terribly plain interviews? The easiest answer is that players are contractually obliged to show up game after game and rattle off the same set of answers to the same set of questions.
With the advent of social media, the scrutiny of each word spoken and each gesture made is magnified and pulled apart. There are daily talk shows that specialise in trying to read the body language of a player or a manager (often incorrectly) and each slump of the shoulder, each tantrum thrown upon being substituted, each kick of the bottle is analysed to death by so called experts which puts the players on guard when they know they’re on camera.
The situation has come to a head; players are having to cover their mouths when talking to an opposition player on the pitch out of utter fear of their words being picked up on camera. God forbid if Wayne Rooney tells Steven Gerrard he played well – imagine the field day Twitter would have with that image.
Another potential answer to this sadly overlooked problem is that players are not public speakers. They’re paid to play, not to be eloquent. They spend the majority of their time working on their techniques and integrating themselves into the manager’s tactics; not reeling off lines of text in front of the mirror. I’m fairly certain most footballers grow up dreaming of being the next Ronaldinho or the next Lionel Messi rather than the modern era John F Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.
A big stumbling block in post-match or in-game interviews is that players are hardly going to talk about their tactics in front of the camera. So even a slightly fascinating question like “Eden Hazard only touched the ball twice in the opposition half, how were you able to keep him in check?” will hardly illicit a “We worked on this in training and poured over hundreds of videos to come up with a strategy to block him out” response. So instead of compromising your team’s strategy, the player will shoot off a standard “Yes we played good, tight defence” response and that will be all that will be said about that.
Sports is as much about psychology as it is about athleticism – mind games are as high on the list of manager’s “to-do” things as actually preparing for the big game on the weekend. When the stakes are as high as they are in professional sports, players don’t want to give any sort of mental advantage to the opposition and derail their own team’s chances of picking up a vital victory. So if the reporter asks “Why did your team struggle defensively?”, the player is unlikely to bad mouth his own team-mate – “The right side of our defence was like butter – and the opposition just applied a hot knife to cut through it” (even if it’s true). The players may insult each other and mock the opposition inside the dressing room but woe to the player who leaks it to the media. Can you remember the last time a player mocked the opposition in public? The mind boggles.
An interesting thought is that interviews are done only to cover the brands that sponsor the match/league. Ever noticed the hundreds of logos plastered behind the player or manager when he’s giving the interview? No? Once you’ve read this, that’s all you’ll see. Companies pay a lot of money to sponsor themselves during and after games. Sports is considered the best reality show of all – so why shouldn’t the big brands milk it? The more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
If, however, you do enjoy someone giving it back to the interviewer from time to time, you cannot miss on this gem from Louis van Gaal during his time at Manchester United:
I: Can you tell us about your transfer targets?
Beautiful, wasn’t it? Sticking it right back.
This is a strangely under-covered topic in sports perhaps because it the most common routine around – the player gives a few veiled answers before kick-off, praises the opponents, plays the match, and then gives a few more veiled responses and praises the opponents a bit more and he’s earned his money. The interviewer has done his job, the player has done his bit, and the audience is none the wiser at the end of the whole charade.
Which, at the end of the day, turns the question upside down – it’s not why the players give interviews – it’s more why the media continues to persist with them.