Mike Rowbottom: Single-minded football men excel at doublespeak

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The Independent Football

The Crystal Palace website, compiled for the benefit of Eagles fans, looked on the bright side earlier this week with a report insisting that Steve Bruce was insisting he wanted to remain manager at Selhurst Park, and quoting him thus: "All the speculation surrounding Birmingham has been off-putting. I could have done without it as it has detracted from the players and what they've achieved. I'm extremely happy here. I want to manage in the Premiership and I'd love to take Crystal Palace there. End of story."

It hardly took a practical criticism exercise of Empsonian proportions to detect an ambiguity in Bruce's words. End of story? Hardly. The message could have been interpreted as: "I'd love to take Crystal Palace there but I think Birmingham City have got better long-term prospects" or "I'd love to take Crystal Palace there and if they can match the package Birmingham are offering me I might stay".

I don't presume to know what was in Bruce's mind as he spoke. But the man who has, in the past, been talked of a possible manager at the club he used to captain, Manchester United, is clearly not short of ambition.

After Palace's defeat to West Bromwich on Wednesday, Bruce was offered the opportunity to clear up any lingering doubts concerning his future. He refused to talk about the matter. He refused, at that point, even to make eye contact with the journalists seated in front of him.

Needless to say, Bruce did not touch upon the vexed subject in his programme notes. Nor did the club chairman, Simon Jordan, whose own writings centred upon the need for fans in the Holmesdale Road End not to stand during matches in order to conform with Health and Safety regulations. (A case of "Sit down, if you love Palace...")

But Jordan did go public on the issue later in the week, when he maintained that Birmingham would never, ever be given permission to approach Bruce for the job. Hear that stable door slam!

It seems clear that Palace fans will have a sense of being, if not lied to, then at least misled over this matter. Bruce's verbal manoeuvres over the past week have been a classic example of the doublespeak that exists within the game.

Two other recent examples are fresh in my mind, although on these occasions manipulation, rather than prevarication, have been the motivating force. Early in September, I attended a football writers' lunch at which the guest, the Tottenham chairman, David Buchler, announced that the club had withdrawn from negotiations over the sale of defender Dean Richards by Southampton, whose asking price of £10m was grossly beyond Tottenham's valuation of £4m. "We are looking elsewhere," Buchler insisted. On the same day, his counterpart, Rupert Lowe, asserted: "Dean is committed to playing for Southampton".

And so Dean was, for a full fortnight, until he signed for Spurs at a figure £2m short of the original asking price.

Last month I sat in a roomful of fellow reporters and heard Norwich City's manager, Nigel Worthington, gravely refusing to rule out the idea that he would take over his old club Sheffield Wednesday. "The ball is firmly in the board's court," he added. "If anything was to happen it would not be my fault. I'm very happy at the club. My family are settled in the area. Why should I want to move? But as an experienced manager once told me, you never say never..."

A day later, Worthington's contract at Norwich was increased from 18 months to four years.

Now don't get me wrong here. The great British press has been known to bend the truth from time to time in its desire to capture the hearts, minds and readership of the great British public.

But when those in football criticise the press for exaggerating or misleading, they should think on. Glenn Roeder's behaviour after West Ham earned their first away win in eight months at Ipswich last weekend was a case in point. He blamed the media – "you guys", love that phrase – for having stirred up doubts over his tenure at Upton Park, insisting that, despite previous away results of 0-5 and 1-7, his job had not being questioned by his players, the board or the supporters.

And yet Roeder must have heard the boos from his own fans before his men had turned their losing sequence around with victory at home to Southampton a week earlier. And he would presumably have noticed that Southampton's manager, Stuart Gray, was sacked the day after that result following a sequence of results that did not differ dramatically from West Ham's.

Sometimes, for sure, the press deals in untruths for its own ends. But sometimes it deals in untruths simply because it is supplied with them.

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