Time after time on television you see players struggling to articulate and managers suppressing their innermost feelings

A fact that never seems to register with some toilers in my trade is that sports figures are not trained to light up a room and be expert in communication.

I recently mentioned this to a quite prominent football manager. He was greatly moved. "Of all the things expected of me, I find speaking to the media immediately after matches the most difficult," he said. "It isn't made easier by having to deal with people who are not thinking out loud but trying to sound impressive."

Time after time on television, unable to avoid contractual obligation, you see players struggling to articulate themselves clearly and managers suppressing their innermost feelings.

As Michael Atherton found this week in the emotional aftermath of a loss to South Africa in the cricket World Cup, there are times when the benefits of higher education are not much help either. Riled by a question that apparently did not make sense to any of those present and most thought unnecessarily provocative, Atherton called Asghar Ali of the Pakistan Press Association a buffoon.

Slightly over the top, perhaps, but, in declaring himself devastated by Atherton's insult, Mr Ali makes it clear that he was not present at any of the press conferences given by an enormously famous namesake. When not soaring off on flights of fantasy, one of Muhammad Ali's favourite tricks was to put down interrogators with the suggestion that they were dumber than they looked.

Leaving aside all technical considerations, the biggest mistake Graham Taylor made when managing the England football team was to be drawn into pre-match debates with members of the press corps over selection and tactics, as he did before the World Cup defeat in Rotterdam that made his departure inevitable. Why is he doing this, I remember thinking?

It was something that the most successful of Taylor's predecessors, Sir Alf Ramsey, never countenanced. For example, before a match against Poland, the last England played before the 1966 World Cup finals, Ramsey sprang the surprise of including Martin Peters, who had not appeared to be under consideration. As Peters' was the last name to be read out it prompted the question of function. "Can you tell us where Martin will play?" asked Frank McGhee, then of the Daily Mirror, who got on well with Ramsey. "No, Frank," Ramsey replied as he rose to leave.

A personal experience with Ramsey, one that caused the most serious difference between us, concerns the morning after England won the World Cup. Turning up for a lunch in their celebration, Ramsey refused to be interviewed. "This is my day off," he said perfunctorily.

Things have changed, maybe for the worse, maybe for the better, but nobody today has improved on the cunning that Sir Matt Busby employed when dealing with difficult questions. Accessible and co-operative, Busby was also a master of the verbal body swerve, using it to avoid giving answers that might embarrass him and Manchester United.

"Tell me, Sir Matt, is there anything in this rumour that you are about to buy someone," a football writer might have asked.

"Well, now," Busby would reply, pausing between words, drawing on his pipe, thinking carefully because the rumour was probably not without substance. "Well, now, you see. This can be a difficult business, son, and you have to stay in touch with what's going on. We keep our eyes open, you know. And how is the golf? Are you hitting the ball straight? That's the secret. Keeping it on the fairway."

There is no disposition here to condemn those who go about their task honourably. Equally it is foolish of people in sport to suppose that they are entitled to avoid explanations for failure. An interesting thing is that naive questions often get the best answers.

"This is different from what you said yesterday," a sportswriter complained to the American boxing promoter, Bob Arum. "Absolutely," Arum replied famously. "Yesterday I was lying, today I'm telling the truth."

As for Asghar Ali, by all accounts he got what he asked for.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
Sport
football
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us