Bowled over by Robinho exclusive
The exclusive! The sort of thing that every journalist dreams about but almost never delivers. In the world of modern media, an "exclusive" is almost as rare as a defender's hat-trick or a tasty brown banana.
And yet last week we had one. There weren't any clandestine meetings or weeks of research, but it was a bona fide exclusive nevertheless. A "you can hear the rest of that interview on Football Focus" jaffa.
The subject was Robinho and this blog is the story of how it came about.
It started, as everything seems to start, with a phone call from the Focus editor. "Can you go to Manchester next Tuesday? You've got a one-on-one with Craig Bellamy." "No problem," I replied, before ringing the office to book a train.
Ten minutes later the phone went again. "Forget it," said the Focus editor. "Bellamy's pulled out!" came down the line. "No problem" I replied. Within the hour, he was back on again. "Right, you are going to Manchester but this time you're interviewing Robinho." Aware of my previous two responses, I went for a simple "OK" on this occasion. "Is there a problem?" asked the Focus editor. "No, no problem," I replied.
The interview had been set up as part of the Premier League's "Places for Players" campaign and turned out to be something of a logistical nightmare.
Manchester City, one of the most pro-active clubs out there, had organised for almost the entire first team to head to a bowling alley south of the city to entertain 60 children who would never normally get the chance to meet their heroes.
Stylish Tevez in full flow
We were meant to be at the venue for 1300 GMT, the players were due between 1330 and 1400, and our interview with Robinho was pencilled in for just after 1400. We were all set up and waited for the madness to begin.
"Are you a footballer?" a 12-year-old girl asked me. "Sadly not," I replied. "We're here to interview one a bit later, though." She cannot have heard me properly, because her next question was "Are you off Coronation Street then?" Again, I answered in the negative.
"Who are you filming?" she asked, when the penny finally dropped. "Is it Micah Richards? He signed my forehead at the end of last season... it were wicked!." "No, we are here to do Robinho," I explained. "ROBINHO? ROBINHO'S COMING HERE? Wait till I tell Gemma!" With that, she disappeared off towards the air hockey tables.
Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha then scuttled in, closely followed by Shay Given and Gareth Barry. Then it was Adebayor, Petrov, Toure and Richards, while Silvinho, Santa Cruz and Tevez waltzed up a secret staircase. The kids were all wide-eyed in the presence of greatness, but there was still no sign of Robinho.
It wasn't for a lack of organisation. Three of the club's press officers were in attendance, along with two girls from the Premier League and one from the local council, who was organising the children.
"He will definitely be here" shifted slowly towards "where on earth is he?" to eventually "I can't believe he's not coming!"
The kids were loving it - Richards was signing that girl's arm - but producer Nick, cameraman Sean and sound legend Rob were starting to feel the effects of an early start.
At 1515, we approached City's press warriors and suggested it was time to go for a back-up. They asked who we would like and we gave them a little shortlist... Adebayor, Tevez or Stephen Ireland. They went off for a little chat amongst themselves and came back two minutes later with the offer of Adebayor.
Throughout the subsequent interview, kids were banging on the walls of the room we were in and calling for autographs, but we got through it and Adebayor was really open about being at City, his hopes for the season and that celebration against Arsenal.
Once we'd finished, the players started to say their goodbyes and Mark Hughes turned up to give out the prizes. But just when we were considering packing up and heading home, there was a kerfuffle at the entrance to the bowling alley.
I spotted a diminutive Brazilian surrounded by children... it was our man! He strolled across with a beaming grin and apologised profusely for his lateness (I am able to forgive people most things as long as they sincerely say they are sorry). We promptly ushered the £32.5m record-signing into our little room along with his translator, Jose.
Robinho grinned his way through questions about City, Hughes, his team-mates, the World Cup and his future. About three hours before the interview, I'd had a discussion with one of the club's press officers. They were a little wary about me mentioning the 'B' word - Barcelona - but Robinho was only too happy to discuss his future in football.
When he pledged to stay at City for between five and 10 years, first in Portuguese and then perfect English, eyebrows were raised all over the place. We knew we had an interesting story on our hands, so on the train home there were various phone calls between the BBC press office, the Premier League, Manchester City and the Football Focus office to decide when the quotes would be released.
Important people thought Friday morning was the best option, so a press release was prepared and a clip made available to the BBC Sport website and BBC Radio. By 0900 the next day, our little chat with the smiling Brazilian was all over the place and lots of people were saying "you can see the full interview on Football Focus tomorrow".
Now I am not going to claim that this story matches the Tiger Woods tale in magnitude, but a few more like these would keep us all very happy.
By the way, just to clear up the top five Christmas nuts from your comments and emails last week, here's the definitive list:
1. King Cashew
2. Almond (various varieties)
3. Chestnut (optional roasting)
4. Pistachio (despite the casing)
5. Peanut (dry-roasted comes top of the shop)
This week, why not let me have your favourite Christmas nibbles, excluding nuts, of course. The satsuma will take some beating in my book...
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