Meeting the men in charge
It's a funny old game, Saint. Eight months on from writing my last blog at Euro 2008, which was about interviewing Guus Hiddink, I've been asked to write again, only to find that the news is full of.....Guus Hiddink.
The great Dutchman is Chelsea-bound and will become a regular face and voice on our airwaves, for the next three months at least. From a journalist's point of view, that has to be a good thing. A man with vast experience of world football who speaks excellent English but doesn't suffer fools should go down well with the British football public.
He's different to Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose Chelsea media conferences were usually entertaining but often baffling. For example, I asked Scolari once whether he shared Rafa Benitez's views on the busy international calendar - he seemed to agree and disagree in equal measure, leaving journalists scratching their heads as to what to report.
What about other managers and their approach to the media? I, like many other reporters, was sad if not surprised to hear of the departure of Tony Adams from Portsmouth. In my experience, Adams was always polite and patient, on and off air, and tried to give his honest view. Perhaps he was too honest for his own good at times, answering questions such as "where do you think it went wrong today, Tony?" with "I really don't know."
To many, that was refreshing, to others (such as his bosses, no doubt) a little concerning. He had one habit which amused and frustrated broadcasters in particular. Adams would think so deeply about answering a simple question that, after speaking for a minute or so, he'd have to ask "what was the question again?" Whilst endearing, it led to reporters muttering "I hope he doesn't lose his train of thought like that with the players or they could be in trouble".
I was talking to a journalism student the other day who asked me "who do you most enjoy interviewing?" I immediately answered "Arsene Wenger". She told me that everyone said that. The reason is simple. The Frenchman will always answer the question, whether he's comfortable with it or not. His words are always considered and he'll often tell you something you weren't expecting to hear, although sometimes what you weren't wanting to hear! He's also quite happy to have a laugh with you if you're trying to tease something out of him.
Other personal favourites include Neil Warnock, who manages to verbally assassinate referees with a big grin on his face, and Mick McCarthy, who has a wonderful Yorkshire turn of phrase and a highly amusing ability to adapt swear words for the occasion! Someone should compile a book of his quotes and make sure the asterisk key on their keyboard is fully functional...
Seeing as I work for the BBC, I haven't interviewed Sir Alex Ferguson but have spoken to many reporters who have. The consensus is that the man absolutely terrifies them! One television sound engineer told me that Sir Alex has been known to amuse himself in a media conference by playing a little game. He'd randomly select one of the assembled microphones in front of him and casually pick at the foam protector whilst speaking. He'd then look around the room to see which sound man was going berserk, knowing his day's work was ruined!
Leicester's Nigel Pearson is an interesting character. It's fair to say that he's not too keen on the media. I realised this when I covered his side's recent FA Cup defeat at Crystal Palace. While I was doing my preparation, I listened online to an interview he'd given to local radio and, on hearing several sarcastic answers, thought "oh, he doesn't like the interviewer". I then heard him speak in person after the game and realised he doesn't like any interviewers! Leicester fans won't care a jot, though, as he's doing a fantastic job and they look a certainty for promotion.
That's the way it works for football managers. Win games and nobody cares about your public demeanour. Fail to win them and everything you say and how you say it will be heavily scrutinised. Just ask Benitez and Adams.