Watching English Premiership matches in Mauritius back when the football rights were still affordable to developing countries in the early 90’s, I remember noticing how commentators would always be in awe when Manchester United was playing. Listening to them, one would think that everything was perfect in that team; they would remind the viewers at every possible turn of a sentence that the manager was given enough time to build his team and how he promised to “kick them off their f***** perch” or how Peter Schmeichel used to be a handball goalkeeper and how good Eric Cantona was despite being exiled from France.
On the other hand, the old Liverpudlian guard was starting to get slow – John Barnes and Ian Rush knew they should stop soon. No sooner had the new generation of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp come up with performances that one would expect from Liverpool players that the media stripped them of all credibility by throwing the nickname of “Spice Boys” at them. At that time, the media discourse was clear: Roy Evans was no Alex Ferguson. To some, those were the dark days.
While I watched Eric Cantona ruin my weekends as the years rolled, frustration and disappointment fuelled in my biased Kopite mind a conspiracy theory that the media coverage was nothing but a very offensive and successful marketing from our bitter rivals. My idea was that TV pundits were secretly remunerated as Manchester United promoters who used their global coverage to bolster their foreign legions and secure massive revenue from merchandising. As far fetched as it sounds, with hindsight, this practice now seems in line with the aggressive business model of private television back then.
I must admit that this theory received responses ranging from sour grapes to bitter or sore loser from the adversary, but twenty years later, with Manchester United gunning for their 19th league title – as are we – the difference in commercial positioning and merchandising generated funds from far corners of the world is more than ever visible. They are making more money than we are. However, what is even more visible, is the media bias in favour of Manchester United.
Such is the power of the press in England that gutter press like “The Sun” claim to decide who should rule as Primer minister. More so, on the back pages, there seems to be an unwritten coordination between the different sports newsrooms, as the national press regularly decides who should be appointed as manager of the England national team, or who should be sacked. Despite all his technical lacking, poor Sven would have a lot to say about this.
How else would you explain what seems to fit the definition of a “coordinated media campaign” for our best players to quit Liverpool ever since we stumbled out of the Big Four last season? It would actually stretch before that, when there was Steven Gerrard and Chelsea, then Fernando Torres, followed by Javier Mascherano. Then Pepe Reina. Repeatedly. Despite the latter saying he doesn’t want to leave Anfield. And now Fernando Torres again. It’s almost looks like wishful thinking from the press, which is translated into agenda-oriented texts, pushing our players towards other teams.
What am I coming to, you might ask. That the British media has a general and coordinated agenda to the realisation of the “perch prophecy” of “Sir” manager? Unfortunately, that is the conclusion I come to when I bring all the pieces together. From Roy Hodgson’s unilateral support from the press, despite Liverpool flirting with the relegation zone, to the constant leaks about every stage of negotiations in the Adam and Suarez transfer talks, thwarting even further the deals – unseen, as far as I am concerned, in the sports reporting for other teams – and now renewed media agenda-pushing news of Fernando Torres and Chelsea, I find it hard to think otherwise.
On the other hand, as soon as Edwin Van der Sar announced his retirement intentions at the end of this season, media texts appeared all over the web, with editors short listing the world’s best goalkeepers that should migrate to Manchester United “in the interest of the latter”. To the Liverpool fan that I am, the British media – as a whole body – clearly has a favourite. Whether in the noble interest of drama or in the not-so-honest interest of other dark vested interests, the British media is pushing for a realisation of the “perch prophesy”. It may sound like another conspiracy theory. Remember, I am a very biased Liverpool Football Club fanatic. But throwing all the media texts around me, that is what they lead me to.