I KNOW length isn’t everything, but today’s Manchester City press conference with Sven-Goran Eriksson lasted a whopping 19 minutes, well up on last Friday’s 12-minute briefing. And I’m convinced that the man to credit for that was Tony Bugby of the Oldham Evening Chronicle.
As well as being one of the nicest guys in journalism, and a keen athlete, Tony is perhaps the only sports reporter in the world who is omnipotent. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to get everywhere. I have bumped into him at just about every ground in the North West at some point, as well as at Wembley.
On Tuesday night he was covering Oldham’s match at Gillingham, tomorrow he will be covering their FA Cup tie against Huddersfield, on Sunday he will be reporting on Manchester United’s clash with Tottenham. Today he was at City’s afternoon press conference, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had been at the United one in the morning. He covers all of these events for the Evening Chronicle. He leaves reporters like me trailing in his wake.
And it was Tony’s energy that turned the press conference with Sven into one of the liveliest I’ve seen since he arrived at City.
(Lively as it was, we didn’t get on to this story, mainly because we weren’t aware of it until a few hours after the conference.)
The usual protocol for these affairs is for the chap from Sky Sports News to go first, and then the local radio reporters to ask their questions, and then everyone else to have a go.
This can be great if the reporter asking all the questions gets their teeth into a really interesting angle and asks a series of smart follow-up questions. But if he or she doesn’t get that breakthrough, it can feel like watching two people trying to make small talk on a blind date.
Fraser Dainton, who was there for Sky Sports News today, is actually very good in this kind of situation. It’s always clear that he’s done his homework, and he’s not afraid to ask the difficult questions. More often than not, he gets a good story out of Sven.
But he only got his first question out today – a range-finder on team news – before Tony jumped in with a question of his own, about Micah Richards’ fitness. With all the other journalists realising that the ‘Sky first’ protocol had been broken, suddenly it was a free-for-all.
And do you know what? The press conference was all the better for it. I know that Sky own football now (I know this because a freelance Sky Sports cameraman told me so when he came into the Manchester Evening News office a couple of years ago to do some filming for a story), but there’s got to be more to a press conference than having 20-odd journalists sitting in a room watching one man fire questions at another, however good the journalist in question may be.
A press conference should be a participation sport, not a spectator sport.
And it was Bugby who got Sven to reveal perhaps the most significant story from the press conference; the fact that Iraqi midfielder Nashat Akram’s move to City is off but his work permit application has been rejected.
But the comments which will get the most publicity will be Sven’s thoughts on David Beckham. Indeed, those comments are already all over the internet thanks to all the websites who took the Press Association report put out this afternoon by Ian Parkes.
Eriksson has echoed Sir Alex Ferguson’s claim that Beckham – currently on 99 England caps – deserves to make it 100 when Fabio Capello names his first squad for next month’s Wembley friendly with Switzerland.
“I would agree 100 per cent with Sir Alex, absolutely. Beckham deserves his 100th cap, of course he does,” said Eriksson, who of course made Beckham his captain when in charge of England.
“I don’t want to interfere with Capello, but I believe he deserves to be in the team anyway, and not just because he is approaching his 100th cap.
“Even if he is in America, he can still fight for his place in the team. The right foot is not getting worse.”
Sven was also asked if he would consider signing Beckham from LA Galaxy should he ever become available. That’s a bigger ‘if’ than Rudyard Kipling could ever have imagined.
“I haven’t thought about that, but if he wants to come here, I would say yes,” Eriksson said.
“But I can’t see him coming back to England. I think he will finish his career in America. He has a long contract, and is very keen to try to make football more popular in America.
“And if anyone can do it, then it is him.”
Yes, he’s got a lot of energy, that Beckham. Almost as much as Tony Bugby, in fact.