VIEW FROM THE PRESS BOX: Good management is not just a feature of football clubs. Every sports desk needs it, too, says DAVID WALKER
In an attempt to get to grips with Leicester City’s astonishing season, I called a few former title-winners recently.
Some were serial winners.
I was intrigued to hear the value that ex-players and managers put on sound, stable leadership at the time of the season Sir Alex Ferguson described as “squeaky bum time”.
Indeed, a few days before Leicester City’s magnificent 3-1 win at Manchester City, former Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson predicted the Mancunians’ demise.
The man who led Leeds out of the old Second Division in 1990 and to the League title in 1992 reasoned that despite all their lavish spending on players, and having probably the best playing staff in the Premier League, the Sky Blues had made a fatal mistake by going public with the news that Pep Guardiola would be replacing Manuel Pellegrini in the summer.
Wilkinson said: “I hear all the words about players being good pros and seeing the season out but the managerial situation is a distraction the club could do without. The fact that Pellegrini is leaving will undermine their chances.
“Every successful club has strong leadership. They’ve undermined their manager and have been without their biggest on-field leader – Vincent Kompany – for much of the season. It’s a problem for them.”
In his Leeds pomp Wilkinson had alongside him his midfield lieutenant Gordon Strachan. Nobody could doubt the way they gelled as a duo, shared ideas and cajoled the best out of that team.
At Old Trafford Ferguson had some great skippers in Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane and Nemanja Vidic. And through their glory years the impact of Emlyn Hughes, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen at Liverpool was immense.
THINKING ABOUT this inter-dependency between managers and their great captains made me think about relationships between sports editors and their reporters. On a thin Thursday, with few press conferences happening, there’s no doubting the fact that every sports desk needs a turn-to reporter in the field. The person who can make some calls and come up with a rock solid back page splash.
I realise this role has got harder to perform given the PR departments running clubs and the fact that so many stars are keen to hide behind their agents. But it’s not just the football reporters who can be your turn-to operative.
I had the pleasure of working alongside Peter Jackson for many years at the Daily Mail. Jacko revolutionised the coverage of rugby union.
Wiser rugby minds than me have explained how he was the first reporter from the sport to really give the star players a platform to speak. And boy, did some of them grab it.
“He was probably the hardest working rugby journalist,” Sir Clive Woodward said of Jackson on his retirement after 35 years with the Mail. “He always had one last question, just before you left.”
It was Jackson’s knack of getting in a telling final question which saw Sir Ian McGeechan and the entire Lions squad present the reporter with a mac, autographed by them all, at the end of his last tour. “It was because he was always like Columbo, the best questioner of them all,” they said. “You’d think he’d finished, and then he’s say, ‘And one last thing…’.”
I’ve worked for some splendid sports editors – and also one or two charlatans. Their names will remain private. I’m sure the beans they could spill on me would far outweigh anything I know about them.
I won’t name the man, but I will tell a story that epitomised one of my former bosses.
He was keen to change my role and supposedly promote me but without promising me the earth. He came up with an impressive list of reasons for me to accept the new job. Unfortunately, once I’d switched to my new duties, the promises evaporated.
I decided to tackle him and pointed out that he had made these specific promises. He looked me in the eye and replied: “Did I?”
I accused him of selective amnesia. He smiled and said I’d get over it. I never did. And funnily enough, after he’d behaved in a similar way with staff who were much more valuable than me, his reign came to a bloody end.
- David Walker is the Chairman of the SJA and sports editor of the Daily Mirror.
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