ISL 2018 | Where has the subtle art of speaking at press-conferences gone

ISL 2018 | Where has the subtle art of speaking at press-conferences gone

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It is strange how pre-match conferences have failed to evolve in the Indian Super League despite the Indian league borrowing a chunk of elements from the English Premier League. The pre-match talks overseas are full of deception and tomfoolery, highly contradicting with what ISL managers do today.

If the football field has been the stage for footballers to showcase their abilities, press-conferences have been the same for managers. Over the years, the likes of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, and Rafael Benitez, have all used the room to get their job done in the subtlest way possible.

The former Manchester United manager had famously used it to great effect to express his desire to keep Wayne Rooney in the club at a time when the striker seemed hellbent on leaving it, and it worked. “For a manager, no matter the result, at a press conference you need to come out as the winner. You can kill yourself in a press conference... It’s an important part of your job," Ferguson had once said. 

A press-conference could also be used to intimidate or vilify your contemporary as Benitez had attempted with his 2009 ‘facts’ statement. The likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, have shown how to retain control of the narrative after a poor result, defend one’s players, and more popularly hide players’ injuries to keep your opponent in dark. Though there might not be a proper guidebook for football managers, patronizing the opponent player or laying bare one’s tactics never seemed like an ideal strategy.

And this is exactly what FC Goa and ATK managers Sergio Lobera and Steve Coppell decided to do ahead of the huge clash on Wednesday. It was crystal clear that they were not on friendly terms especially after Goa’s star player from last season, Manuel Lanzarote, decided to join ATK. It obviously didn’t go well for Lobera who had handpicked the former Espanyol player and put him in ISL before Lanzarote basked in the glory and caught notice of the two-time champions.

Hence, his return to Kolkata where Lanzarote is now the captain was bound to be emotional of sorts and the Spaniard tried to patronize his former player through the press-conference. Goa striker Ferran Corominas was hugely successful last season for compatriot Lanzarote as the duo had combined to score 30 goals and provide 11 assists throughout the season. Though Coro has still been at his scoring best this season, there has been a sense of vulnerability in his movement and temper that has helped other teams to exploit Goa effectively.

After Coro had previously played down the importance of the departure of Lanzarote, Lobera chose to take a more extreme step. When asked questions relating to it, he said, “I think Coro was the best player in the team last season. We were very lucky to be able to keep him in the team after getting many offers from other clubs. He’s a great player and does a lot of things on and off the pitch which helps us to motivate the players.”

There could be two explanations to it – either Lobera was trying to occupy Coppell’s attention mostly to his striker who has clearly not been Goa’s most important player, or the Spaniard was patronizing Lanzarote for his team hasn’t been performing where he wished it to. Unfortunately, both his ploys looked evident and to a large extent ineffective.

While Coppell had revealed in his press-conference that he had identified Ahmed Jahouh as Goa’s most important player, pushing Lanzarote didn’t seem to be a good idea either for the last thing any manager would want is to give his opponent’s star player an extra reason to stay motivated. While Lobera looked to mess things up, an experienced Coppell wasn’t at his intellectual best either.

Despite the master strategist that the Englishman has been, he spoke way more than what was expected to be from his either, which was a more blatant step. When asked about the preparations against FC Goa, Coppell said, “Corominas a good player. He doesn’t play by himself. He needs someone to take the bullets for him. I think the best way to stop him is to stop the source of his supplies. I think that the challenge for anyone playing against Goa... We had an idea of what the successful teams against Goa have done. We need to replicate that and really disrupt their flow. I would say the foreigners (are Goa's biggest strength). They’ve scored most of their goals. Jahouh hasn’t scored, but there’s the focus on distributing their play. Coro obviously scores a lot. The core of their foreign players is the strength of their side," he said.

If there was anything left to give a message to Lobera that they were completely decided by ATK and team, Coppell concluded the press-conference with, “They’ve scored a lot from crosses without having a centre-forward who isn’t very big. They have cut back many crosses. They don’t hang them up into the box.  We’re mindful of that. It’s a tough game. When you play Goa you have to be alive because they’re inventive. But, they’ve lost a couple of games and there is a blueprint to beat them. Last year, they lost 5 games. They can be pleasing on the eye going forward but they can be vulnerable.”

The match, which was expected to be a classic by many for the clash of the sheer contrasting style of play, would at best be a mundane display for 90 minutes now, it seems. If ISL is trying to get anywhere near the English Premier League in terms of replicating their success formula, given they are the 'strategic partner' of the Indian league, the responsibility has to be taken by all – administration, fans, and managers. Premier League is not what it is today for the sheer money or the raging fandom that the clubs enjoy, it is more about the personalities, subtle nuances, and examples that it has set over the years.

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