Blog: Footballers and the Media – Why tabloids could send our talent abroad

The constant haranguing of our top stars could spark mass migration from the Premier League. John Baines believes the tabloid press could send the English game to the gutter.

Just six months ago Wayne Rooney was spearheading Manchester United’s assault on a fourth consecutive Premier League title and a third consecutive Champions League final appearance. To all intents and purposes, he seemed to be the next Old Trafford ‘lifer’, with his status assured as the Reds premiere player.

Whilst he may have fancied catching sunburn on the continent at some point, that seemed more likely to be a swansong, rather than the pinnacle of his career, and certainly a transfer away from United would have been inconceivable during the summer. Yet somehow the situation has evolved, only in the matter of a couple of weeks, to the point that his future with the club is now in serious doubt. So what’s gone on?

Those who claim to be in the know, know too much. Thanks to so many leaks, we are being updated through the press via unnamed ‘sources’ close to Rooney that he is unsatisfied with life with the Red Devils, and underwhelmed with the clubs transfer and recruitment policy.

However, those inside the halls of Old Trafford would have been aware of United’s financial position and aims going forward, and that includes the Rooney camp. After all, even after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, the Reds hardly broke the bank to replace them. The clubs financial position provides a ready made excuse for Rooney to depart, but it is obvious the real reason for his despondency is his falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson.

The media handling of his perceived ankle injury highlighted the rift with the boss, but the seeds were sewn by the tabloid allegations about Rooney’s private life, with Ferguson less than enamoured with Rooney’s apparent rendezvous with two Manchester escort girls.

Never a scenario to strengthen the relationship between manager and employee, it appears these tabloid tales have been the catalyst in the breakdown of the previous indelible bond between Ferguson and Rooney, to the detriment of the club.

Rooney’s form has dipped and although Ferguson tried to mask it as an ankle injury, the reasons for that were fairly transparent. At the helm of the issue is Rooney’s indiscretions, and the repercussions are now stemming far and wider than the players home life.

Whilst not trying to excuse Rooney’s ‘alleged’ indiscretions, one has to wonder who benefits from the ‘kiss and tell’ expose which is becoming a regular feature of our ‘news’.

Indeed, Rooney is not in the boat on his own, over the past year or so we’ve had John Terry, Peter Crouch, David Beckham (again), Ashley Cole, Jermain Defoe – in fact members of the England squad are in the minority if there hasn’t been some sort of lurid sexual tale told or sold about them. But to what effect?

The problem herein lies with the tabloid press’s exploitation of a vague commandment loosely laid out by the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC) editorial code of practice, which gives them the right to print ‘in the public interest’. Now, this is an ongoing conundrum, and one which there are few professional or legal guidelines to restrain, and one which is mercilessly flaunted by the press for essentially self gain. After all, what interests the public, is not necessarily in the public interest.

The defence put forward by the press, is that if anybody contradicts an image they purvey to the public, for example, that of a happy family man with a wife and child, they deserve to have that image corrected. In essence it is a fair call, but whom stands to gain from these tales? Really, the only winners are the newspaper publishers who see sales go up, and the implicated girl or girls who get a decent pay-off for the spread – pardon the pun.

What’s more, because of the profitability of such stories, the issue never ends with the initial expose. Referring back to the Rooney story, do we really need ‘The Shame of Wayne: Day Six: ‘I’m a fool, take me back, Col’? As carried in the Mirror almost a week after the story break?

Do we really need a Sun reporter stood outside the family home, with updates such as 12.33pm: Coleen arrives at the house. 2.12pm: He arrives home from training. And, following on from the whole debacle, the Sun (surprise surprise) even followed Mrs Rooney and her younger disabled sister to their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. Is this really in the public interest? Where does it rank in importance alongside the Hutton inquiry and the MP’s expenses scandal?

As long as the newspapers are allowed to print these stories, and at present there seems little in the way to stop them apart from morality, they will continue to do so. Not because they are in the public interest, but because they interest the public, and an interested public means profit. There are few that gain and plenty that lose from such sensationalism and sleaze, and unfortunately our footballers are constantly in the crosshairs of editors and journalists because of their x-factor and marketability.

One such story has turned cracks into fault lines, and we may now be waving off the most talented English player this country has seen for decades. Others may decide to follow suit, and their misdemeanours aside, who could blame them? The issue here is not about defending wrongdoing, it is about not persecuting for profit. We do not want to drive away our top players, we should want our best players over here, playing, and making the Premier League the best in the world.

That is in the public interest, and will interest the public.

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