FC Bayern bosses heavily criticised the media in a press conference held on Friday. It was most likely a timely move to distract people from the team’s recent problems on the pitch.
The point of this editorial is not to tell you that Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hasan Salihamidžić were right or wrong. Let’s go beyond superficial analysis to understand what indeed happened.
During the press conference, the three men complained about the criticism of Bayern players’ performances at club and Germany levels. They said they would not tolerate further “disrespectful” reporting, going as far as citing the Constitution to support their point. They even defended Joachim Löw’s work as Germany’s coach.
The way they came out was very old-fashioned. It went down as well as a kidney stone with reporters and numerous fans, who expressed their disgust with the FC Bayern management on social media.
Own goal or simple deflection?
Why would the three men expose themselves to criticism in such a way, knowing that their president Uli Hoeness is prone to blasting people himself?
Where people see outrage and an attack against the freedom of the press, I see diversion tactics. By tackling media coverage, the three Bayern leaders draw attention to themselves – away from Niko Kovac and his players.
It’s working. ESPN, The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, FourFourTwo and others are all over it. Even Arsenal news sources covered it since Hoeness took another swipe at Mesut Özil.
However, this sort of tension is oddly familiar.
FC Bayern have done this in the past, and their tactics are oddly similar to the way Sir Alex Ferguson handled things in his time at Manchester United. After a bad result or a string of bad matches, say something that will piss boatloads of people off (such as the typical Germans line), and all eyes are on you.
The timing of the “event” is also suspicious. The press conference was called on short notice to make people speculate and get reporters to join. It took place at noon on a Friday, ahead of the final training session before the Bavarians face VfL Wolfsburg.
FC Bayern could have held that presser earlier since critical reports came out over several weeks. Friday was a seemingly ideal moment to create a distraction. In the run-up to the match, Hoeness, Rummenigge and Brazzo make headlines, and few people bother the players.
If Bayern beat Wolfsburg on Saturday, the media may report that the Bavarians are back to their winning ways. Should the Reds win a few consecutive matches and climb to the first or second place in the Bundesliga, the media will most likely say that everything is back to normal in Munich. If the Bavarians have an extended run of success, some may see October 19 as a turning point.
The tense presser can also be seen as a tool to motivate the squad. It’s an old sports tactic for team managers to defend their players in front of the press. It tells them: we have your back. We’re doing our job, and it’s your turn to deliver.
My favourite case of press conference manipulation goes way back. Ice hockey fans may have seen Wayne Gretzky’s speech in front of the cameras at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Back then, the Team Canada manager delivered an “us against the world” rant that included “nobody wants us to win but our players and our loyal fans.”
It sounded paranoid, but it was effective. Team Canada rallied after a poor start and won Olympic gold.
Will FC Bayern’s presser have the same impact? The honest answer is: we don’t know. We are only two months into a long season in any case.
What is clear today is that upper management at FCB showed support for Kovac and his players after a string of bad performances. Hoeneß, Rummenigge and Brazzo were ready to step forward and deflect criticism, even if it meant being on the firing line themselves.
Sparking controversy on purpose is a divisive communications method. It may backfire in the future, as warns Manuel Veth, a football reporter:
They have done it before, but it has been a while and that showed too. #Bayern used old school football media tools in a world that has very much changed. Hence, the backlash and the next defeat will make this blow up significantly.
— Manuel Veth (@ManuelVeth) October 19, 2018
Would hostile media hurt Bayern? I would be surprised to see the Bayern supervisory board freaking out and making changes to the management team just for that.
The real danger in a combination of hostile press and negative corporate communications would be distracting the players as well as alienating fans, club members and sponsors.
Should the team’s poor performances continue and the climate remain tense, fans could become unhappy. Should that have a lasting effect on the mood, club membership could shrink. This would create unrest among sponsors. Together, such factors would reduce the size of the fanbase and make revenue go down.
However, what I just outlined is a worst-case scenario. An overall successful season could make October 2018’s misery days nothing but a blip.
Have FC Bayern managers sent a free kick in the back of the net or scored an own goal? Good results would indicate the former. Further problems would suggest the latter. Yet, it is too early to tell.