How dare Capello take his time over a decision?
After a day of leaked 'news' stories about the England squad, FourFourTwo.com editor Gary Parkinson wonders whether we don't all get what we deserve. No, not you, Theo...
There's nothing the media likes more than a media storm. That's why it attempts to whip them up, even if it entails entrapment, Lord Triesman being the latest of the artless to fall to the heartless.
Meanwhile, the ball-eyed public has become more ravenous than ever before. We football fans demand news now. If we can't get that we'll settle for rumours. And if nothing travels faster than a rumour, Twitter has efficiently added nitro to the fuel. Now whispers get spread faster than ever before. And not all of them are true.
We've written before about the effects of rumours Ã¢ÂÂ in October last year, when Sky Sports News reporter Andy Burton casually tweeted "Think Phil Brown has left Hull". As it became clear that Brown was still in a job, a backtracking Burton ended up having to reveal his source (the Daily Mail website) and claiming they'd literally changed their story. He was right, but he'd had a kicking in the kudos.
MAKING A QUICK ANNOUNCEMENT
And so to the announcement of England's 23-man World Cup squad, a chief topic of conversation among an expectant public. In workshops, offices and the Twittersphere, the England-watching world waited and wondered. As Capello individually contacted the seven men dropped from the longlist of 30, news gradually leaked out.
This is no surprise at all. Players have always had pet journalists: reliable confidants who might help them by ghosting an interview, column or autobiography.
What has changed is that the journalists now have Twitter accounts. And for a writer, Twitter accounts are an intoxicating mix: ease of use (file short bursts of copy via any mobile phone) coupled with attractively immediate access to market (and they're my readers, not my boss's).
But there's no safety net. Despite the name under the headline, several people will be involved in everything a newspaper publishes, whether in print or online. The writer deserves the credit for getting the story, but back at base a phalanx of support staff will check it for mistakes and possible legal queries, usually also improving the writing.
On Twitter, this doesn't happen. The writer publishes all by himself Ã¢ÂÂ and it can leave him standing naked, in a very open arena. Respected writers become mercilessly mocked, especially when they develop a habit of rushing to Twitter with half-formed ideas they wouldn't think to put in print Ã¢ÂÂ and certainly wouldn't get past the office staff.
In the increasing rush to get there first, journalists risk over-reliance on assumption or guesswork. So a whisper becomes a "source" and a rumour becomes a story, passed on via retweet and email and office chat and the 24-hour coverage on Sky Sports News.
But Twitter users love a discrepancy, and many noticed that while the News of the World's chief football correspondent Neil Ashton announced that Ledley King was out of the squad, BBC News sports correspondent Dan Roan claimed equally confidently that King had made the cut. Clearly, one was wrong.
Journalists should know better Ã¢ÂÂ and it's no good complaining that your original source was wrong. It's hammered home in media law training that the tale-bearer is as culpable as the original tale-teller: that's why you don't get juicy tabloid rumours repeated by other publications with smaller war-chests for legal action.
In this case, Ashton was forced to backtrack ("It wouldn't be the first time I've had a bad steerÃ¢ÂÂ¦") before muttering "they should tell the journalists first. and then the players."
FINGS AINT WOT THEY USED TO BE
Ashton may have been joking Ã¢ÂÂ funnily enough, it's hard to tell Ã¢ÂÂ but if not, he wasn't alone in wanting an exclusive inside line. Take Daily Mail writer Steve Curry, who popped up in his regular what-the-papers-say slot on Sky Sports News.
A gentleman of some experience, Curry bemoaned the FA's decision to release the official squad list on that newfangled internet, presumably rather than inviting the old Fleet Street gang round for tea and cakes to concoct a story they could publish in the morning.
But that's an anachronistic worldview based on a media landscape changed forever by 24/7 news (featuring, among many other things, a newspaper writer on TV discussing what the newspapers wrote last night about what we all saw on TV). Too many of the old gang now have Twitter accounts.
By 2pm, the time originally set for the official squad announcement, a news-hungry world had already heard "sources" confirm the fate of almost a dozen players. Manchester City, a club keen to embrace online opportunities, quickly confirmed that Shaun Wright-Phillips was in the squad.
And then the complaints started. Why couldn't Capello, or the FA, have handled this better? Why couldn't he have told the players face to face, instead of phoning them?
Again, much of this is mealy-mouthed nonsense. As respected website Soccerlens put it in a tart tweet, "journos reporting the rumours are now complaining about them".
Here's what happened. After playing Japan, England's players returned home for what they all hoped would be the last time in six weeks. Capello wanted time to consider his options, but gave his word that he would inform the unlucky players individually.
That's what caused the delay Ã¢ÂÂ a longeur made longer by everyone frantically scanning Twitter and Sky Sports News. It's not Capello's fault we're all stuck to the screen. His priorities are to his players but more importantly to doing his job properly. It's already difficult enough without watching it through the Helicoptercam.
Besides, how else could Capello have made the decision? In snap judgement delivered angrily in an Austrian dressing room ("You can forget it, Theo")? By pinning up a squad list after the game and scoring out seven names? By denying the players in question the right to go home while he deliberated, trapping them in an Alpine Big Brother? Or on the plane home, by diverting the unlucky seven into coach class and asking them to pick up the suitcases from the carousel?
Just as in the John Terry succession, Capello tried to do the simple, effective thing as quickly as possible, lessening the drama. True, other squads have done it differently. When Spain announced their squad, it was as much of a surprise for Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla as it was for the others who'll be watching at home.
Imagine, if England followed that tack, the howls of anguish from pampered players Ã¢ÂÂ amplified by their Twittering media friends, and quoted by us all.