Treat everything you read suspiciously. Be cynical. Scrutinise. Be resistant and hardened against mass media hyperbole. It’s important that you are able to distinguish fact from fiction. For instance, did you know that Manchester United have produced the highest number of trophy-winning academy players in European football? Probably not, because I made it up – although it sounds like it could be right (I don’t actually know the correct answer). My point is that it is extremely easy to write what you want and have it distributed to a wealth of people and that narratives, especially in football, are rarely objective. Recently, there was an article written by Steve Bates published in the Daily Mirror titled: ‘Man Utd fear Mason Greenwood could throw career away like Ravel Morrison’. For many, this headline felt like a vitriolic and hugely unnecessary kicking of man whilst he is down. It was the tipping of a very unpleasant and increasingly spoken about iceberg.
Do people actually enjoy passively prying into the life of a famous person and saturating themselves in the knowledge that they make mistakes and might be unhappy?
My earlier statement about the fruitfulness of Manchester United’s academy was a fabrication, but there is no doubting that they possess one of the juiciest prospects around in Mason Greenwood. Currently sitting on a total of nineteen senior club goals as a teenager, he is already basking in the company of records set by George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney. He became a requisite inclusion in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s post-lockdown squad at the end of last season and gained himself an array of plaudits and admirers. So, what’s changed, if anything?
For the purpose of my own narrative (see?), I can’t help but to look at the role of the press. One study into the representation of British footballers in the press (Canter and Dot Grau, 2019) found that tabloids contain more stories about the private rather than professional lives of footballers – of which are often negative in sentiment. Hardly surprising, but isn’t that bleak in itself? Do people actually enjoy passively prying into the life of a famous person and saturating themselves in the knowledge that they make mistakes and might be unhappy? Maybe we feel secure in knowing that our sporting heroes are flawed human beings, who lead as complex lives as any of us. In Greenwood’s case, his call-up to the England squad seemed to act as an effervescent catalyst for the increase in media attention he has received lately. Usually protected by Manchester United, who had only exposed him to “in-house” media duties until his call up, Greenwood was placed at the forefront of a press conference by Gareth Southgate. It is suggested that Southgate’s strategy is to expose his players to this kind of environment in order to instil confidence, yet this seems to have backfired catastrophically. To me, it seems rather daft that you would use tabloid journalists as a tool for developing one of your brightest prospects. Remember Beckham? Sterling? Solskjaer found it a challenge to mask his frustration when asked about the situation. ‘It’s their right to call him up… then again, you don’t have to put him up in front of the world’s cameras first day’.
We all know what happened next. The stories published about Greenwood and Foden were disappointing for many, but you move on. Don’t you? The reality is that what followed were a series of non-stories about inhaling Nitrous Oxide balloons some years previously, being a nocturnal party animal, turning up late for training, wasting his talent and finally being compared to Ravel Morrison – arguably another victim of press subjugation. In Steve Bates’ article, nowhere was it mentioned that Greenwood was mourning the death former-City player Jeremy Wisten, who died only at the end of October. Greenwood dedicated his Champions League goal against RB Leipzig to Wisten, who was a close friend.
Let’s be clear, Mason Greenwood does not need me to stick up for him and that’s not really my intention. Like all fans, I was glad to see him on the scoresheet against West Ham, putting United in the lead in what became a 3-1 victory and a remarkable turn-around. I’m sure Mason will be fine, and I hope that he fulfils his astronomical potential. But more so, I hope that we are turning a corner. I hope that rapacious, repulsive troglodytes like Steve Bates choke on their own bilious, self-serving narratives. I hope that we can all join hands (with rubber gloves and masks, of course) and be unified in our cynicism towards the tabloid press. It is your own ability to see past click-baiting snares that will allow us to eradicate pervy stories about our sport stars. Treat everything you read suspiciously. Even this.