Managers vs. media becoming 'must-see TV' at African Nations Cup
Pep Guardiola might have been mildly upset when the BBC began their post-match interview last weekend with a question about the refereeing, but at the African Nations Cup, the parade of coaches before the press is fraught with animosity and tension, often becoming a forum for frequent clashes. There is little subtlety with reporters as they interrogate national team coaches before and after games. Winning usually means the edge is taken off any aggressive tone, but the vanquished managers face a bellicosity that represents a veritable test of restraint.
Few coaches are able to calmly manoeuvre through a minefield of pointed questions and outright observation that does little to offer the press any credibility. Coaches are obliged at the tournament to appear before reporters the day before they play and then again within minutes of the final whistle of their matches. Most appear reluctant, sinking immediately into their seats to make it clear they're in no mood for today's lesson.
"We've just won our second game in a row and qualified for the quarterfinals and you want to know why we didn't dominate the second half," said Avram Grant after the weekend win over Mali in Port Gentil. "But, I've come to expect that of Ghanaian journalists," he sneered. Grant is one of the more patient interviewees, going over old ground regularly as he explains that his side were content with their 1-0 wins and are building up momentum for a three-week event. A marathon rather than a sprint, as he might put it.
The awful pitch in Port Gentil, playing for a second time in four days and being pressed by their well-organised opponents after a half-time reshuffle of personnel seemed to count for little, with reporters clearly not happy with anything but an emphatic win.
Cameroon's Hugo Broos has also raised his eyebrows more than a few times at the tone of aggressive questioning despite leading his depleted side calmly into the last eight. One reporter wanted to know why he changed his line-up despite that injuries in the Cameroon squad had been widely reported. He didn't have as much restraint in November when Cameroon were held at home by Zambia in a World Cup, cutting short a post-match news conference in objection to the tone of questioning.
Meanwhile, Togo boss Claude Le Roy is usually affable but on Wednesday, as he moved from microphone to microphone in the mixed zone where reporters can lean over a barrier and ask questions of passing players and coaches, he started in cynical fashion: "OK, let's hear what you going to ask..." His eighth Nations Cup tournament ended with defeat after a 3-1 loss to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Elimination for the Ivory Coast from the competition at the same time must have felt excruciating for their coach Michel Dussuyer. He was asked point-blank whether he would be quitting in the wake of the defending champions' embarrassing early exit. Not an unreasonable question under the circumstance, but nevertheless delivered with venomous edge.
"For now, I'm extremely disappointed because we have not achieved our ambition, which was to get past this first round and [go on and] keep our title. The night is going to be difficult. Wait until tomorrow," he replied.
Morocco's Herve Renard, sitting right beside him, then interjected. "If you'll allow me, I think I'm in a very good position to speak on this subject. When you come to a room like this, it's not a court," he told the reporter. "You have a coach, Michel Dussuyer, who I have known for a very long time, who is a remarkable man. He has your team well-placed to go to the World Cup [in 2018].
"The same happened to me with Zambia in 2013 after we won the 2012 title. We drew three games and were knocked out. Certainly the goal for the Ivory Coast was not elimination in the first round. Only tonight's result makes you ask a question like that. So please, have some common decency," he said, obviously piqued.
"There are people who told me that I was unworthy to coach Cote d'Ivoire [at the 2015 Nations Cup]. Then three weeks later [when they won the title], the same people were dancing on the tables. You change your jacket every time."
It was an outburst that his colleagues must have silently applauded but will likely serve as just the latest riposte in an on-going war of words. The spectacle of the media/manager interchange could become "must-see TV" every bit as much as the matches themselves.
Mark Gleeson covers African football for ESPN FC.