Once upon a time, a week was a long time in politics. Now football – seemingly unable to get a grip on racism, scandal and all-round bad behaviour by players and managers alike – is experiencing the same fate.
But the latest action by a major sponsor may now bring some sense to the shambles and place reputation at the heart of what Premier League football clubs should be thinking.
First, the now-former England manager, Fabio Capello, completely misjudged the sentiment surrounding John Terry and the FA’s decision to strip him of the captaincy for Euro 2012, so paying with his own job.
Then, the latest chapter in an already dire story concerning Liverpool player, Luis Suárez and Manchester United’s Patrice Evra began with another handshake-that-wasn’t and ended with a rush of apologies from player and club.
As for Suárez, his brains – as Guardian football writer, Daniel Taylor rightly sums up, “are all in his feet”. But for Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish – Liverpool legend and, you’d think, a much savvier professional football manager – his post-match response to “handshake-gate” was woeful. And by alluding to the media as culpable in whipping up the story, he should have seen the abyss widening beneath him. Call me naive, but the manager is more regularly the face of the club than even the players or the management. Therefore, its reputation is firmly in his hands.
Now, the latest twist is that Liverpool shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, has weighed in with the following (c/o The Guardian):
“We were very disappointed by Saturday’s incident and have discussed our concerns with the club.” A person familiar with the matter said: “It was a very robust conversation.”
Money talks, and a sponsor pumping in serious amounts of cash to a club doesn’t need a player at the heart of the most high profile racism row in UK sport carrying on like a spoilt child while bearing the company’s logo.
It’s taken until now for Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, to take a stand by criticising Suárez. But what about Dalglish?
Maybe the “robust conversation” with Standard Chartered may get Liverpool – and other clubs – to wake up to the equal value and fragility of reputation and the very tangible (i.e., pounds and pence) damage that can potentially be inflicted.
Reputation management in top flight football can’t be entrusted to players and managers if they believe their singular responsibility at the club is to kick a bag of air, or instruct others how to.
Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR.