OPINION: The beautiful game suffers from appalling PR

Football has had so much bad publicity over the past few weeks that you could be forgiven for thinking the beautiful game is completely devoid of PR people. You would be completely wrong, of course. There are thousands of them; it's just that they are mostly useless.

Who in their right mind would choose to put Sol Campbell on Breakfast with Frost the day after England's ugly encounter with Turkey? Campbell may be a rock in England's defence, but he's completely inarticulate.

I know how nerve-racking appearing on Frost can be, but I suppose the FA spin doctors thought pushing a footballer who couldn't string a sentence together on to TV was a plus.

The FA may have been right to suspend Rio Ferdinand for failing to take a drug test, but it seems to have lost all its PR savvy since the departure of Adam Crozier as chief executive. Less well-documented was the exit at the same time from the FA of head of communications Paul Newman. Neither of these two would have upset Manchester United and the England players so easily in one week. The new mob at the FA didn't even bother to tell footballers' union boss Gordon Taylor what they were doing. Little wonder he was all over our TV screens attacking the FA. The PR team at the FA couldn't even risk fielding new FA chief Mark Palios, because of his inexperience in handling the media. Not surprising, really - he is an ex-pro footballer.

Paul Barber, the FA's marketing and communications director, was left to handle a press pack even more hostile than the Westminster lobby. The only reason Barber and the FA didn't get the kicking they deserved was that the players were even more incompetent.

The England team might have shown an admirable sense of solidarity, but they are so out of touch with the real world, they had no idea how the public would react to their strike threat. Every one of these players employs an agent or a lawyer, or both, to look after their interests, and it is these people who double up as their PR advisers. That's the problem. None of them has a clue about PR. Most of their time is spent telling the press their man is not available for interview or threatening papers with libel actions if they print anything critical. They are not even any good at that.

Significantly, it has been reported that the woman at the centre of the alleged Grosvenor House Hotel rape has sensibly gone to Max Clifford for help. England's Kieron Dyer, who had nothing to do with the incident, relied on his lawyers. A fat lot of good they were. For more than a week everyone thought Dyer was involved in the alleged rape and he said nothing.

A half-decent PR adviser would have told him to make his denial earlier.

Some clubs take their PR a little more seriously than most, Manchester United in particular. They have paid top dollar for their chief spin doctor; and for working with Alex Ferguson, he deserves every penny he gets. Fergie doesn't give a stuff about the media unless you upset him, in which case he won't talk to you again and might even ban you from press conferences.

Getting people to hate Manchester United seems to have been part of a deliberate strategy to strengthen the team's spirit. That's his PR strategy and Manchester United have employed good PR people to make it work.

Apart from learning to behave better, more players should consider following Manchester United's example and employing decent PR experts. David Beckham has, and it works. The England captain (who isn't our best player) misses a penalty, appears to have a set-to in the tunnel and still emerges a hero. Now that's what I call good PR. Still, I suppose the result helped.

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