by Liam McConville

We are now well and truly into the business end of the season and as usual at the time of the year Sky sports are cranking up the hype as the mouth-watering Manchester derby approaches. The focus is firmly on the managers as journalists hang on every word from Ferguson and Mancini seeing who will come out on top of the ‘crucial’ mind games battle. As mentioned in the Hand in Glove article on this very site, the idea of mind games is of course complete drivel and originates from Kevin Keegan’s infamous meltdown in 1996 that supposedly cost Newcastle the chance of winning the title.

Ever since that interview Sky have been seeking the next ‘Keegan moment’ desperate for another manager to completely lose it in front of the cameras. Interviewers will continue to chip away at the bosses asking frequently inane questions looking for a reaction that they can claim has been significant in the title race. Managers who are known to wear their heart on the sleeve such as Mancini are specifically targeted with the hope of seeing another meltdown and another victory for the master of mind games, Sir Alex.  Ferguson gets an easy ride in this respect which to some extent he has earned with his phenomenal success for United and also because journalists are terrified of upsetting him in case he bans them or simply boycotts future interviews.

The idea that Sky Sports have an agenda of keeping Manchester United at the top of English football is in my humble opinion a little too far. Sky do pander to Ferguson but this is no different to the way that they constantly pine after Jose Mourinho, a man who hasn’t managed in England for almost five years.

For obvious reasons Sky are going to have a heightened interest in the managers most likely to give them a quote that they can roll out to their own sports news channel to increase the hype further. Because Harry Redknapp rolls down his window and has a chat on transfer deadline day he is afforded an easy ride by the media despite Spurs’ alarming slump in form since Fabio Capello left the England job. Mourinho’s many discrepancies such as his eye gouge on Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova are swept aside and merely laughed off.

Imagine for a second if you will if the legendary Brian Clough had instead been a top flight manager in the Premier League era. With twenty four hour rolling news coverage and Clough’s own big mouth it seems likely that Old Big ‘Ead would dominate Sky’s coverage all day, every day. Clough did not suffer fools gladly and would probably have reduced Sky’s interviewer to a quivering wreck after being asked ‘are you still in the title race?’ for the umpteenth time.

Clough was also a firm believer that there was far too much football on television in his era and believed it could damage the game. A number of other managers including Ferguson have also expressed the view that television companies hold too much power. More recently Roberto di Matteo admitted he was dismayed at having to play the FA Cup Semi Final on a Sunday at six o’clock, barely seventy-two hours before the Barcelona Champions league showdown. Di Matteo rightly pointed out that other countries in Europe such as France and Italy re-schedule games to suit teams in European competition; however this is simply not the case in England.

Sky pay such huge sums for the right to broadcast Premier League football that what they say goes. Without the money from Sky the standard of football would inevitably drop and English teams performances would surely suffer. It is a delicate balancing act and perhaps one that is too heavily in favour with the television companies. The real supporters i.e. the fans who watch their team home and away are simply not considered any more. Take for example the most recent Premier League game broadcast on Sky. Wigan travelled down to Arsenal for a Monday night game a major inconvenience for Wigan’s away support, no wonder only two hundred Latics fans bothered to make the trip.

It’s no wonder that some teams have struggled to fill out their stadiums this season as their core support have spent the time been treated abysmally with the scheduling of matches and the exorbitant Premier League ticket prices. Increasingly fans feel a sense of disillusionment with football now and are more likely to become an armchair supporter and stop attending games usually because it’s just too expensive. This is of course fine for Sky but it is damaging clubs and that can’t be right.