On Sunday Liverpool came from 2-0 down to draw level, only to see Man Utd snatch a winner 6 minutes from time. Liverpool’s second goal came from a free kick awarded on the edge of the box after Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s striker, had been pulled down by Utd defender, John OShea.
Personally I thought it was clearly a foul but didn’t warrant the red card that many thought it did. Afterwards the Utd manager, Alex Ferguson, was interviewed and accused Torres of cheating to try and get OShea sent off. When Roy Hodgson, the new Liverpool manager, was interviewed he was asked about Ferguson’s comments to which he said:
“I prefer to talk about the game and talk about issues that interest me,” he said. “Sir Alex is entitled to any opinion he wants to have but I’m not going to come here and say I agree or disagree.”
Nothing controversial about what Roy had to say, quite reasonable and calm in fact. Torres has not been playing well, he is still finding his way back after an injury and his confidence is low. The previous week he had been heavily criticised by “football expert” Jamie Redknapp who called his performance diabolical, a slightly amusing comment bearing in mind he was criticising a player who has been regarded as one of the world’s best in his position, since arriving in England.
How then should Torres feel about his manager’s response to the manager of their biggest rivals calling him a cheat? Hodgson completely side stepped the issue, perhaps because he didn’t want to offend his friend Ferguson, who had also claimed Utd should have run up a cricket score against Liverpool despite the fact they only had 3 shots on target during the game.
Here was an opportunity for Hodgson to achieve a number of goals; first he could have boosted Torres’ confidence by publically ridiculing Ferguson’s outlandish claims and at the same time he would have given Liverpool fans a glimpse of a man who has faith in his ability to manage Liverpool. Instead the fact that he didn’t defend Torres has caused people to have further doubts about his self belief.
He came across as a man who didn’t want to upset Ferguson rather than a manager who was prepared to defend his players against all comers. I’m sure this isn’t the case and with his players he presents a different image, but people will read into both what you say and equally what you don’t say. The message they infer can often be completely different to the one intended. It may well be that Roy wanted to try and raise above the tribal nature of the Liverpool-Utd rivalry and take the moral highground. Unfortunately there are many people out there who read between the lines of his comments and came away with a completely different view. Perhaps Torres did as well.
It is really important for us to consider what message we are trying to convey in our communication with others, as people will pick up on what you don’t say just as much as what you do.
It will be interesting to see how the media reacts when Torres next takes to the field, will they be talking about a world class striker starting to re-discover his form, or will they be discussing whether he is a cheat or a diver?
Ferguson has done well, he has put the spotlight on Torres (as shown by the newspaper headlines the next day) and prevented any focus being on his team once again throwing away a two goal lead. It also prevented any awkward questions about a member of his own team who has a remarkable problem staying on his feet when an opposing player (sometimes even a team mate) looks at him….