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Managing the truth

Managing the truth

Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku had to apologise for saying he’d like to go back to Inter Milan one day. Is this an example of how clubs are trying to control every word their players speak?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… Is honesty the best policy?

***

On Monday evening, Chelsea published a tweet that read simply: A message from Romelu. 

It was a short video from the Belgian striker, apologising for his comments in an interview he’d done three weeks ago with Sky Sports in Italy. 

In it, he said that one day, he would like to return to his former club… Inter. 

But in his apology video he was in a much more reticent mood.

“I totally understand you guys being upset. Obviously it’s up to me now to restore your trust and I’ll do my best to show commitment every day on the training ground and in the games, trying to make sure that we win games, and yeah also to the manager I apologise and also to my teammates and the board…”

Chelsea TV

It appeared to be one of those statements that are often issued by footballers… usually in response to some kind of misdemeanour. The words are all carefully chosen and pre-approved by the club.

Lukaku was excluded from the squad to face Liverpool last weekend, and he cleared the air with boss Thomas Tuchel before the video was released.

“These are very important points to understand that…to stay calm and to understand that it’s not that big as maybe people want it to be or you want it to be. It’s not small, it’s also not small but erm… it’s small enough to stay calm, to accept an apology and to move on forward.”

Sky Sports Football

Chelsea will hope that the apology video, and the words from Tuchel, mark an end to the row.

Tuchel says that Lukaku didn’t intend for his words to cause such a stir. 

Here’s what Lukaku actually said to Italian TV…

“First of all, I want to truly apologise to the Inter fans, because I don’t think I should’ve left in the way that I did. I should have spoken to you all first. Especially after everything you did for me, my family… my mum, my son. That will stay with me for life. I hope from the bottom of my heart that I return to Inter, not at the end of my career but when I’m still good enough to win trophies.”

Football Daily

Watching the original video of the interview, it seems that Lukaku was trying to take the opportunity to issue an apology to Inter fans for the way he left the club without having ever explained why. 

It seems natural that he would speak in the Italian press to do so. 

You can see why Tuchel wanted to reiterate that the issue wasn’t as big as others were trying to make out. 

Lukaku didn’t say that he wanted to leave Chelsea for Inter straight away… even though he is struggling for form.

On the surface, at least, it seemed like an honest attempt for him to set the record straight with fans of his former club.

And many pundits have criticised players for putting out bland, PR-driven statements on social media. Gary Neville has been one of those to speak out.

“I think we have to applaud Romelu Lukaku in some ways for being brave enough…or whatever you would call it to come out and speak the truth. I’ve called for players to be more authentic… to be more honest…”

Sky Sports

So was this refreshing honesty from Lukaku… or a betrayal of his current employer?

To understand, it takes a bit of insight into the way that football clubs handle the media. 

If you want to interview a current footballer, the protocol is that you don’t contact them directly. You have to go to the club and submit an official request. 

Each club has a press officer, and big clubs will have more than one. 

A LinkedIn search revealed that Chelsea has a Senior Communications Manager with two staff underneath him. Their jobs will be to ensure that everything that the club puts in the public domain has been vetted.

Every single social media post on the club’s official channels has to be approved. 

And if a journalist wants a one to one interview with a player, their questions need to be submitted and vetted in advance. 

Lukaku’s interview with Sky Italia was not approved by Chelsea. By accepting the interview on his own initiative, he will have violated the club’s rules.

And so Chelsea were likely within their rights to issue Lukaku with a punishment as a result.

As it happens, Inter fans were not particularly impressed with Lukaku’s apology either. 

The Curva Nord Ultras displayed a banner outside San Siro which read: “It doesn’t matter who runs away in the rain. What counts is who stays through the storm.”

So all the interview achieved was to alienate fans of his former club… and his current club too.

But do we want clubs to vet what their players say to the extent where football fans only ever hear bland, media savvy interviews?

There’s definitely a balance to be struck. And at the moment, I don’t think clubs have got it quite right. 

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.