Tunnel Vision Over Young Gun

“OW VICKERS, why was there no interview in the Gazette with young Seb Hines?” It’s a fair question but not neccessarily one I wanted to answer when I was packing the bags in Asda and the lass at the till, noticeably twitchy that I was stopping to talk, was shotting the fruit and veg down with the no-frills speed and determination of a last ditch Hull attack.
In short it was because the club were “protecting” him from the media scrum lest some unscrupulous hack put undue pressure on to reveal state secrets by asking him any trick questions about whether he was chuffed to bits to have scored on his debut.

Not that the media were after him. Not the national lads anyway. The tabloids have next to no interest in some unknown teenager getting one of seven goals. They have to sell a story to their editor in London and he doesn’t give a monkeys about that. Seb Who? We haven’t even got a head shot! He wants names he has heard of. He wants West Ham transfer target Mark Viduka.
I asked for Hines though, although I’m not sure I constitute a media scrum. I was on post-match tunnel duty and that’s how it works, you ask for players. The club press office people ask who you want to talk to and you give them a list of options, with descending second and third choices like a proportional representation voting slip. You don’t always get who you want, especially after a defeat. Some skulk off, others brush past arranging exciting lives on their phones, some are in the changies for hours getting rub downs, bruises treated or eating nutritionally balanced snacks. Sometimes, like with PR, you get the best possible compromise.
So I asked for Hines, another one off the production line – the 16th Academy lad in the first team in 16 years – and he’s scored on his first senior start so you would think that was a good news story for Boro. And you would think that he would be delighted to gush enthusiastically at length about his moment of glory if only so his proud Mam and Dad could whack it in the scrapbook along with his England cuttings.
But no. Seb Hines was not available for interview. Boro have long had an unofficial policy of protecting the youngsters, one of the scientific advances brought by Steve McClaren from Old Trafford. You can see a logic to it: partly it is about psychology and the need to keep impressionable young lads’ feet on the ground, to prevent them thinking they are Juninho after one game; and partly it is about protecting media virgins from naively saying something that could come back and bite them in the bum later, and that’s fair enough.
But come on. This is the Gazette. Hines could be here for 15 years and go on to become a club legend. We are hardly going to “stitch him up” after his first game, manipulating him to slam Southgate, blast the club and eyeing a move to Madrid. We just want to share in his glee, revel in the success of the youth policy and introduce him to his newly adoring Boro public. We want to build a good relationship with him, not ruin it.
And it is not as if he is a stranger to the Gazette. He has long been on our radar. We have been bigging him up since he arrived at the club as a 15 year old. He had a two page spread in the paper just two months ago as part of Phil Tallentire’s excellent in-depth series on Boro’s Home Grown Heroes. and gave a very mature and articulate account of himself.
For me, ‘protecting’ players like Hines from the local media is a misguided policy. The club’s focus on the Academy is laudable, it is the key to the long term aim of a self-sustaining community-based club that puts the emphasis on a new culture of locally recruited talent. So surely every sign of success on that front should be hammered home in the Gazette at every opportunity as the club try to turn a tide of public opinion that is increasingly disillusioned with expensively imported fly-by-night mercenaries with no passion for or identity with the club?
These stories are branding gold-dust and should be exploited to the full. They play very well with the Teesside public if only because the youngsters speak the same language – and in the same accent – as the people who pay to watch them. The kids are symbolic of the bond between community and club and are remarkably eloquent advocates for Boro when they do speak. For all the multi-lingual media savvy in the dressing room, was there any more powerful motivational moment last season than Lee Cattermole’s moist eyes against first Arsenal then Aston Villa?
That talent, passion and potential produced within the club can help inspire supporters and bring hope for a future untainted by the excesses of money in the game. It can help reshape the club. Local lad makes good is the dream and Boro are a club where those dreams are coming true. It is a quality that should be nurtured by the club and publicised.
The youngsters don’t need to be thrown to the wolves, as maybe Stewy Downing was when he stepped from the benevolent questioning of the Gazette and the Echo into the full frontal attack of the media rat pack with England. The youngsters can be mentored and given basic media training. They can be broken-in gently in controlled conditions. They can be accompanied by a spion-doctor. But to hide them away them away is to miss a golden opportunity.
My second choice on the tunnel Q & A wish list was Mark Viduka but again he was not doing any interviews, presumably to damp down the rising speculation over his contract situation.
So through the wonders of the PR single transferable vote I got Jonathan Woodgate, who is always a good one, a frank talker who knows what the press want and gives them it, within reason. He told me that Boro were poor at the back, would get beat if they played like that in the Premiership and then hinted darkly at what the club needed to do to make him stay at the Riverside as he said they “needed to buy players if they want to keep players.” That was great, but I still had room in my notebook for Seb Hines as well.


21 thoughts on “Tunnel Vision Over Young Gun

  1. Vic,
    I think it’s understandable that clubs like Boro want to keep their precious possessions under wraps.
    We saw what certain unscrupulous agents will do on the Beeb programme a while back, offering dosh to mams and dads to get them to twist their little boys arm to move here and there. (In fact what are these rumours about young Nathan Poritt haggling over his new contract??)
    However I do believe that if medium sized clubs like us want the next generation of young fans to start coming through, then we need to give them someone else to look up to as well as the big money stars.
    After all these young guns are only kids themselves, so there is good reason to think that our younger fans will be more likely to relate to the likes of Hines, Porrit and others if they knew who they were.
    The article by your mate Phil Tallentire was very good, in fact it helped oldies like me know a little more about our future prospects too. Hence when one of the boys in Baku asked “Hines, who’s that?”, I was able to tell him after he scored the other night.
    But as fans young and old we need to be kept in the know, and the best way of doing that is allowing local press to have controlled access, with supervised interviews if need be.
    And you are quite right, what do the London hacks care about some kid they’ve never heard of, in fact what do we care that they don’t care.
    Boro obviously need to put some of their charges in protective custody, the coaches become surrogate dads (and mams). And I am sure when kids come along with their parents for look around, interviews and the likes, they will see that Boro are a caring family orientated club.
    We maybe just need the club to advertise a little more openly, and the best way is to say look at Catt, Morrison, Downing, Taylor and now Hines to name but a few, this is what our academy can do for your son.
    If nothing else it may help to get a future super star in at a young age that we otherwise would have missed out on.

  2. Vic and Neil
    Excellent stuff from both of you.
    Now that The Ex has gone isn’t it time to try to renegotiate the Gazette’s relationship with the club? Or are other ’eminences grises’ or ’eminence Dave’ still in the way?
    In Madrid, Barcelona and Seville, for example, there are dedicated sports papers where the copy is part official houss journal for the clubs and part is standard footie reporting.
    But I’m glad you don’t undervalue the piece with Woody – one of the best and, I hope, most valuable pieces of very good sense of the season.
    Let’s hope the ’eminences’ of whatever colour – but particularly red – take notice.

  3. I agree with Neils comments about future fans identifying with the young players.
    All young kids dream about being Ronaldo, Giggs, doriva (sorry that slipped out) or Henry. They also wish they could play alongside them or against them. Our young players arent tucked way in leafy Cheshire suburbs they are local lads and fans that young local lads can identify with. Dont hide them away as ManuU and others do.
    Some of you may know better as locals but my understanding is the Boro kids train at Hurworth. Is this so? I mention this because listening to Danny Mills, who is very articulate, it was interesting to hear him say that at many clubs the seniors dont know the kids at all.
    When one comes to train with the seniors they have to ask about him. Again this is about making links with the area, it is our team. It belongs to Downing, Catermole, Hines etc as well as us. Yak and Viduka are there to help our team play. I trust they train at the same place and have some contact.
    Two benefits, the local kids know that come to play at Boro and they are part of the family. Those that support the know that they are supporting their mates, friends or friends of friends and are living the dream for them, another generation of bloggers is created.
    So endeth the lesson, now stuff Bolton.

  4. Neil
    A further thought, if we didnt have someone like Downing in the England squad who would the hacks blame for Englands ‘stars’ not performing?

  5. Ian,
    On Downing and England, very true, between them and the Ex they destroyed that lads confidence. He is now obviously concentrating on his Boro career which is good to see, that’s where he belongs, and maybe when he’s older and wiser he can have another shot at the white shirt.
    But by hell did we not stuff the Trotters, and centre of the action?…..Downing. His best display by far this season, particularly first half.
    Catt, Tayls, Downing, academy products doing their stuff, and with more to come, the future looks bright, but its not ORANGE, it’s RED.
    By the way Ian, the kids do train at Hurworth where they can rub shoulders with the seniors. That’s probably how we have seen players like Catt and Taylor come in and have the confidence to boss the seniors about.
    I like the idea of a sort of official club fanzine attachment to the sports press, it’s successful on the continent and helps bring the club to the fans.
    Boro appear more concerned with bringing the fans to the club, but to do that they need to sell it, and quite frankly they’ve done an awful job over the last few years.
    The Gazette manage to reach the fans well enough despite MFC’s belligerence, but there is no togetherness between the clubs PR people and the local press (did I really say PR & MFC in the same paragraph???) and this is where we come back to the original point.
    How are young fans and potential academy starlets going to find out about the clubs obvious success rate with young players if they can’t see it and read about it for themselves?
    The club need to wake up, just a little, and move with the times. We are not ManU with satelite centres all over the North, where the kids don’t even see a senior pro, never mind train at the same venue.
    This is Middlesbrough, an up and coming mid sized club with great potential in the academy, so why not let everyone know how well we are doing. It wouldn’t take much, would it??

  6. Neil
    I believed th kids trained at Hurworth but wasnt 100% sure, the togetherness does show.
    As for PR and MFC in the same paragraph, it just depends whether you mean Puerile Rubbish or Public Relations. Answers on a postcard.

  7. Brilliant game by downing. good to see him really going for it for a change. nice to see him push up field a bit more and look to take players on. What he has to do is start being consistent rather than 1 good game every 3 months! thats the sign of a class player
    We are ahead of schedule on where we were last season. All those people saying steve mac is a top draw manager must be feeling embarrased now! southgate is better already!

  8. I would have thought that being media savvy would be an advantage to any young player.
    Players have their own web sites and image rights, dealing with the press should be part of any young players education.
    On to Saturday…
    What a great performance, since the MaClaren clone Round left GS seems to have turned things round big style.
    In a few months and with no badges he seems to have grasped that playing the same winning side week in week out is the key to winning matches, something MaClaren has never grasped.
    Allowing the strikers to play a full game and not dragging them off after they have scored 2 goals.
    Allowing Downing to play as a winger and not a aaditional Left Back. Personally I think this was more down to MaClaren worrying that someone other then him would make the headlines.
    Still everything is looking good at the moment and long may it continue.

  9. Excellent result at the weekend, hopefully that will give the fans as well as the team the confidence that Boro can compete in the Prem.
    Only Liverppol and Arsenal are in better form.
    Another good defensive performance and an outstanding display of attacking football we systematically dismantled Bolton, a team up until Sat. tipped as a possibility for the top four.
    Surely we all believe now that we are a decent side and not relegation fodder. There were concerns expressed last week that Bolton would ‘out muscle’ us, I saw no evidence of that on Saturday!
    I’ve said all season that the main problem was the lack of self belief in the team, now that is back hopefully it will spread to some supporters who don’t believe that we have the potential to finish in the top ten.
    I read on this web site that Stewie believes we should now aim for Europe, a couple of weeks ago he would have been heavily criticised for making such a far fetched statement. Now it is not an unreasonable target, although to achieve it would require the stunning form to be maintained until May, but it is a reasonable target now.
    PS How much is the Duke worth a week?!

  10. Viduka is worth what ever our salary limit is. we cant be held to ransom. give him a 2 year deal maximum. he is on form at the minute but he is playing for a contract either here or elsewhere.
    but he will be 32 in october so middlesbrough will be thinking beyond this season with the length of his contract. He is not getting any younger. we dont want a player stuck on high wages who is past his sell by date in 12 months.
    No one has come in for viduka this january so that puts boro in a stronger position with negotiations.
    **AV writes: A I understand it Boro have not made an offer yet. They plan to wait and see if another club makes a move then will see if they can match it.
    If no-one comes in they will make a take-it-or-leave it offer in the Summer, probably for a lot less than he is on now and possibly for a shorter term. That call my bluff strategy worked with Boateng last year.

  11. Nigel
    I would prefer the players to be talking of the Bristol and Pompey matches, of the need for consistency of performances, of building on what has been achieved.
    For players to start talking of europe is getting ahead of themselves. There is obviously an outside chance of another adventure but leave that to look after itself.
    They may think it but dont talk about it, leave us to do the dreaming.

  12. AV, i think we have been stung badly by agents and over paid players in recent seasons. So i think this a shift by MFC to sit and wait rather than dive in and meet the wage demands.
    AS long as none of the top 4 clubs come in, i am confident that he will stay and i think MFC think that too. if one of the big 4 came in then we wont be able to match them anyway. And i think other clubs we can match. If he is happy at boro and living in harrogate. then where will he go?
    Its all about who shows their cards first. If we show our cards will his agent demand more cash?if we wait for a club to offer him a deal we can just say we will match them.
    I think boro are doing the right thing. as no one has come in for him in january.
    **AV writes: It is a high risk strategy but it appears to be working. Fingers crossed. As he will be available on a free in the summer there will always be clubs who can make the figures stack up.
    The key will be what Boro offer – not just money, but prospects, ambition, new signings and a style that suitshim. If that adds up then Boro may be his best bet if if he can get better money elsewhere.
    It is also complicated by the fact that at least one of the clubs ‘interested’ may not even be in the Premiership next season.

  13. Why don’t Boro offer Viduka a 2 year deal with a contract that they think he is worth? GS wants him to sign, Viduka has said he wants to stay, so why take the chance on someone else coming in over the next ten days?

  14. Ian,
    I suspect that Stewie was dreaming too. The players need to believe they can aim high, as well as focusing on the next game. Presumably he was interviewed just after the game and was on a high.
    It was a fantastic result and means we can look forward with a little excitement now rather than the trepidation of the past few months.

  15. Never happy, its never as simple as that when agents are involved. Viduka has been clever and kept quiet and let everyone else do the talking. There will be length of contract to sort out, bonuses,loyalty payments, what payments the agent will get from mfc,guarantees if regular footbsll, international commitments,wages,other perks,clauses,..etc
    it doent work the same as a regular person in a normal job who either agrees to take a job on those wages or not.

  16. Barnet Nigel
    I guess you may be right, get a few more wins under their belts then it is fair comment. Go backwards and it looks a bit silly.

  17. Boro should take Lucas Neill’s signing for West Ham as a warning of what may happen with Viduka.
    Neill in typical footballer fashion says its not about the money, reportedly 60K per week at WHU or 30K a week at Liverpool.
    The Australian said: “It wasn’t about cash – that didn’t come into it. It was about being wanted. West Ham were knocking down the door to get me whereas Liverpool made a take or leave it offer.
    Yeah right, we all believe him don’t we?
    Why don’t Boro offer Viduka a contract today, get him to sign it and all the speculation will go away. Not doing so could lead to WHU making Viduka a similar offer to his Aussie pal Neill, and if thats the case leaving Harrogate might not be such a wrench for Viduka and his family.

  18. Dave
    I understand the issues of complexity about contracts and Ts & Cs etc – I also note what Vic says above about a high risk strategy.
    But it’s not as though we can complain that we don’t know contracting is complicated and takes time or that we were unaware that Veruka would be able to talk to other clubs as his contarct ends in the Summer. We knew that date several years ago.
    So why, if we were serious, didn’t we start earlier? No reason why Veruka couldn’t have been talked to before the window opened rather than after. How Veruka responds at that time will tell you a lot about his position and put the club in a ‘moral high ground’ negotiating stance.
    Unless we’re playing the sort of high-risk games that Vic alludes to.
    In which case, you win some but you lose some. And now Gate has acknowledged an offer from money-bags Hammers we may end up paying more if we want to keep him now that he has a ‘bird in the hand’ and not just bluffing.

  19. fans think money grows on trees and think its so simple if both parties want to extend the contract. Never that simple. viduka might want 3 or 4 years and boro only offering 2 years. we might not want to break our wage structure, because then it means other players want more money. All these comments going in the press is just part of the process of cat and mouse between the club and player/agent. what they say in the press isnt always what is really going on
    we can only speculate but we shouild respect what MFC decides because they know what is best and what really is going on. we can only guess

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