Guest post by Reece Chambers on the weekend’s post-game press conference by Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock, and how it demonstrated a mastery of PR.
It’s 6.54pm on Saturday evening. Mr Warnock has just trudged back into the house and kicked his shoes off before settling down with a glass of fine red wine for the evening. All seems normal in the Warnock household, but what had preceded Warnock’s journey home was another masterclass in the communicatory skills of a wise professional.
After a dull goalless draw at home to bottom of the table Huddersfield Town – who had lost their previous eight Premier League games – a question from one reporter in the post-match press conference at the Cardiff City Stadium [January 12th 2019] changed the entire focus of the day.
To make one thing clear, Warnock was asked whether or not the uncertainties around Brexit were having an impact on his negotiations in the January transfer window – not to go off on a pro-Brexit tangent, though that’s where we all knew it was leading.
The 70-year-old didn’t need asking twice as he rambled on about British independence.
“To hell with the rest of the world,” he says, sitting in front of a Visit Malaysia advertising board to address the media. “I don’t know why the politicians don’t do what the country wanted if I’m honest,” Warnock adds.
The fact that Cardiff City is under foreign ownership and has many foreign players didn’t deter Warnock from his rant, which has since been widely covered on social media.
The nature and timing of his comments, however, should not be seen as mindless comments from a footballing perspective.
The Sheffield-born gaffer’s pro-Brexit statements illustrate just how expertly he is able to control the discourse of the media at a time he needs it to cover anything other than his team’s dreadful performance.
The Bluebirds registered just 39% possession and zero shots on target against a Huddersfield side who had lost their previous eight matches in the top flight of English football. In the footballing world that could be perceived as equally as bad, if not worse, than a no-deal Brexit.
If you weren’t at the Cardiff City Stadium or didn’t have the motivation to stay up until the last game on Match of the Day, you weren’t to know of Cardiff’s dreadful performance. Pro-Brexit quotes from the manager hit the headlines instead, just as he had intended them to.
A key aspect of public relations lies in the issue management of an institution. As leader of his institution, Warnock successfully continues to deflect attention away from his main issues. It might be true that the Bluebirds don’t have the quality or experience to stay in the league, but Warnock’s relationship with the media continues to protect the inefficiencies of his players.
“I thought the lads gave me everything today,” probably wasn’t the most accurate representation of Cardiff’s performances against Huddersfield, but as long as Warnock continues to protect his players, the longer he is able to keep convincing everyone – probably including himself – that his side are good enough to stay in the league.
His tone this season has remained more relaxed and measured than recent Brexit comments and old YouTube videos of his dressing room rants suggest. Amidst all of the noise that surrounds the Premier League, Warnock has created an environment that allows his players to compete free of public scrutiny from their boss.
His ability to take every match as it comes with the occasional smirk and glimmer of sarcasm towards reporters shows just how much he is enjoying this free-hit with Cardiff City.
As long as Warnock can continue with the same protection of his players and light-hearted media relationship that he has already established this season, his players will have every chance of remaining in the league.
Reece Chambers is an aspiring journalist, currently Head of Sport and Deputy Editor at Gair Rhydd, and student of Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture.