You Cannot Win: Cesc Fabregas and Press Conferences

On Monday, Grantland, that special place on the web where Brian Phillips’ unrelentingly wonderful writing* vies with YouTube mashups and discussions of the latest pop culture trends, posted a podcast in which Dan Lebotard and Jon Sciambi hosted guests Jeff and Stan Van Gundy. While the vast majority of the podcast deals with rather inane moments in Stan Van Gundy’s recent dismissal as head coach of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, there is a terrific point made toward the end. To paraphrase: coaches and player are subjected to such a constant barrage of media questions that after a while you’re either put on autopilot and become a drone or you make a mistake.

In essence, this is true in all sports, not just the NBA. In a humorous moment, Jeff Van Gundy refers to not telling the truth in press conferences as “modulating the truth.” While an absurd turn of phrase that he got a lot of wonderful stick for, Jeff does make the larger point that no matter what is said, the media will turn those words against you. There will be a picking and choosing of statements, a dissection that can lead to out-of-context headlines. But, because you have to speak to the press every single day, have to have practice and speak, have to have a game and speak, you can never say nothing. Words of some sort have to come out of your mouth. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” really.

When Cesc Fabregas “complained about playing time” the other day in a press conference, the quotes were exploded into transfer rumors. No doubt he was asked if he was happy to have been subbed out of Barça’s matches this season. No doubt he answered honestly. It was probably not an innocent question, but it was probably a tired response that, in reality, was as well-put as you could make it without either not answering the question (he’s avoiding the truth!) or complaining about his playing time (he’s not a team player!). There is no right answer. Say nothing and you are a reticent, anti-fan jerk. Say something–anything–and your words will be twisted so that you are some sort of punk who hates his team, teammates, coaches, and management. Or maybe you hate the fans.

As such, the “truth” does not exist in this situation. Cesc Fabregas was probably “modulating the truth” in that he wasn’t fully communicative about how he feels. But he would be strung up along Las Ramblas if he dared criticize his team, even if he’s right. But that, of course, doesn’t matter. Cristiano Ronaldo, hateable as he is, is probably currently “sad” because he is vastly underpaid. He is paid less than some Argentine guy you’ve never heard of playing in China. No, seriously, he is. Samuel Eto’o makes €20m a year. Messi makes €10.5. Make sense? No. But come out and say that you’re underpaid and you’re a mercenary. You’re a greedy cretin. You’re, well, all the things both Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez have been called. You’re everything that was aimed at Wayne Rooney when he asked for more money.

You cannot win.

Because you cannot win, because you cannot possibly do anything other than hope it all blows over, there is no reason to listen to anything that any of these players say. I don’t care if Tito Vilanova comes out and says “Jonathan dos Santos will never play in this shirt again,” because he very well may suit up in the next match. Until he says my name, Tito can say whatever he wants. He’s hired to win. The players are hired to win. And they’re worth monstrous amounts of money to the club and the fans, but both treat them like toys.

“You’re not loyal!” we shout when they ask for more money.

“Traitor!” we shout when they leave for a big raise.  “Why doesn’t he stay forever like Player X?”

“Why are you bothering us?” we ask, irritated, when Player X, now retired, has knee issues and asks the club he served so loyally for help with medical bills incurred as a result of his career-ending injury.

We have no loyalty. We have no right to judge. The players play and do so under pressure that you and I cannot imagine. Brian Phillips wrote, “I sometimes crack under stress while packing the car for a road trip, or reading a book review.” Goddamned right we do, because we’re human and we’ll cop to that all day all night. But Cesc Fabregas better have his head screwed on right, better not make waves, no rocking the boat. Oh, and be sure to be at the press conference where absurdly personal questions will be asked for an hour. Failure to show up will result in a hefty fine.

You cannot win.

*Read that article. It is perhaps the best one I’ve ever read about anything ever. Seriously. Read it.

Categorized as Thoughts

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


    1. Yes, Cesc should take this opportunity to silence his critics, me included. If not, he shall be on the bench like Hleb 🙂
      Alba has the flu plus tonsilitis 🙁 If he can’t mach the match, who’s gonna cover Adriano, Puyi?
      Speaking of Puyi, did you all see his new mask? Don’t know how it works but, it looks cool,

    2. Easy to say. We are going to Getafe and Cesc could find himself in a bit of trouble. I do agree that if you have to play Cesc in our midfield, it has to be in Iniesta’s position. Also Adriano should have his handful of defensive work with Cesc in front of him. I wished Abi was available.

    3. Thiago’s back and fully ready to play now.
      Cesc is perfectly capable of playing in Iniesta’s spot, it’s when he is asked to play in Xavi’s place that there is a problem

    4. Huh? But didn’t he play in the qualifier yesterday? So that meant del Bosque used Iniesta despite knowing he was injured? Someone please send me VdB’s address – an angry mail is coming his way!

    1. I meant to say anything he doesn’t want the press to twist around. Like he’s sad or unhappy at play time. Many times players like Iniesta, Villa, Puyi, Villa give interviews, i’ve never heard of any controversies. Intresting thing that Ballague or Hunter said on revista was that, if Pep was still the coach, would Cesc have come out and said those satements?

    2. To flip that question: would any reporter ask it?

      Is there actually anything (anything at all) wrong with telling the truth? If so, why?

    3. Yes, i think the reporter would have asked that question whether Pep was still there or not.

      Nothing wrong with telling the truth at all. Infact, i don’t find anything wrong with what Cesc said to begin with. If he had said he’s happy to sit on the bench and wait his turn, the same press would have accused him of not being ambitious and not willing to fight for his spot. So, it’s a lose lose situation with the media.
      In some circumstances, it’s better to tell a lie as well depending the situation.

  1. Poor Cesc,

    It’s like the 3 Laws of Thermodynamics:
    1. You can’t win; you can only break even.
    2. You can only break even at absolute zero.
    3. You can never reach absolute zero.

    My P. Chem. prof. is rolling over in his grave as I type this. Sorry Dr. D.

    1. 🙁 …when I can find the link I will. Maybe it’s my screen, but I would sure love me some grana (maroon) links. I can’t see the dark blue for shit.
      Pretty please. As an homage to your Offside origins, if not for me.

      Your links are as golden as your writing.

    2. It was somewhat interesting, but I didn’t connect at all with it, so I didn’t find it very enjoyable.

    3. I’m a big fan of Brian Phillips. He’s solid. I still go to Run of Play and link to his Grantland articles. I miss Run of Play. Just not the same since it’s “collapse”. The article is fantastic. Isaiah, thanks for putting the link up! Also, thanks for the info on Conta who makes $12.5 million/year! WTF? I know China is going crazy with wages, but that is ridiculous. I wonder what a Chinese club team would pay Messi or TB? $30 million? I knew Eto’o was making a lot of dough, but didn’t know it was $20 million/year. That’s insane as well.

  2. To illustrate Isaiah’s point further, let’s run through an imaginary scenario at a press conference:

    Reporter: “Cesc, are you happy with the playing time you’ve had so far this season? You haven’t played a full 90 minutes in any game yet.”

    Answer 1: Cesc: “Sure. Whatever the coach wants is fine by me.”

    Us: “That boy has no ambition! He needs to work harder! We paid a lot for him, he needs to live up to that or he should leave.”

    Answer 2: Cesc: “You know I am very competitive & don’t like to be subbed. Like most players I want to play all the time.”

    Us: “How dare he criticize the coach for subbing him? If he isn’t happy with his playing time he can leave!”

    Answer 3: Cesc: “I’m just happy to contribute to the team.”

    Us: “See how he avoided answering the question? There is obviously something he is not telling us. He must be unhappy and planning to leave!”

  3. “No doubt he was asked if he was happy to have been subbed out of Barça’s matches this season. […] There is no right answer.”

    Sure there is.

    How about this:

    — I’m thrilled with every minute I get to be on the pitch at a club with all the talent that Barcelona has. And I’m sure that my colleagues are just as thrilled with every minute they get to play, whether as substitutes or as starters. —

    The catch of course is that athletes who become too adept at avoiding such question land mines eventually get tagged as “boring” or “bad interview” by hacks in search of their next headline. Messi for example is exceptionally good at it, and is considered a bit flat and dull as a result. Meanwhile, everyone wants to talk to Xavi because while he’s smart enough to play this game, he can’t be arsed enough not to speak his mind.

    Not completely OT: check out The Guardian’s latest Football Weekly podcast for an appalling segment wherein a couple of the talking heads (not classy James Richardson, natch) get to indulge in some apparently long pent up schadenfreude released by Cesc’s alleged unhappiness.

    1. The headline to what you said he should say: “Cesc attacks teammates for not living up to his standard.”

      No, seriously, that’s what would happen.

    2. I do agree that there are “bland” athletes who gives “terrible” interviews by never saying anything. But that is a huge problem too because interviews are actually a great way to get information about things. It’s just that now anything that is said is twisted around and flung back at the athletes and coaches. It’s complete crap. And we the fans are completely–completely!–responsible for it.

    3. I wouldn’t say completely. As I noted on Twitter, the media can take words at face value, but so rarely does, because the “Duh” stuff doesn’t sell papers/get clicks. Better to inflate and inflame. Fans react to what the footy press puts out.

  4. I think it is a bunch of noise about nothing. Most of Sport’s and EMD’s columnists support Cesc, so even in “medialand” or at least the medialand that holds some power over the powers that be in Catalunya aren’t really making any problems either.

    Read the article by the way. Great stuff. Don’t really see how the poem he cited would be racist, though, as he somewhat claimed in the footnotes.

    Grantland is an awesome website, although I am still disappointed that Bill Simmons never held up to his promise of becoming a Tottenham Hotspurs fan and write a soccer column!

    1. Dang it! So now this weekend’s game is looking tougher than it should be. Pedro-(tired)Messi-??? will be our front three? (tired)Xavi-(tired)Busi-(sad)Cesc to play in midfield?

    2. There’s plenty of people who can play upfront. Tello, Villa, Pedro, Cuenca, Messi, Cesc. Always good to see a new lineup.

    1. Yup – it’s Freddie. They posted the pic on their Facebook page, thrilled that Messi was wearing a Freddie Mercury tribute shirt!

    2. Can’t see the video because it’s blocked in Spain!

      Yes – the song was meant to be the theme song for that Olympics but, when Freddie died, it was only played over a visual recording of the city during the introductory video of the Olympic games ceremony.

      In 1988 Freddie (in his last live performance) and Dame Montserrat Caballé did sing it live in Barcelona during a festival to celebrate the Olympic flag arriving in the city.

      In 1999, the Champions League Final was held at Camp Nou, and Caballé sang the song while a video clip of Freddie doing his part played in the background.

      Freddie was actually a brilliant opera singer. Caballé said of him, “the difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice.”

      A four octave range is not to be sneezed at! Dame Cleo Laine only had a 3 octave range and I thought that she was brilliant!

    3. Hey Michele,
      My favorite soprano of all time is from your neck of the woods- Kiri Te Kanawa. A very pleasant, warm soprano voice.

    4. Dame Kiri is fine until she starts trying to sing comtemporary – and then it’s a disaster!

      Have met her (unofficially) a couple of times – once she came into my lab to have her 50th birthday celebration photos printed, and then another time in the Auckland Airport. 😉

    1. Luis Garcia seems to always have a plan to contain our team. Most likely, Getafe will defend for their lives. I think starting Song in midfield might be a good idea.

  5. A few thoughts: If anyone has been paying attention recently to the events in the streets of Barcelona…They have been over a million strong marching for independence from Spain. Rosell came out to pledge continuity with La Liga regardless of any political event in Catalunya. As a former resident of Barcelona, and a friend to many passionate Catalans, i fully support them in this never ending endeavor to achieve its goal of freedom from a nation that has persecuted its region in every sense of the word. I personally do not know how affective the current events truly are, but i hope for the best for all Catalans.
    Secondly, I have been following the shocking revelations of the cover up of the FA CUP semifinal from 89′ and am truly appalled that such things could occur. When the innocent die while watching a game that we all love, it brings back the harsh realization that this is only a game. The lives of the people around it are far more important and i pray an event and cover up such as this never happens again in our lifetime. This weekend before every match i hope every fan in the soccer world while supporting their team can give a moment of silence in remembrance of the 96. May they never walk alone.
    Lastly, i couldn’t be happier with where we currently stand a month into the new season. Tito has his work cut out for him, but i have all the faith in the world in his abilities to coach this talented and amazing team. May we all enjoy a year of futbol happiness, because regardless of whether we win or lose, watching this team play is something to cherish and enjoy every second of.
    Visca Barca! Visca Catalunya!

  6. So Deulofeu is part of the squad traveling to Getafe, and JDS and Fontas are left out. It makes sense, of course, with Alexis out Tito wants another option up front, but…you see now, Jonathan? You see why staying was a bad idea?

  7. Fanfiction of the Day from AS(s):

    -Man City are trying to sign some Barcelona players. Valdes, Adriano, Xavi and Villa, whose contracts expire in 2014, possible targets.

    -Man City will nonetheless probably focus on some B-players like Sergi Roberto (20), Cristian Tello (21) and Gerard Deulofeu (18). (via @barcastuff).

    I thought Silly Season just closed 😛

    1. That is pretty funny. Valdes is going to go to city to be #2 behind Joe Hart and boot the ball out from the back. 😆 Xavi will never leave Barcelona. Villa will never leave Spain, certainly not for England. Adriano might go if the money & the promised game time were high enough.

      I have no doubt at all that City will make bids for several youth players, including these three. I believe Sergi Roberto already turned down an offer, but I can’t remember if it was from City or someone else. He has every intention of staying and making it into the Barcelona first team, and Tito seems to be backing him. Deulofeu likewise. He knows he has a real shot at getting into the first team as long as he is patient. Doesn’t strike me as the type to run off after easy money, at least not until he has had his shot here. Tello…everything depends on this season. If he gets opportunities with the first team & plays well, he will be promoted. No reason to look elsewhere unless it is as a loan.

  8. barcastuff‏
    Jordi Alba, out for today’s game with flu, had already fever on Tuesday when he played with Spain against Georgia #fcblive #brazil2014 [md]

    I can’t imagine VdB letting him. But if it’s true…

    1. I can. Flu’s are generally often underestimated in football but Jordi probably didn’t feel so sick and wanted to play.

  9. Tito spoke about a Busquets and Song starting together this season. I’m rather curious if he uses Song’s offensive capabilities a lá Keita or opt for a rather conservative double pivote.

    Can’t wait to see MVP Formation again but i guess Tello edges it and start first.

    1. Would love to see

      Alves Pique Puyol Adriano
      Song Busquets Masch
      Pedro Villa Messi

      But I can’t see Tito being so brave! 😀

    2. 3 DMs?
      I want:
      Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adtriano
      Xavi, Busi, Song
      P!, Messi, Tello

      Villa subbed in at the half. Thiago subbed in for Xavi at ’60 if all is well, Montoya in for Dani.

    3. Ya – 3 DMs – with Masch sending in the decisive passes and shooting from long distance, Song assisting Adriano afiring in crosses, and Busquets being Busquets!

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