There could have been no starker representation of two camps in very different moods.
After the jovial and very human performance by media master David Beckham yesterday. the contrast could not have been greater when LA coach Bruce Arena, midfielder Landon Donovan and forward Robbie Keane stepped up onto the same podium 24 hours later.
Arena, perhaps less prickly then he is with media on away trips, batted away a trap question about restoring order in the LA Galaxy locker room after the reigns of Frank Yallop and Ruud Gullit. But if Arena was relatively in command of his media face, the same could not be said of the distant duo of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
There is an interrogation technique that the army teaches its captives to employ if captured. It is called the wall tactic and you are taught to stare at a distant point on a wall in the room to avoid answering questions and even shut them out. Donovan focused almost entirely throughout an uncomfortable half hour at a distant point beyond the cameramen at the back of the room.
After impatiently declining to answer the obvious questions about his own personal future, his body language and more so his eyes seemed in a far far away place. His body language seemed stiffly coiled as if about to unload, implode or explode.
Keane was at the opposite end of hopeless disinterest. Bored throughout, except when challenged about his schooling in Gaelic Football, he looked at reporters as a substitute teacher would at a class he had been told to mind for half an hour.
Donovan’s face barely changed expression throughout. Keane seemed to be occasionally suppressing the urge to yawn as much as a mild cough which may have been irritating him.
But if the contrast with Beckham’s astute handling of the media circus was acute, an even greater contrast unfolded in from of our very eyes within minutes of the grumpy trio leaving.
Replacing them were a bang on form Houston coach Dominic Kinnear who seemed delighted to be there, occasionally even enjoying himself, and leaned into the group as if genuinely interested in the question.
Whereas Landon Donovan seemed highly irritated to be asked about Landon Donovan, Dominic Kinnear had no problem and inadvertently – or perhaps advertently – sparked off some humour when he preceded the statement that ‘Donovan was the best American player ever’, by apologizing to Brad Davis and Will Bruin, the two American players who sat beside him.
Davis facial expressions were a prize. At first fake offence, then a shared joke which cracked Bruin up followed by heckling his coach through the rest of his answer, with then fake reassuring pats on the back. The media loved it.
It broke the mood of the room as for the first time that the press in the room were ‘in’ on something that happened on the stage as opposed to being excluded and isolated from the thoughts inside Landon Donovan’s head.
There was more to come as the San Francisco Chronicle correspondent Alan Black began his question in a strong Scottish accent.
“I love the Scots guys,” chirped Kinnear as Black asked him if he had instructed his team to (in a language they both understand) “Get stuck in”. When a second journalist of the same accent, (Our editor) began a further question, Brad Davis wondered out loud, but particularly in Kinnear’s direction, “Are they everywhere?”
While trying so hard to control the media agenda, Galaxy lost sight of a better path than truculent silence – humour.
Earlier in the day, our photographers reported that the mood among the Houston players was relaxed with laughter and joking among the squad seeming to evince a quiet confidence, or at least the very opposite of nerves.
Photos from Houston Training and the two very different press conferences will appear shortly in a gallery.
They’ll describe what happened today every bit as well as words.
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