Dog whistling

Pochettino is in the frame for the Real Madrid job.
Pochettino is in the frame for the Real Madrid job. / AFP
  • Mauricio Pochettino and Maurizio Sarri are saying one thing, but meaning another - all to send a message to the decision makers in Spain

Are you aware just how rife 'dog whistling' is right now in European football? I'm not talking a high-pitched noise to bring your pooch to heel. Normally employed by clever political speech writers, this week I'm convinced it has been adopted in the footballing world too.

'Dog whistling' is basically saying one thing but meaning something else. The popular definition is "political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different, or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup".

Study Mauricio Pochettino's press conference this week or comments at Chelsea about Eden Hazard and you can see the message for the Premier League population, then translate it for the 'targeted sub-group' - the Spanish media.

Pochettino was criticised back in London for his approach to the cup competitions, trying to convince the Tottenham fans to look at the bigger picture. "Tottenham, with no history of winning... I watch the video about the glory, it's with Nicholson. It's black and white. I watch it nearly every week."

Put that through the 'dog whistling' translation tool and it reads as "Real Madrid have history, it's there in full technicolour".

He added: "It is completely unfair to judge the club like you would Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. We still need to finish our stadium." Notice here how there's no mention of Manchester United, but in the next sentences he brings in his other suitors.

"To build that quality or philosophy is tough. If you want Tottenham one day to be at the same level of Real Madrid [having this infrastructure] is the most important thing. The bigger picture is we are going to have amazing stadium. The day we sign a player and the player says, 'I am signing for Tottenham because I want to win titles', that is going to be the day the club is in the last level."

Look back at that quote next June and it could be the coded warning that he's gone to a club that already has a world class stadium, the new stadium isn't draining funds and players want to sign for Real Madrid because they are on another level.

It's not just the Argentinian who is subtly trying to get a message to the Spanish decision makers using the English press. An Italian is using the same methods; sometimes in English and sometimes in his native tongue.

Maurizio Sarri speaking about Eden Hazard: "Eden is 28. If he wants to go, I think he has to go. He has the potential to be the best player in Europe at the moment. Sometimes he's happy with something less. But I was really very happy with the last performance."

Use the 'dog whistling' app on your iPhone to decode it from Italian to English and then to Spanish football speak and it comes out as: "Let him go to Real Madrid. He's 28, let's cash in while we can. He's not living up to his reputation. He's had one good game recently!"

You may think I'm being cynical but a quarter of a century of asking football managers one thing and getting an answer about something else does focus the mind.

If you don't believe my 'dog whistling' theory, try remembering what was said when your friend asked your opinion about the horrendous, ill-fitting dress they've just tried on. "Oh, yes, it's erm, a nice colour."

Or the response when you ask if you can go play golf for four hours - "You enjoy!"