‘My job is to ask questions – nobody is interested in my opinions’ – Geoff Shreeves
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
SIR ALEX FERGUSON may not have allowed Geoff Shreeves the last word on his final game at Old Trafford, but the Sky Sports interviewer always has the first word.
A familiar face of the station, Shreeves has been with Sky Sports since 1992, the first season of the Premier League. It can be a thankless task, a no-win job. Ask soft questions and you are accused of avoiding the main issue, ask about a manager’s future and it’s insensitive. Criticised for telling Branislav Ivanovic he was suspended for the 2012 Champions League final, it was hardly Shreeves’ fault the Chelsea defender was unaware of his number of yellow cards.
Shreeves would not have survived 21 years at Sky Sports without being very good at what he does and would-be football journalists and especially players moving into the media world could learn a lot from his interviewing technique and attitude. Some presenters, especially ex-professionals, offer their views and ask: “Do you agree?” Shreeves is old school and does not indulge viewers with his own thoughts. He said: “With all due respect, what do I know? I was schooled well in journalism by people I worked for in that my opinion is of no interest to anybody. I genuinely believe that. It’s my job to ask questions. I enjoyed being on the FWA Live panel and mixing it with an audience, but you will never hear my opinions on matters of football, skill or tactics [on television].”
Football writers appear regularly on television and radio yet none has made the move that Guillem Balague, featured regularly on Sky Sports’ La Liga coverage and the excellent Revista De La Liga show, has managed. Shreeves said: “We are in an interesting period in the media where the job is merging into one. We have Guillem Balague, I love his writing and he is so knowledgeable that he is an accepted pundit on Spanish TV stations. That would never happen in this country [with domestic football] which I find interesting.”
A trap some interviewers fall into is to stick too rigidly to their pre-prepared list of questions when in fact the best questions invariably follow on from an answer. And never make questions longer than the answer. Shreeves said: “If you talk to budding football writers and ask them the most important thing about a question they usually say ‘it should be clear and concise’ or ‘angled towards the person.’ No. It’s in the answer.
“My question could be: ‘So, Sir Alex, you have won Manchester United’s 20th title and seen off the financial challenge of Manchester City and Chelsea…could you encapsulate the importance of this victory and its wider meaning for football and the social world of this country?’ Or I could ask: ‘What does this mean?’”
When your job is also your hobby it can be difficult to switch off and Shreeves said: “Like everyone in our game, I do masses of research and in fact you are effectively researching every time you go to a game…you see someone, meet somebody…the football media is always working. We joke that we are awake 24/7 and sleep with one eye open, such is the pace of the media now.”
Shreeves has built up a close relationship with the leading managers and players in the Barclays Premier League, yet any friendship does not prevent him from asking a question about a red card or a manager’s future. “It doesn’t bother me remotely. There are times when someone who is a good friend is on the end of a question that is not going to do him or his employment any favours. However, I enjoy the challenge of phrasing those questions correctly.
“You have to look at what makes a good interview. The relationship is key. If there is mutual respect they will accept you have to ask certain questions or take a certain line and not hide behind ‘oh my producer told me to ask this.’
“They know you have a job to do, but you have to be respectful and don’t go hunting headlines. In the final reckoning, when a team, is relegated no one cares whether it’s Geoff Shreeves or whoever asking the questions, nor should they be. They are interested in the answers.”
Shreeves has no ambition to leave the after-match interview area and move inside to present a football chat show or a live broadcast. “It’s a different skill, one that I don’t have. I wouldn’t want to do it because I get a real buzz from talking to people as I do. I love nothing more than interviewing people, listening to them, asking them questions…”
Waving the FWA magic wand, if Shreeves could interview any football personality for 30 minutes with no editorial control…no question off-limits, every question answered, no public relations person ready to quash any controversy… who would it be?
“If they agreed to answer any question openly and honestly it would have to be Sir Alex, the most successful manager we’ve ever seen and the most important figure in my lifetime.”