Last season, back in December, just after Everton had won at Old Trafford and more than matched Arsenal at the Emirates, Tony Evans, Football Editor of The Times, wrote that all Roberto Martinez was really doing was “papering over the cracks.” He opined that come the end of the season all the loan players would be gone and in any case an ageing Gareth Barry was not a man to build a team around; Gerard Deulofeu would go back to Barcelona; Romelu Lukaku would be “hawked around for the biggest price.” He predicted that this summer for Everton would be “another summer of cautious spending” and quipped “how long Everton can rely on a policy of begging and borrowing is anyone’s guess.” In the same article he even had the temerity to claim that Martinez should be well disposed to his predecessor David Moyes because he had “bequeathed Ross Barkley” to him, overlooking the fact, even if he knew it, that Moyes never trusted Barkley and most of the time kept him sitting on the substitutes bench and that all his real development had come under Martinez. A few weeks later Evans was at it again; criticising Martinez for his use of the loan market arguing that “borrowing judiciously can be good but sometimes the payback is painful,” finishing off with the classic lazy logic of “Martinez is (merely) using his time on Merseyside as a staging post.”
Fast forward to the present. The Times like all the sports media have been getting fantastic mileage out of the Ross Barkley situation, peddling rumours of his imminent mega-money transfer to a ‘big’ club almost on a daily basis. Thus one would expect the news that he had tied himself to his boyhood club by signing a lucrative 4 year contract would be worthy of extensive, in depth, coverage. The press conference at which this was announced took place at 4-00 pm on Tuesday afternoon. How surprising that Wednesday morning’s edition of The Times carried no mention of it. Plenty of coverage of United’s pre-season tour of the States, and plenty – a double page spread in fact – of Liverpool’s pre-season tour too. But of Barkley’s new contract, not a single word. All understandable of course, because United and Liverpool are part of Sky Sports’ magic circle.
It is of course well known that the football coverage of The Times (and The Sun) serve only one master. That master is Sky TV; promoting the broadcaster is the priority. Any pretence of neutrality or balance have long ago been subsumed by the requirement to serve the interests of Sky TV.
Tony Evans’ views on the World Cup also bear examination. Last December, just after the World Cup draw had been announced, he let go a broadside saying that the tournament is bloated, is getting all the excitement diluted out of it and that the group stage matches have a “ho-hum feel about them.” Views which turned out to be completely wrong. Views which presumably had nothing to do with the fact that Sky TV weren’t carrying the World Cup and that it was free-to-air on BBC and ITV. Glad to see the guiding principles of The Times football editor are at least consistent.
Now if you didn’t already know, or hadn’t guessed there is something you should know about Tony Evans. He is a big Liverpool supporter, his twitter profile disingenuously proclaiming that he is “neutral in the paper.” Presumably being the football editor means he controls the content, direction and tone of the newspaper’s output, which to be fair must be tough. After all the amount of column inches devoted to the so called ‘big four’ Premier League Clubs indicates that the requirement that his paper be used as an adjunct to Sky Sports’ football coverage takes precedence over all other considerations.