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Ronaldinho v Guardiola: The appetiser before the feast

The Fifa Club World Cup kicked off last Wednesday, with Morocco's Raja Casablanca defeating Auckland, but most people will only start taking notice on Tuesday, when Bayern Munich and Atletico Mineiro, champions of Europe and South America, take to the pitch in their respective semi-finals.

Ronaldinho is enjoying an indian summer to his career at Atletico Mineiro Photograph:
Ronaldinho is enjoying an indian summer to his career at Atletico Mineiro Photograph:

Most, inevitably, expect them meet in Saturday's final.

Whether you consider this a legitimate trophy or not, you can't help but be intrigued if that comes to pass. Ronaldinho, enjoying a renaissance at Atletico Mineiro, will take on the man who wanted him out of Barcelona (and was ultimately proved right) - Pep Guardiola.

Ronaldinho was instrumental in Atletico winning the Brazilian crown and the Copa Libertadores. At 33, he probably doesn't party as hard as he once (allegedly) did. Or, if he does, he's found a way to cope with it. Either way, you sense that he feels he soon won't be able to play the game he loves at the level he wants. And so he is doing everything he can to squeeze every last drop out of it. With the World Cup around the corner, you never know if there might be room for one last hurrah...

If there is no such thing as bad publicity, then the tale of Newcastle United planning to charge media for interviews and access to players outside of matchdays and press conferences was a stroke of genius.

Newcastle's name circled the world in no time flat, surfacing both on quirky "story of the day" items and weightier conversations about the relationship between journalist and subject, and the role of the press as an advertising and marketing tool.

Naturally, most of the coverage was negative. Not just because club owner Mike Ashley is secretive or because Joe Kinnear is a whipping boy or because this is the club that has already banned three local papers. But rather because we take it for granted that sport is part of the entertainment industry. Given the sheer number of entertainment options out there, how you market and advertise your particular form of entertainment is crucial. And because advertising and marketing usually cost money and there's a finite amount of it to go around, getting some of it for free is generally seen as a positive.

That's why when a Hollywood blockbuster comes out, the stars sit for hours in hotel suites talking to one reporter after another. Or why bands give out free samples of their music.

Now, we need to throw in an important caveat, one that many seem to have missed in their original reporting. While the Newcastle Chronicle reported that the club plan to seek out media partners who would pay for exclusive access, Newcastle themselves, speaking to media magazine The Drum, called it "categorically untrue" and "nonsense". With such an overwhelmingly negative response, we can probably take it as read that even if such a plan was afoot, it has been put on ice for the foreseeable future.

Still, it's interesting to dissect the logic behind the proposal (real or imagined) to charge for access. The idea is that while the club benefit from exposure, the media benefit as well, because they get free content which they can monetise in the form of advertising and subscriptions (or - though this may be a bit of an anachronism - news-stand sales). And so, why not charge for exclusive access to this content, since those who obtain it benefit financially as well?

Leave aside for a minute the issue of editorial control and independence. Because, really, it's a red herring. Obviously an outlet that pays for access compromises independence and objectivity. But, by the same token, where you have a free press, there are plenty other outlets.

Whenever a sportsman offers a worthwhile quote in an interview, within seconds it's picked up everywhere else, from the wire services (and therefore other media outlets) to the web to social media. And once it's out there, it can be analysed and dissected by anyone with web access.

Focus instead on whether the kinds of exclusive access interviews - perhaps with plenty of photographs to go with them - really do drive traffic/sell copies. If they did to the degree some believe, why wouldn't Newcaslte (or any other club) simply run them on their own website and in-house publications?

That way they could sell the advertising around them directly, cutting out the middleman. And they would increase traffic to their own titles. Plus, of course, they could fully control the content.

The likely answer is that -contrary to what many believe - this type of content really doesn't excite audiences the way it perhaps once did. In the same way that Sir Alex Ferguson's "manager's notes" in the Manchester United programme were instantly reproduced (with ancillary analysis) within minutes of being made public, so too are these types of feature interviews immediately reproduced elsewhere.

When clubs launched their own websites 15 years ago or so, some were concerned that they would becomes the primary source for club news and that other media would fall by the wayside. Well, that never happened. If anything we've seen a proliferation of outlets reacting to that content so quickly and scientifically that many prefer to go straight to them than to the original source.

And that's why, ultimately, beyond the concerns over editorial independence, this idea is so misguided. In a short period of time, folks would realise it's not economically viable.

On Friday I had the opportunity to tour Murray Park, along with my colleague Guillem Balague and the former Barcelona and Chelsea defender Albert Ferrer. What was immediately obvious and what many admitted is that Rangers would be in a far more difficult situation without the facility, which - like Celtic's - ranks among the better training centres in Europe.

It's a very long way back for Ally McCoist's club. But it would be a far steeper and more difficult climb without Murray Park, particularly in the winter months.

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