All fans of English football will clearly remember Kevin Keegan’s “I will love it if we beat them!” outburst toward the end of the 1995/96 season. As manager of Newcastle United, he was responding angrily to rival manager Alex Ferguson’s perceived suggestion that other teams wanted Newcastle to win the league rather than Ferguson’s Manchester United. Keegan felt Ferguson was implying opposition teams would not try very hard to beat Newcastle. Experts in sports psychology are convinced that Keegan’s show of fury on live national television revealed how much he was suffering under the pressure. Ferguson had won the mental battle. Manchester United went on to win the league.
In another sphere entirely, ‘culture vultures’ will be familiar with Queen Gertrude’s observation in ‘Hamlet’ that: “The lady protests too much, methinks.” Or with Macbeth’s excessive protestations of sorrow upon ‘learning’ of the death of King Duncan, the man he had earlier murdered.
Public image, whether for a football manager, kings and queens or a 21st-century business, is not always a question of what is said and done. What goes unsaid can matter a great deal as well. Do not automatically criticise a competitor’s products or strategies. Doing so can eloquently reveal, despite your intentions, how much you fear the competition. If their products are so poor and your business is so superior, why are you talking about your rivals again? Whether straining under pressure in public or complaining to the media about a minor issue, saying too much can be damaging.
So, whether you put your faith in the genius of Shakespeare or Sir Alex Ferguson, remember: there is often a thin line, but a big difference, between reacting and over-reacting.