A few minutes before 1 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Dec. 27, a tweet launched from the account of Los Angeles-based sports clinic Drip Doctors. It claimed to have administered a drip to French international Samir Nasri, designed "to keep him hydrated and in top health during his busy soccer season with Sevilla."
If true, one litre of hydration fluid would have been delivered to Nasri, in direct contravention of the World Anti-Doping Agency's allowance for intravenous drips, which are limited to 50 millilitres. The Spanish anti-doping agency is investigating, and the midfielder Nasri, at Sevilla on loan from Manchester City, could face a ban of up to four years.
Whatever happens next, Nasri's currency as a professional—his sporting integrity—has been brought into question, and the already delicate couplings that link this megarich athlete with his fans loosened further. Meanwhile, his employers, City and Sevilla, risk being tarnished by association, or worse, by complicity.
In cases like Nasri's, a smart public relations strategy is vital to recovering a player's credibility and salvaging their earning potential. The best in the business charge big sums for their services and can be worth millions to their highest-profile clients.
So, how do you solve a problem like Nasri's reputation?
David Alexander has been looking after footballers for 14 years as managing director of Calacus, a public relations agency in London.
"A PR consultant is not looking to sanitise a reputation," he tells Bleacher Report. "This is not about forcing fans to engage with a false reality."
Instead, Alexander sees his job as helping a player tell their side of the story. Good PR should be a strong guiding hand, he says.
"The key is to be honest and transparent," he says. "Anything held back in the hope that it might not be discovered runs the risk of later disclosure, which is usually interpreted as the individual having something to hide and therefore makes a suspicion of guilt more likely."
Alexander cites the example of Rio Ferdinand, banned for eight months and fined £50,000 for misconduct in 2003 after failing to attend a routine drugs test at Manchester United's Carrington training ground.
"[Ferdinand] had forgotten, tried to go back later the same day and tested negative two days later," Alexander says. "He explained what had happened and admitted his mistake in forgetting about the test and had the full backing of his club. It did not affect his long-term reputation, and many sympathised with the punishment compared to the crime."
PR is not a "trick," Alexander says. It's a code of best practice to help footballers on the ropes tell their story. The aim is to bring wavering fans back onside.
"He should, of course, have been aware of the possible negative implications of visiting Drip Doctors and the risks of using their services," he says. "He should also have consulted his agent, his club and the authorities to ensure he was permitted to do so before he attended the centre and used their services in Los Angeles. ... Suggesting he was unaware of the risks is unlikely to work as a defence here.
"Our advice to Nasri would be to make a full statement explaining what happened, including his understanding of the rules and his willingness to co-operate with the authorities. Playing dumb or staying silent just gives the impression that he has something to hide, and with the prospect of a possible four-year ban, he needs to do all he can to promote his commitment to clean sport and explain why he believes he is innocent, if indeed he does."
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