The Athletic: Sorry is hardest word for Manchester City

Pep Guardiola’s attempts to defend Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva after his controversial tweet to Benjamin Mendy were not only clumsy but completely avoidable.

City’s handling of the affair has attracted criticism from many of their own fans as well as anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out, who are understood to harbour concerns about the club’s public response — or lack of it — to Bernardo’s initial tweet.

The player was given more time to respond to a Football Association misconduct charge after he compared a youthful Mendy to a caricature of a black child used by a Spanish confectionery company on social media.

In the absence of an official statement from City after the post on September 22, an increasingly angry Guardiola was allowed to speak about the subject in two separate press conferences.

The City manager launched a staunch defence of Portugal international Bernardo, highlighting how he is an “exceptional person” and popular member of the dressing room, but also made a series of clumsy assertions that displayed the same misunderstandings regarding race that landed Bernardo in trouble in the first place.

Despite the FA deciding to charge Bernardo for his controversial comparison, Guardiola is unlikely to face a separate charge over his comments that defended it. The fact he was allowed to make them, though, has led to exasperation from some supporters and even members of staff at City, as well as annoyance from Kick It Out and further scrutiny in the media. That final element may have even forced the FA’s hand when deciding whether to charge Bernardo or not.

PR experts consulted by The Athletic are in agreement: in circumstances such as this, a swift public apology is needed, and anybody likely to be asked to comment publicly should be instructed to choose their words carefully.

“It is often said that it is not an issue or crisis that damages a reputation, but how it is dealt with,” David Alexander, the managing director of sports PR consultancy Calacus, says of this type of potential disciplinary issue. “In many situations such as this, the organisation or individual focuses on intent, which misses the point. Any initial statement must acknowledge the situation and make it clear that there is an understanding how someone may have been offended even if this was not the intention.

“Rather than a ‘nothing to see here, you’re making something out of nothing’ response, it is important to understand all perspectives. Of course, you should not make further comments stating your case once an investigation is underway.”

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