From superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to coaches like Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, most (if not all) soccer players and coaches have been caught at one time or the other covering their mouths on the pitch when speaking to fellow soccer players or match officials.
This behavior is not restricted to soccer players alone. Some coaches have also been caught on camera covering their mouths when talking to their players or players from the rival team.
This gesture is more pronounced when players from one team talk to players of the opposite team. Is this practice a hidden law in the game of soccer or the players are simply trying to keep their conversation secret?
Well, besides the obvious reason for not letting people know what they are talking about, there are many more reasons why soccer players cover their mouths when talking. Some of the reasons may sound really brilliant but others are not so much.
Read more: Why Do Soccer Players Raise Their Hands?
Why do soccer players hold their mouths when talking?
When players are about to take a free kick or corner kick, you will likely see them covering their mouths. But you may wonder, why go through that stress when the goalkeeper is far away and it is unlikely that anyone would be fast enough to tell the goalkeeper what the players said.
Well, some people know how to read lips. By simply watching the movement of your lips, they will be able to decode what you are saying. However, the big question is, “is it possible for an untrained person to read lips especially if the speakers are communicating in a foreign language”?
Perhaps, soccer players hold their mouths while talking not to hide their communication from their fellow soccer players alone but also from the prying eyes of media people.
In a game of soccer today, dozens of cameras with powerful zoom lenses are mounted all over the stadium to cover the game from different angles. Although these cameras are mounted far from the sidelines, they can still zoom in on players to show their faces clearly.
If you have been wondering the secret behind the recent rise in the number of players covering their mouths when talking, here are your answers.
1. To stop media from reading their strategy
Soccer is a game of strategy and the last thing that any team wants is for their strategy to be made public. Once this happens, a rival coach will be able to adjust their style of play to counter the team’s strategy.
During the last group match between Brazil and Cameroon at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his Brazilian squad started covering their mouths on the pitch because a Brazilian television station was using lip-reading to gain insights into the team’s strategy.
It was so bad that a television program, TV Globo’s Fantastico, used lip-reading to reveal some of the advice Scolari gave to his players. The Brazilian coach openly expressed his displeasure with the coverage.
For the media, the more details they can reveal about a team, the higher their subscribers. On the other hand, players and teams want to keep their discussions and strategies mute so that their opponents won’t know what hit them.
Inasmuch as coaches and players alike dislike the undue media intrusion, it is a good business for the media. Therefore, it is unlikely that the media will back off and give the players a breathing space. Thus, holding their mouths has become their own form of defense from media attacks.
2. Players want to censor their words
Soccer is a game of passion and this passion often consumes the players who resort to fighting dirty on the pitch. Since using their fist will earn them a red card, players often resort to verbal battles with their opponent.
Former Brazilian goalie Jefferson de Oliveira Galvão popularly known as Jefferson explains that players often use “tough, ugly words and this is normal. But some TV shows make a big fuss about it”.
By holding their mouths when talking, soccer players are able to censor what goes to the media and avoid becoming the subject of messy media controversies which can rob the player of mental alertness and focus.
Every time the media is able to get into the psyche of a player, they are indirectly giving their opponents an unfair advantage—especially when the targeted player is an indispensable part of the team’s success.
3. Avoid getting into trouble
The use of certain words (like racial slur) on the pitch can land both players and coaches in trouble. In 2018, Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola, lashed out on Southampton winger, Nathan Redmond for time-wasting.
His words were decoded because he did not cover his mouth and there were suggestions that he could land in trouble for his choice of words. Interestingly, Redmond maintained his cool and replied with his hand over his mouth.
When a player reports verbal abuse, an arbitration committee will need damning evidence including resorting to lip-reading to know if the accused player or coach is guilty of the accusation. Obviously, it will be hard to find you guilty if your words are hidden behind your hand.
Due to the frequency of the practice, some people are already suggesting that it is possible that soccer players are getting tips from experts to avoid being caught saying things that could land them in trouble.
Whether they are getting expert advice or not, it would sound awkward to hear the interviewer asking you something like “Why did you call Messi a bonehead after the clash”.
4. Holding mouth is a way of amplifying their words
With tens of thousands of people packed in the stadium and unanimously singing support for their teams, the words of players can easily get drowned in the noise.
If a player was to talk to another player that is just twenty-five centimeters away, they may have to raise their voice to be heard. However, by covering their mouths, they are able to channel their words to the target without having to talk any louder.
When you talk on the loud ground, the sound will spread out and get fainter as it travels to your target. However, soccer players use their hands as a foghorn to make their words clearer when talking to another player.
Phil Hall, a famous PR consultant that has worked with big clubs in the Premier League, confirms this claim. According to Hall, many of the players say, “the main reason they [cover their mouths] is, sometimes you are doing it when you are close to somebody, it amplifies your voice so they can hear you”.
Interestingly, some analysts have faulted this claim owing to the fact that during the coronavirus pandemic restriction era when soccer players played in empty stadiums we still saw a lot of soccer players hold their mouths when talking.
5. Soccer players like to copy each other
While there have been reported cases of TV stations hiring professionals to read the lips of players and their management in South America, there have been no such records of media intrusion in the UK.
Hall explained this in an interview when he said, “It started in South America where a couple of TV stations hired guests to start reading what was being said on the benches. But the players themselves over here [the UK], I think are just aping what they see on the continent. I don’t think over here there are being actively advised to cover-up”.
Obviously, soccer players say a lot of nasty words to each other which they often don’t see as a big deal. However, if those words should get out to the media, they will be twisted and bloated and made into a fuss because the media thrives on controversy.
So, whether the soccer players are covering their mouths to amplify their voice or simply copying a trend they think is cool, one thing remains clear, they want to get away from media rants as much as possible.
With the increasing number of cameras in the stadium to ensure better coverage of soccer games, the safe space where players can talk freely is becoming smaller and smaller. Therefore, they have to create their own safe space using their hands.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!