WHETHER you are part of the media throng lobbing questions at Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp, or in a touchline huddle of three at an outpost in League Two, the football press conference can often be a gladiatorial arena.

The search for a perfect soundbite, a killer news line, or sometimes just a straight answer to a straight question is often a subtle balance between having respect for the individual and the gumption to push for information to better entertain and inform your audience.

Top tennis player Naomi Osaka’s admission that her media duties have exacerbated pre-existing problems with anxiety and depression, prompting her withdrawal from the French Open tournament, have triggered a spell of self-analysis among sport’s authorities and media.

Could more be done to help sportspeople feel more comfortable speaking after competition, should it even be an obligation at all?

And should there more responsibility be taken by journalists asking the questions at a time when their subject could be at their most vulnerable?

Pressure to explain a performance is potentially magnified in individual events like tennis, whereas in team sports such as football, there may be a requirement for a manager to face the music after a defeat but clubs often restrict how much access is given to their players to limit damage.

More often than not they turn to a particular type of character, and more often the man wearing the captain’s armband.

In 2011, when Bolton were hammered 5-0 by Stoke City on a wretched day at Wembley, a sheepish Owen Coyle described his disappointment to a cavernous auditorium. Deep in the bowels of the stadium, club skipper Kevin Davies fronted up to questions from the local press when the look on his face made it clear he would have rather been anywhere else in the world.

In 2014, Wanderers were whacked 7-1 at Reading and it was Jay Spearing who emerged, head bowed, to apologise to the supporters.

And when Bolton were relegated from the Championship after a nightmare season in 2015/16, Darren Pratley produced a memorable call for the boardroom to get their act together quickly just minutes after walking off the pitch at Fulham.

Post-match press conferences tend to be more emotionally charged – and there has long been an argument that more time should be allowed for managers to compose their thoughts before making statements that will be bouncing around websites, televisions and radios within moments.

In some tough recent years at Wanderers there have been a range of different characters who have occupied the manager’s hotseat. Some have coped well with the pressure some were beaten into submission.

Sam Allardyce certainly fell into the former group. He had his run-ins, and memorably stopped talking to the BBC altogether after the Panorama drama, but generally seemed happy to give the press as good as he got, particularly at a time when some of the big-hitting journalists had Bolton on their beat.

That mantle never sat well with Sammy Lee, who struggled to get his personality over amid chaos on and off the field. His short tenure came as little surprise to those who had dealt with him over those few stormy months.

The Bolton News:

Gary Megson was a call-back to the thick-skinned experience that Allardyce had when dealing with the press. He was infinitely more engaging when dealing with the locals in one of his more personal weekly chats at the training ground but never managed to win over the wider audience.

Even his first day in the job, flanked at the top table by former chairman Phil Gartside, he made it abundantly clear he was not concerned about a popularity contest. And that absence of PR caught up with him in the end.

Owen Coyle saw that pendulum lurch the other way. All smiles, witty banter and positive energy, the Scot seemed like a necessary antidote at the time when he breezed into a first press conference, Gartside again beaming at his side.

Had that golden run continued, bad fortune been avoided, it may have been enough. But poor results will eventually strip most managers of their mojo, and that was the case for Coyle by the time he left Bolton as a Championship club.

Dougie Freedman’s relationship with the media was good – but time has told that within the camp, it was quite a different story. Wanderers were changing, ready money had slowed down dramatically, and the Scot slowly started to gain a bitterness in the statements he made.

He had questioned whether the team was good enough to stay up that day at the Madejski Stadium and was still doing so several months later when beaten by four goals at Fulham in his final game.

The Bolton News:

Neil Lennon’s charisma and experience made him a popular choice when he came to Bolton but the Northern Irishman quickly cottoned on that the club he was managing was not the one discussed in his interview.

He managed to smile though budget cuts and short-term signings but lost himself completely once the money was cut off altogether. Disciplinary issues surfaced to illustrate his frustration and more than any other manager he was left to field financial questions that were not his place to answer.

To Lennon’s credit, he never took criticism personally. By the time he was moved on, though, he was more than ready to go.

Phil Parkinson’s methods were tried and trusted. At League One level there was not the same national media scrutiny that had been placed on his predecessors and he made a considerable effort to explain decisions he made on team selection, etc. And for a good 12-15 months it worked like a charm.

The Bolton News: MAKING MOVES: Phil Parkinson has hit the ground running in his rebuilding of the Whites' squad

From day one there were issues off the pitch, chiefly with decisions made by owner and sole board member, Ken Anderson, and briefly when Dean Holdsworth was also in the building. And when such thorny subjects were thrown at him, the manager used every bit of his experience to shut them down.

In the end, however, there were only difficult questions left.

Only towards the final few months of his three-year tenure did you really get a sense of the manager’s private frustration. Parkinson maintained his dignity, which was a feat in itself, but potentially lost a chance to earn kudos with club’s supporters by taking a more critical stance of his employer.

Keith Hill’s passionate personality came over well in his very early days after taking charge of his hometown team. In the end, however, his off-beat addresses to the media did not go down especially well inside or out of the UniBol.

Which all brings us to the current man in the hotseat, Ian Evatt.

Such is the weird world of football right now, the majority of Evatt’s press conferences have been conducted with the flickering wi-fi signal and unflattering camera angles of Zoom – or socially distanced, on dimly-lit touchlines up and down the land.

As with his predecessors, these have been the occasions where you can really learn more about a manager’s personality, character and – far too often – ability to deal with stupid questions.

Evatt wears his heart on his sleeve. Early in his tenure that did not always work in his favour but as last season wore on, he learned more about what to hold back and when to speak openly.

He has also been able to offer up off-diary anecdotes and moments of humour that have helped forge a bond with the Bolton fans who are yet to actually see him in the dugout in person.

Down the years we have also heard from plenty of assistant managers, who have filled in for press duties – and that may be an avenue sports like tennis look to explore.

When Neil Lennon was indisposed, we got Steve Walford, when Phil Parkinson was in a meeting, we got Steve Parkin. Ricky Sbragia was kept busy for months when Big Sam lost his rag at the BBC.

If, in Osaka’s case, there is a very good reason for not being at a post-match conference then it shouldn’t really matter what contractual agreement you have with a sponsor, provided all parties are aware of the decision.

Whatever the sport, the opportunity to ask questions and to gauge opinions from sportspeople should continue. But there should always be flexibility, after all, it’s just a game!