They broke the news today, oh boy …
Another day, another sporting dollar and so the week begins with many column inches in newspapers filled with a certain kind of journalistic copy.
Whatever is written in one outlet is rarely too far removed from what will appear elsewhere. The fear of being separated from the media herd is a great motivator for all but the bravest and most established writers to avoid delving too deeply into what may actually be going on in the lives of the players, their managers and our clubs. Instead, we tend to get a perpetual rehashing of last week’s news with new added ingredients intended merely to support the existing ‘wisdom’ rather than challenge anything too seriously.
Unlike, for example, the financial media, whose journalists’ entire raison d’etre is to seek out and identify development, trend and change, the sporting pack is an altogether different beast.
The football media in particular is largely dominated by simpletons writing for, dare I suggest it, simpletons.
There are worthy journalistic exceptions to this observation, just as not all football fans are thick and/or illiterate. The hallmark of any simpleton is the degree to which they are comfortable with the realities of their world (or sporting) view being represented in black and white terms.
As we know from too many of our own agenda-fed fans, players are either ‘rubbish’ or ‘brilliant’. Yet the reality is prone to impact from all manner of variables I don’t need to list here.
So at the moment, it’s Martial Awe time and the fall guy is Giroud.
But the crowd-following mentality is no respecter of reputation, form or even history, no matter how recent. One of the most shaming media moments was the scandal of Mesut Ozil, whom we were most unreliably informed was one caught bang-to-rights not earning a living. According to the headline above Neil Ashton’s low-point Daily Mail article back in March 2014:
“Lost and lazy Ozil might have cost Arsenal £42.5m but he isn’t worth two-bob … and he’s nicking a living.”
So there you have it, one of the finest footballers of his generation, with almost 100 caps for Germany at all levels, 105 caps for Real Madrid and the small matter of a World Cup winners’ medal, is (at at least in 2014) not worth “two-bob”.
Theo Walcott, miraculously playing at the highest levels despite, according to Alan Hansen, doing so without a football brain, is also one who effortlessly decries the reputation of sections of our sports media, themselves widely guilty of multiple write-offs of the player over the years, simply by his very presence in the current Arsenal and England sides.
The kids that you supposedly could never win anything with, went on to win a European Cup-led treble, defying the hapless Hansen defined odds and providing the former Liverpool defender with little to defend his somewhat shredded reputation. The only surprise was how long Alan’s media career managed to continue; ironically, maybe that might be considered a heist of sorts.
But when someone with a media profile like Hansen could condemn players largely on a whim and without troubling themselves with detail such as ‘evidence’, then it is far easier for lesser lights like Ashton, Durham and others to come out with unsupported, unsubstantiated judgements which has the potential to do real and lasting damage to the careers of their chosen targets. This becomes especially true as their myth-making gets picked up by those of a less critical disposition and repeated over and over until they either become ‘true’ or, as in Ashton and Hansen’s cases, are shown up for the short-sighted and, frankly malicious comments they originally were.
Where it gets marginally more entertaining is when players are appearing to move from being ‘brilliant’ back to (relative) ‘shit’ as currently appears to be the case with Rooney and last season Spud-wonder Kane. There is that delicious opening up of a journalistic no-man’s land as the media shy away from the evidence of their own eyes of Rooney’s decline (legs’ gone?) and Kane’s apparent loss of confidence (head’s gone?).
Probably neither have turned to ‘shit’ overnight but Wayne’s decline is likely matched by his struggles to motivate himself in the twilight of a patchy career that saw his international form in tournaments never truly replicate his club contribution. Kane is young enough to bounce back to form though he could help himself by finding a decent club to play for.
But the media, in the meantime, struggle to digest and assess what is in front of them. To the extent that you have to wonder if they are really trying.
We are unlikely to find a non-headline grabbing assessment of where Wayne and Harry really are anywhere in today’s media outlets. Maybe the credibility of this small army of paid observers would be salvaged were they better able to provide a more measured response to the vagaries of player form and development. Then, at least, the state of Theo’s footballing brain may never have become ‘a thing’, to Hansen’s enduring embarrassment.
Brilliant or rubbish. Rubbish or brilliant.
The disservice done by this linear approach to describing and understanding players who are seeing out their careers in one of the most competitive sports environment on the planet is as shaming as it is impossible to justify.
One can only wonder how many players were casualties of the burden of being (mis)judged in this manner. As the press play out their agenda and the crowd, instead of getting behind players get on their backs instead, we are left to wonder whether the likes of Denilson, Eboue, Arshavin, Bendtner and Gervinho, might have seen careers thrive rather than dive. Flapihanskii and Sanogoals provided cheap headlines at one time or another and it was hard at the time to imagine their careers surviving this kind of ridicule. Maybe they weren’t ‘good enough’ but we will never know for sure how far these players might have gone with a more sophisticated appraisal of their contributions.
Back to the future and at some point the current media generation will twig Wayne’s game may finally be up and possibly Kane’s development has stalled or even gone backwards.
But all the while legions of football fans rely on mainstream media for their footballing verdicts, we shouldn’t be too surprised at the quality of the arguments of those same fans, or be too puzzled by the limits of their understanding of the game.
We should remain unsurprised, too, at continuing reports of the declining numbers of readers, viewers and listeners of the perpetrators of football’s black and white world.
Slowly and surely, possibly helped by social media, more and more are waking up to the limitations of the writers of the headlines and the weasel words underneath them.