By Tony Attwood
Head of the Bonkers Award Committee.
It is either a brave or foolish football writer who makes firm predictions about the season ahead, but the English media is never one to hold back in the summer from predictions, largely I suspect because they consider the average attention span of their readership to be little short of 2.3 seconds.
So it was that last night, after returning to the Midlands from the final day at the Ems of the season, the Committee assembled in my sitting room, and we contemplated how some of the scribblers had got on with their pre-season predictions of one year ago.
In general terms, most of the writers we looked at got the eventual top four right, and quite a few even got it in the right order. At the bottom of the table however it was all Gilbert and Sullivan topsy-turvy land. Most had Burnley to go down, but otherwise they were way out.
Even so if we look at the detail we find some interesting points. Matt Gatward, for examples who is in charge of all sports coverage for the Independent and its associated papers gave us a top four of
Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton
and a manager of the season prediction off Roberto Martinez – and that was a foretaste of what was to come.
Inevitably some publications clearly had had an overdose of something of dubious provenance when writing their predictions, as with Caught Offside who got rather excited with the headline
When you read a headline that talks of “expert predictions” in football, then you know you are in trouble, and Caught Offside was certainly in trouble.
Their “expert” had a top seven of Chelsea, Man C, Man U, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, Arsenal, with Arsenal closer to relegation than the top of the league.
However knocking Arsenal that far down was only to be found in the lunatic fringe (or perhaps in the case of Caught Offside the lunatic fridge) but promoting Merseyside to beyond the clouds is the disease that swamps the media. Given that realism is not available in bottled form on the NHS, I don’t actually know what newspaper editors can do about it, but at least as the Merseyside Madness unrelentingly continues in the prediction markets, we can at least have a chuckle.
Phil McNulty the chief football writer of BBC Sport had a dose of it, and last summer placed Liverpool in the top four beating Arsenal into fifth, but it was only a dose, and nothing compared to what some got up to.
But by contrast, and although given the way he has spoken of Arsenal through the season you might not have anticipated it, Paul Merson of Sky got the top four right, although Man C and Chelsea the wrong way around. He was also one of the few who noted what was blindingly obvious to most of us: that not playing in Europe this season just ended would help Man U.
Of course most of these outlets now shut up about what they said last summer, but Forbes, the business magazine, is one of the few that have actually come out and compared their predictions with what happened.
And you can see why. Forbes not only picked the top four as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United (just one position wrong) they also got Chelsea’s final points right.
Beyond that they predicted Tottenham would get 65 points (they got 64), and Stoke would get 54 (as they did). They were also only one out with Villa. They had Hull and Burnley to go down – only getting Leicester wrong.
But even Forbes slipped into the same error as most others: over-estimating Liverpool. Forbes gave Liverpool ten more points than they would get, and predicted Everton would get 14 more than they did.
Perhaps not surprisingly Amy Lawrence stood out particularly in predictive ability when looking at Arsenal and she wins the 2015 Untold Award for Predictive Commentary, not least for one comment in her summer 2014 article on Arsenal that really resonates…
Although the squad looks to be stronger, there is more to the Arsenal refurbishment than transfer activity. One potentially crucial arrival this summer will not kick a ball for the team. He will, though, attempt to address the fitness problems that have made the treatment room frustratingly busy over recent seasons. Shad Forsythe, a fitness expert who worked with the Germany team in recent years, has been headhunted in a bid to put an end to the spate of regular and complex injuries.
It took a while, but it seems he got there. We raise a glass to Amy.
Her colleagues in the Guardian however didn’t always do so well, and the Guardian was not immune to a bizarre and stunningly overwhelming inability of many scribblers to understand the not particularly complex issues surrounding Liverpool.
And so The Untold Bonkers Award, is what we now turn to…
Andy Hunter in the Guardian was by no means the only one to go all dewy eyed when writing the word Liverpool, but his exposition serves as a fine example of the media’s utter inability to see realism once they head north of the Mersey and west of Warrington.
Mr Hunter (that is the Guardian’s man, not the fictional TV soap character – although Mr Hunter does, as it turns out, write fiction) proclaimed last summer…
Several weak spots Rodgers identified when he arrived as Liverpool manager in 2012 and which undermined the team’s thrilling title challenge last season have been addressed, so too the squad’s depth with a four-season absence from the Champions League over.
Comparisons have been made with Tottenham Hotspur’s scatter-gun spending of the Gareth Bale money but do not stack up…. Integrating several new faces will naturally take time and not all will settle instantly but that does not apply to three recruits from Southampton. As Rodgers said, with a dig at the club he rejected owing to constant managerial upheaval at White Hart Lane: “It’s a different club and different vision we have here. At Liverpool there’s a strategy behind what we are doing.”
OK, this is painful and embarrassing writing, and Mr Hunter really ought to be hiding now, but he seems still to be in his job. He went on…
Rodgers has rebuilt around the Suárez void, increased creativity and energy in the final third through Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, added Emre Can’s strength to central midfield, competition for Glen Johnson’s right-back role in Javier Manquillo, a different option up front in Rickie Lambert and, most importantly, a more authoritative presence at centre-half in Dejan Lovren.
Now that little commentary ought to be stuck up on a wall in the Guardian offices as a reminder of what you get when journalists are given free reign to write about Liverpool. The comment on Can might be ok, but Lambert, Lovren…
There’s of course a picture with a player (oh, it is Lovren) holding a Liverpool “you’ll never walk” scarf, and the comment below…
With Daniel Agger’s future in doubt, Brendan Rodgers’s signing of Dejan Lovren might prove to be his most important.
The view from fairyland continues:
Rodgers has greater options, his squad appears stronger and the team’s outstanding performances last season should instil a confidence…
OK, we can all make bloomers, wild predictions and the like. But this is a national newspaper supposedly giving us not a fan’s eye view but a balanced consideration of the future. Try this for size on Sturridge, printed with fawning approval…
“I think you’ll see Daniel go on to another level again this season, with the confidence of a full campaign last year and scoring the goals he did,” Rodgers said.
Liverpool in the end spent £117m, £36m more than they got on sales. And comparisons with Tottenham’s approach on getting the Bale money? Hmmmm….
Overall it is strange. By and large football journalists can see what the rest of us can see, and in predictive terms they get it fairly right. Of course at the start of the season you can’t predict injuries, nor the impact that a change of manager can have on a club half way through a season. So getting a lot right is tough.
But it is clear that when it comes to Merseyside the media tends to go bonkers, totally ignores the signs, and proceeds to give players, owner, fans and manager alike god-like status, something that some among the players, manager, owner and fans appear to think they deserve.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time of late meandering around the subject of Liverpool, and I know that this annoys some readers (but thanks always to Liverpool supporters who come on here and boost our audience figures).
But I keep coming back to it not because I have something against the club in particular, but because I am continually puzzled at why it is that while much of football is fairly clearly reported, when it comes to Merseyside, journalists seem to go a bit bonkers.
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