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‘Football is a simple game’ – The biased Media

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‘Football is a simple game’ – The biased Media

By Guo Sheng Lee

How many times have we heard the saying: ‘football is a simple game’?

Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to have seen/heard it too many times when reading/watching the English press. The way in which the media and former players criticize current teams resembles a chiding, frustrated school teacher who simply cannot understand why their student is unable to grasp a simple concept – ‘1+1=2! What is so difficult to understand?’ The only problem with this analogy though, is that the world of professional football isn’t a science, and constancy and guaranteed results are simply not possible, unlike mathematics where equations give you definite answers.

This is not to say that it’s only the press who have taken on this myth of simplification, as various other blogs and comments on this site have shown, but it’s definitely the  fault of the media for perpetuating these myths and stereotypes that influence those who are unwilling to think beyond what the media feeds us.

Ironically, the press accuses Wenger of rose-tinted glasses, of deluding Arsenal fans with promises of glory that only end up with failure. One particular description stands out for me – Myles Palmer’s description of Wenger as ‘the greatest spin doctor in football’. Frankly, I’d have to say that Wenger is only the runner-up in that list, whereas the press are the ones who give outlandish spins on stories that people instead lap up as fact.

What do I mean by this? Consider the following story:

‘Cesc wants future resolved’ –  The press focus on the fact that Cesc said he would like to play for Barcelona IF he ever leaves Arsenal, and create a picture which depicts him as wanting to leave the club for Barcelona. They downplay the part where he says ‘I’m very happy at Arsenal and have no plans to leave’.

This is a clear example of sensationalist writing, with clear agendas in mind. The headline could have easily read ‘Cesc happy at Arsenal but wants to play in Barcelona one day’… but that isn’t much of a headline is it? Bearing in mind that Fabregas just signed a new contract with the club, and that he wasn’t simply making a statement to the press but probably responding to questions by journalists, it could be argued that the questions were framed in a way to illicit such a response from him, as is the common tactic practiced by journalists. It would be interesting to see the whole interview WITH the questions posed to him as well.

In this case, I’m guessing that the lack of response from Arsenal is just so they do not incite further propaganda from the Spanish press. Keeping silent seems to prevent even more malicious rumours from spreading, as people now believe that a deal is being struck, while the facts are out that there have been no bids from Barcelona for Cesc.

This is theoretically an ideal situation is it not? The club cannot transfer a player if there is no bid from the interested club, so in effect there is little news to be reported. Furthermore, as seen in the past with Vieira and Henry, responding to rumours and declaring that players are not for sale does not stop the rumours, but instead fuels them with talks of conspiracy behind the scenes, so there really is no point in making further statements.

However, this has by no means stopped the English press from going into overdrive based on ‘facts’ by ‘a reliable source’ that Cesc is having showdown talks with Wenger in London, and that Arsenal are now a failed project in meltdown.

In effect, this just seems like a tactic to force the rumour into truth by inciting anger amongst Arsenal supporters who take these stories to be fact and begin their criticism of their player in the most public fashion possible even though nothing has even happened yet. In fact, these attacks on a player before an event has even happened are counter-productive to the Arsenal cause, and can only lead to one result – Cesc eventually leaving the club. After all the criticism levelled at Cesc over the past month even though he has not done anything wrong and gave his all to the club, why would he want to stay? Even if he does stay, he should already have some doubts about carrying on as captain after the next season thanks to the comments of those who believe the media’s hype.

Enough about the Cesc story though, it’s just another sad episode of people being unknowingly shepherded like sheep by those who talk the most, for there can only be one possible reaction to these types of stories – anger and disillusionment, which only fuels further stories for the press.

On to another area of simplification of the game – the seemingly simple answers to all of Arsenal’s problems. If we read enough of the press, it seems that all Arsenal need to be successful is to buy 4 players which include a goalkeeper, and get experienced players in. I’m not going to go into detail about these issues though, as I believe they are beyond my meagre football knowledge, but I’m rather more concerned by the people who are making these comments.

Notice how most pundits in England are former players? Juxtaposed with the fact that managing a team is very different from playing in one, one must question the judgement of all these players in their judgements. After all, they sit comfortably in their studios or in front of their computers writing about easy solutions to the game, but yet do not have any past success as managers! It’s rather rich that they should be offering advice and criticizing present players and managers when they themselves have not been particularly successful in managing teams.

Pundits such as Graeme Souness, a great player in his time with Liverpool but a dismal failure of a manager with Blackburn and Newcastle, can criticize teams and give their opinions all they want, but they should not advocate them to managers who have been far more successful than them, should they? If not, they would have already become winning managers rather than sitting in a studio. After all, how many pundits have had successful enough managerial careers to give advice? Personally, if they really wanted someone to comment on clubs and managers, wouldn’t it be more prudent to have someone like Ferguson or Wenger to analyse things? Yet, we accept these media personalities with little credence as fact, and round on our own successful manager.

What I’m saying is that just because the majority say that something should be done does not mean that it’s the right thing to do. For example, if everyone told you that borrowing large sums of money to gamble away on the lottery or in a casino was a good idea because you could win even more, would you do it? They conveniently avoid mentioning the fine print: ‘but you could lose all your money and we’ll take your house when that happens’.

Similarly, hasn’t that been the case with football in general? Spend more money and you will get success – just look at Manchester City this season. Their season reminds me of Leeds and how they gambled all their money away on achieving Champions League qualification, and when it did not arrive, they’ve gone as far down as League 2. The only reason Man City can do this without similar consequences though, is due to a rich sponsor who supplies them with millions. Arsenal do not have such means, and competing in a market with the likes of Real Madrid, Man City and Chelsea means it is impossible to get players at reasonable prices anyway if they decide along financial lines, which means Arsenal has to spend beyond our means to get the absolute top players, while leaving us with the possibility of administration if the team does not do well in the event of a freak occurrence.

The argument that clubs should spend in transfers what they earn from their player sales does not make sense, as the club is theoretically still in debt, and even if players could be bought, it would be at an inflated price which would not make sense, as the funds could be better spent later on players in a non-inflated market.

Moving on, the stereotypes given by the press of Arsenal lacking the ‘English fighting spirit and determination’ are dubious at best. How does nationality equate a certain type of player? By saying that all English players are ‘hard working and honest’, it’s just another nationalist calling, as by implication, all foreigners are ‘lazy and dishonest’.

For example, I doubt we could ever call Jermaine Pennant a hardworking, honest player, could we? Could we call Gerrard and Rooney honest players after their dives against us (they may have dived against other teams, but I don’t watch them so I won’t know)? Or could we say that Tom Huddlestone is a hardworking player? Similarly, we overlook the fact that the likes of Clichy, Vermaelen, Sagna, Song, Cesc, Van Persie, Arshavin (I had to give this to him considering how red his cheeks get every game), and Walcott are constantly running for the team and fighting to win.

In effect, that is the spine of the team isn’t it? Yet the media persists with calling Arsenal as a team with no spine. And when the team does fight and give some back to their opponents, it is either deemed as a foul or as a yellow card even though similar offences are committed against Arsenal with less consequences.

The constant labelling of Arsenal as a ‘soft team who don’t like it up ‘em’ could give referees the impression that any time the Arsenal fight back, it’s cheating and a foul – or at least that’s what the crowd often accuse us of. The ring of ‘same old Arsenal, always cheating’ when we get decisions our way can easily influence referees just because of the crowd mentality along with the assurance that these calls would not be highlighted in the media, allowing for easy ways out of pressure situations.

In the same way, it works against the team as we are labelled as moaners when things do not go our way. However, why aren’t other teams given similar tags? If we look at the games carefully, who are the ones who are constantly complaining? We see Chelsea surrounding the referee, but no one labels them as moaners. No, instead they are labelled as experienced and with a winning mentality amidst commentary that laments surrounding the referee. For some reason, no one else picks up on these issues which happen across the board in all teams, but rather focus on Arsenal because it’s a simple target with the stereotypes already in place.

The ‘soft team’ with the ‘whinging French manager’ surprisingly does the same thing as the ‘hard, physical team’ with the ‘honest English manager’ – Think of Pulis complaining that Arsenal get decisions in their favour

First of all, it’s not as though it’s any business of his, as it was an incident against Wolves rather than Stoke. Secondly, and more importantly, dangerous tackles have been committed by these two teams against Arsenal players – Shawcross on Ramsey and Henry on Rosicky. There really is no defence on their part, and Pulis’s spin that his team’s approach is simply competitiveness and should not be penalized by referees is a case of rather short-term memory considering it was only a few weeks prior that Shawcross broke Ramsey’s leg.

However, no one claims that Pulis is a moaner, or that he’s perpetuating the stereotype that Arsenal players are soft and teams should be allowed to be more physical with them. On the other hand, if Wenger complains, it’s seen as one-sided.

Why do the press constantly round on Wenger in such a manner? Almost no one takes the side of Wenger because no one else is affected by it other than Arsenal, and the physical game is seen by pundits as the way to play, based on an era long gone. Thus, this myth of the physical game is translated throughout the world through the interpretations of pundits which people conveniently accept as truth, as apparently going against the grain just encourages ridicule.

Accepting the views of the majority does not always provide the best option, and while I’d gladly go along with convention in most cases, the idea of going along with convention set by a select group of people who have their personal egos and agendas just does not sit well with me.

These are the same people who accepted the likes of Vinnie Jones, accepted discreet fouling in the game, and played at a much slower pace than the teams at present. There is no way that players aren’t fitter now than they were during the time of pundits, as witnessed by Arsenal’s revolution under Wenger and the physical superiority of the team with the likes of Vieira, Parlour etc. Sure, it looks slow on TV, but the game is in fact much more physical than it was 5 years ago, much less 20-30 years ago. A tackle that looks innocuous on TV can actually hurt a lot in real life – just film yourselves playing amateur football and witnessing tackles that hurt, as it looks like absolutely nothing on film at a distance.

We simply accept that players should be ready to receive pain because they are paid to do so, and they mostly do so rather admirably, but it does not mean that those tackles do not really hurt and affect a player during a game. In fact, the game vs ManU that ended the Invincibles’ run was a particularly brutal game but has now become the norm for teams playing Arsenal. Yet, people persist with the stereotype that Arsenal are soft despite that kind of behaviour not being acceptable 8 years ago, amidst claims that the game is getting softer now.

It’s really amazing how things can be seen in such simple terms, as the press really do not have anything to lose by criticizing teams and offering their opinions, or perpetuating stereotypes that create stories. After all, they simply want to create headlines that would lead to higher ratings.

However, if we believe everything they tell us without analysing it for ourselves; we’re prone to descend into the dreaded herd mentality, albeit at the direction of the media and their cattle prods. I would like to end off by calling for all gooners to see the truth for what it is, that the media is just another influence on us to create situations and stories for their own personal agendas.

While Wenger is definitely not omnipotent, he’s certainly a lot more successful than all the pundits who are calling for his head and giving him advice. I’m not going to criticize fellow fans for seeing things their way if they truly believe they aren’t influenced by the media at all, but for those who would listen, just take a moment to reflect on exactly what influence the media has on us, and its credentials in its criticism. Let us not allow them to make us tear our own club apart.

A parallel time, a century ago

Untold Arsenal – no one tells it like this site does

But you still need something to read on holiday

24 comments to ‘Football is a simple game’ – The biased Media

  • walter

    Very well said Mr. Lee. Very much I can agree on.
    Just look at pundit Shearer in MOTD. But when he had to save Newcastle he couldn’t do it. So if he comes on I leave the sound on if I want to have a lough or mute him so I won’t have to hear him telling rubbish.
    Oh how easy it is to criticise managers like Wenger but non of those pundits can even stand in his shadow or come near to him when it comes to having achieved things themselves.

    And to the why? It’s because we are The Arsenal and we do things differently. That’s why, I think.

  • RVP

    Alan Shearer on BBC MOTD, how can anyone take that man seriously after what he did to Newcastle.
    English Grit? what a load of B*****ks!!!

  • John Lisney

    Absolutely brilliant article. I have been an Arsenal fan for over 15 years and regularly read Arsenal blogs, but have never bothered to comment. Just wanted to say that for the first time, I am reading something that truly reflects how I feel about the bias in English football and the British media’s depiction of Arsenal.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Walter:

    Yesterday your story about defence was flawed in the way you looked at the statistics. The total number of goals conceded is not as important as the teams table position with regards to goals conceded. We would have great defence if we conceded 100 goals if our nearest rivals in the EPL concede 110. The problem for Arsenal has been that they concede far more goals then the rivals we are compared with. 7 of the last 10 EPL title winners have been #1 in the table in goals conceded. The other 3 have been 2nd. A similar pattern has been present in all the major European leagues for the last 10 years. Arsenals table position in goals conceded that last 7 years has been 1st (invincibles), 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 5th, Tied 5th/6th.

    Defence is the main problem and it has been slowly getting worse compared to our main rivals since the year of the invincibles.

  • walter

    Bill,
    out of respect for this great article by Lee I will come back on this in the article itself if you don’t mind.

  • SamGooner

    This aricle needs to get more attention. It has really opened my mind and i have realised that a lot of people including me accept what the media feed and dont think about it. The likes of hansen, shearer them itv “Pundits” etc all give their own agendas across and it shouldnt be accepted unless they have been as successful as the person they are critisizing.

    Top article, yet again…

  • Walter:

    Sorry, did not have a chance to comment yesterday. Would be interested in your thoughts at a more appropriate time.

  • critic

    “Barcelona still pursuing Cesc Fabregas but no official offer has been made to Arsenal”…journalism can’t get more funnier than that……..ha ha ha ha ha ha…..

  • Mikey

    Brilliant, Lee! Exceptional stuff! I honestly worry about a world where there is too much information but not the right mindset to digest it all. People are going to have to learn to sit back and think hard about the information they receive before coming to conclusions or else they will spend their entire lives believing in lies and half-truths, and thats just pathetic.

    Thanks for a great piece.

  • Abhishek Kumar

    Hey Lee

    Absolutely billiant articles. A similar situation prevails in stock markets. Here in India and I guess worldwide people are made to believe that stock markets are the easiest place to earn money. The Experts on TV advise you and make money by doing exactly opposite of what he/she said.

    Unfortunately people dont spend their own money in video games and thus they think that they know everything. I advise the ex players who have so simple and brilliant advise go and earn millions as a manager rather than thousands as TV experts.

  • walter

    No problem Bill, I have given a short answer in the article itself already if you want more or you disagree on some things just let me now there. I will keep an eye on it

  • LRV

    Mr Lee, I send, and whole-heartedly give you my respect for this insightful article. I do hope that ‘goners’ who mistaken themselves for ‘gooners’ will take proper note if they truly want to be gunners supporters.

  • Rhys Jaggar

    First thing about pundits, they are rarely neutral:

    1. The first reason SAF refused to talk to the BBC was really because he thought it was an LFC mafia, what with Hansen and Lawrenson holding sway. It’s now a bit more open, with Dixon and Keown for Arsenal, Crooks+Lineker for Spurs and Shearer for Newcastle. The closest Utd get is Pallister occasionally on Score!
    2. Sky is again a bit more balanced with SSN and Jeff Stelling hosting a Scouser (Thompson), two Arsenal men (Merse and Nicholas) and Matt le Tissier who refused to play for a ‘big club’ despite being arguably the most talented footballer in the land at his peak.
    3. Sky’s football match team is Andy Grey (the blue bit of Merseyside).

    I’m afraid, though, that you must accept that just as there are good pundits and bad, there are also good managers and bad ones. And the most difficult job a Chairman will enjoy is to realise that an icon of his Club needs to be pensioned off and told that, for the good of the club, they need to keep a low profile as no headmaster can run the school with the former head poking his nose in. You look at how hard it was for followers of Sir Matt Busby. No one says he was anything other than a football god and a great man, but any successor was put up in front of his halo and, until 16 years of mediocrity had passed, no one could handle it. LFC are suffering similarly post Shankly and Paisley. Spurs were the same after Bill Nicholson.

    Another thing that is going undiscussed is the quite phenomenal amounts of money pumped into football by the media. I’m not saying I agree with what goes on, but the media want their loaf of bread for all that dough and, at least in the tabloid press, that means lots of copy, lots of stories and, if necessary, lots of transfers and sackings. If as fans, owners, shareholders etc we don’t want that, then we’ll need to come up with another way to run football. The players union may show some robust resistance, I suspect……..

    Currently, the story on Sky Sports website is that Barca are now in contact with Arsenal and Cesc’s dad has apparently said that he thinks that negotiations would take quite some time. Whether there’s any truth in that at all, I wouldn’t know.

    For those that worry about these things, my experience is that there is no point in worrying if you cannot influence things. The questions that remain at the conclusion of what takes place are these:

    1. Do I still support my club?
    2. Will I keep paying my season ticket/Sky subscription/going to the pub to watch the games?
    3. If not, what will I do instead??

  • Finsbury

    Fantastic article thank you.

    When I compare ESPN Cricinfo’s standard of writing, and audio discussions on that sport, it exposes the football p(l)unditry for the poverty stricken idiots that they are.

    WHen I compare the BBC’s F1 standard of writing, and discussions on that sport, it exposes the football p(lunditry for the poverty stricken idiots that they are.

    The standard of coverage of football, within the UK, is rubbish. No argument.

  • Davi

    I thoroughly agree with your comments on the media. The bias is incredible at times. Wenger has been called an “enemy of football” several times on a particular radio station. First for not openly criticising eduardo for diving (as if ferguson or any other top level manager has done that either – in fact Arsene IS the only manager I can remember doing that about eboue) and second for raising thierry henry incorrectly because he handballed against ireland. It’s just amazing at times.
    I do think wenger is open to criticism from arsenal fans however for the tactics he uses and mistakes he makes in team selection. However it does make me sad how easily led so many of these fans are.
    The “english spine” thing is particularly difficult for me to understand. What was the “english spine” of the invincibles? sol campbell? I think gilberto, edu, vieira, toure, and lehmann showed equal grit, determination and leadership to the great defender. Nationality is clearly irrelevant here. I mean, who was “grittier” than vieira?

  • Sam

    Mr Lee – brilliant piece and I couldn’t agree more!!

    The only change I would make is that in the paragraph about pundits I am not so concerned about Souness as although he was not exactly the best manager around at least he has the experience of management and at one of the big clubs, its the past players, who no nothing of managing a team. The two that spring to mind are Jamie Redknapp and Stan Collymore. I mean how do these idiots (both sicknotes too) get to be our voices of reason in football. One was a sicknote for every teasm he played for and could obarley string two games together and the other is a wife beating doger. Hardly the educated football pundits that are required!

    As you say spend spend spend is all they understand and the circus of, if it doesn’t work out and your spend 100m on lots of players then sack them and get someone else to take over who will do it all again….and so the circus continues….

  • bart

    Quote: “Almost no one takes the side of Wenger because no one else is affected by it other than Arsenal”. Oh the irony! Wait for the press to slate the England team when they are outplayed by a better footballing side in quarterfinals of the world cup. A big problem, IMO, in English football is how little appreciation there is of talent. For a football mad country there very few technically gifted players coming through, compare this, for example, with the constant stream of talent coming out of Holland or France. I don’t know what’s happening at youth level here but wouldn’t be surprised if there is a preference for big and strong kids over technically gifted, supported of course by relentless promotion of the physical game by the media. Did they really say Wenger is the enemy of football?

  • Arsene-al

    i have to say im stuck in a hole with what to believe. on one hand i could very easily believe that there is a conspiracy against arsenal by the media, but at the same time thats a bit of a crazy notion(ofcourse im not calling you crazy, its a very good piece). but whats even crazier is that its believable that the media is out to get us, and getting more believable by the day. theres a lot of evidence that points towards your arguement, but my only question is why. why would the media constantly try to destabilize arsenal as if it was personal. i mean like i said, i can believe that the media is out to get us..but just for a second..doesn’t it sound a little crazy/paranoid to be thinking these things? but i have to say that what you said about cesc sounds very very possible lol and im a little happier. thanks for the great articles, keep em coming

  • tim

    Thanks Guo Sheng. Nice read and well-researched.

  • tim

    Quick question:

    What are the FIFA rules concerning “tapping up”?

    With Puyol, the captain of Barca, as well as Cesc’s dad now in the fray, this is just getting ridiculous…

    If I were Arsenal, I’d just say F%^k them. This tapping up has to stop.

  • Phil23

    Arsene-al. There is no conspiracy but the bias is obvious for all willing to look, to see. The reason why Arsenal is so slated is that they are seen as a foreign team that stands for many of the things the “good old tough English football” nation does not. I am from New Zealand and it is a worldwide fact that the English despise the French. I’m not trying to offend English people but many of them are proud to the point of arrogance and this pride often comes before logic. We have a French manager and this is resented. We went undefeated with a team of mostly foreign players. Our team is full of technical players rather than physical players and this is not the English way. Because of this, if you don’t support Arsenal you dislike Arsenal because they stand for many of the things you “good old tough English football” club does not. This causes bias from the media with all the things this article pointed out happening all the time. This causes a knock on effect as other people from all around the world see this bias (with out realizing it is bias) and start to hate Arsenal themselves. That is how I have always seen it and I promise you it is much easier to make a rational decision when you live in a country that doesn’t give a toss about football (until very recently when we made the World cup…)

  • hartwick89

    And so we are here again defending what is obvious…

    And to many not so obvious and that is why this piece is brilliant…

    Because no matter how you slice it Wenger sets the the table in an ordinarily simple manner…

    He came into a club which needed vast improvement.. He did so by using mostly common sense.
    He took away things that distracted moving forward.. He took away the identity of being just another club.. And, he asked the question? Who wants to be successful? How does Arsenal move from there to here? And, we see change instantly… And, reality is success is measured in many different facets. And, from year to year the variable changes but the Arsenal goal does not.

    So for all the pundits who ridicule Arsenal… They can never take away what has been accomplished. But, what they can do is present half truths..they can deceive and ultimately lie. And, as Tony has brilliantly advocated for is the truth. And, you cannot honestly argue that.

    The table is set now and we all know what that means: No short cuts to success. Many failures along the way. But, what the English have come to love is hard work! And, so the chef has prepared this amazing meal.. and the wine is chilled… the table has been prepared for course after course. Now sit back and enjoy the meal because it won’t be over until the chef completes his last serving. And, it will be fantastic!

    Remember this; your chef is very detailed and if you are not satisfied he will not be satisfied until he meets every last need. So for all the true catastrophists keep sending your plates back for ultimately you will be satisfied and you will come back… And, in the end you will have picked the best “place”.

  • Arsene-al

    thanks for the response Phil23, what you said makes a lot of sense. i didnt mean it as an all out conspiracy against us but sadly thats just how its starting to look. unfortunately wer both in a country that doesnt seem to notice football,here in canada i have to watch most games on the computer because theyr so happy with their hockey here. but i agree that being english in the premier league comes with its perks. but is it just the french or is it foreigners in general. i find it interesting that liverpool is sitting there in 8th place and the media havnt touched them, but if arsenal so much as finishes in 4th suddenly its the end of the club and wer headed to relegation. its getting increasingly frustrating because the media is obviously taking its toll on arsenal. something really needs to be done

  • Arsefactor

    Simple really.
    -The media need to get interviews from England players especially when major tournaments are looming.
    -England players won’t give an interview if they have been targeted by the media.
    -Arsenal only have one England player in Walcott who is currently the whipping boy of English media (i.e. they don’t need an interview from him).

    The situation will not improve for Arsenal until they have more England players in their first team which will happen with the like of Wilshere, Chucks and JET coming through.

    I agree though about how poor pundits can be, Collymore is the perfect example.