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October 2016
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Why we need experts to run football clubs

By Tony Attwood

When I published several articles on Untold which related to politics and football, I got a few comments back complaining that this was a football blog, not a political blog.

That point is true, but for me football is a topic that is integrated with economics, politics, psychology and sociology.  It is because the newspaper journalists and many bloggers try to pretend that football stands alone and can be debated alone, that we often have a problem in debating football sensibly, in my view.

Indeed one of the biggest problems we have in discussing football is the notion that football is an area in which “anyone can have an opinion”.  While that is true (as I attempted to point out recently) it is not at all a helpful or insightful comment.

Matters have been made more difficult by the statement of the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, the UK’s justice secretary, who is currently attempting to become the next UK Prime Minister.  He said during the EU campaign, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.”

Now forget that as a political statement, and see it as a football statement – and you can see the same thing.  Many football fans long ago reached this conclusion, and it is a view that has been encouraged like mad during the last few years.  And it means no one listens to anyone anymore.

Of course it has not been helped that the “expert summarisers” and the like invented by broadcasters, and the football journalists who pass opinion without evidence in the guise of being “experts” are no such thing.  Experts use evidence and from evidence draw conclusions.  I rarely see that or hear it, from football journalists.

Gove’s comment in effect said to voters, “you can dismiss expert opinion and use your own prejudice to make up your mind.”  Or put another way, “Bugger the evidence, trust your instinct”.   Exactly as many blogs proclaim daily.

(And let us remember he is the justice secretary – a man in charge of the courts and legal process in most of the UK.   I wonder how the legal profession reacted to “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.”  Hopefully he lost a few votes.)

Arsene Wenger is an expert, who considers data, weighs options, and make decisions.  Of course he gets it wrong sometimes, like all experts who are dealing with multiple variables such as players, referees and injuries.  But in the last three years he’s got two trophies and a runners up spot.  Not perfect but not as bad as most clubs in the Premier League.

But just because someone gets things wrong, that doesn’t mean one can dismiss all experts, and suggest that a group of fans holding up placards know more about who should be the manager of a football club than the directors of a football club.  

However the fact that the experts with their factual analysis were defeated in the UK referendum does remind us of something important in football.  

The study of psychology (of which I know something) shows that firmly held beliefs are not overturned easily by evidence.  In fact there is some evidence to suggest that the more evidence one offers against a firmly held belief, the more people cling to that belief.  In short changing people’s mind by offering them the facts that show their belief system is wrong, doesn’t work.

Which is why, by and large, I have never primarily seen Untold as a way of changing people’s minds.  When I started the blog and picked up a couple of hundreds page views in the first three months, I realised that I had found a few people out there of like mind to me.  I wasn’t trying to convert anyone.  I just wanted reassurance that I wasn’t alone.

(And yes, I do smile when I see that there are now two newspapers that have picked up on the Untold research into why one country does well and others do badly at international football.  I complain about the FA preaching a belief-based view rather than seeing the evidence, but that does not mean I ever expect them to change).

As time has passed my view has continued along these lines.  I am not trying to convert anyone to believing that Mr Wenger is the right man to run the club, and that supporting the club, the players and the manager is the right thing to do.  I’m just saying, in the wake of the remorseless negativity surrounding Arsenal that we get day after day from the mass media and the bloggettas, sometimes it is nice to know there are some other like minded people out there.  That’s the point of Untold.

Facts and evidence rarely if ever carry the day, as the editorial in this week’s New Scientist says.  And if ever there was a magazine that is dedicated to facts and verifiable statements, it is New Scientist.  In summary, irrational and vague statements beat evidence and facts in gaining public opinion most of the time.

But football, like democratic government, really does need experts.   We clearly don’t have many experts in government in the UK at the moment, for if we did, they would have been down on Gove like a ton of bricks when he made his “had enough of experts” statement.  We could have had an assortment of farm animals in the TV studio and said, “right, we’ve had enough of experts, tell us your view”.  If Monty Python were still with us we might well have seen that.

However we do have a few experts around when it comes to football.  Not in the FA I grant you.  But at Arsenal we do, with their StatDNA associate company mentioned on Untold the other day, and the team that works with Mr Wenger.

Experts can be dismissed in a Govian fashion, and that dismissal can be justified with the view that experts often get it wrong.  And yes, I have often been known to say that economists only exist to give clairvoyants a good name.

But the world in general, and indeed football in particular, are both far, far too complex, not to bring in the experts to help us sort things out.

Given the choice I’d sooner have Mr Wenger buying players and selecting the team rather than a group of newspaper journalists, bloggers, fans or come to that Mr Gove.   Mind you, I’d sooner have Arsene Wenger running the UK than Mr Gove too.

Recent Posts

Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle.  The books are

  • The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
  • Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.  By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
  • Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
  • Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
  • The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.

You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page

28 comments to Why we need experts to run football clubs

  • insideright

    Interestingly Gove stated, in his first reaction to the result of the referendum, that we should ‘take stock’ and that at some time in the future a negotiation should take place with the EU with the help of ‘relevant experts’. Hypocrisy continues to rule!

  • Chris


    maybe we should consider the job of PM/President differently.
    Create a lottery : PM for a day. And pay out 1 M £ to the winner.
    Winner is PM from noon to 11:59 the next day.

    This way no stupid decisions can be made by the PM, the position cannot be the object of stupid childish and finally costly power plays
    And there is a redistribution of richesgoing on that will be less expensive then what stupid decisions cost….

    as long as we don’t have experts at the top, why sould it not be open to anyone with level chances ?!?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Well put ,Tony . Of late there has been so much of stupidity that boggles the mind. I am glad for the status quo that is Arsenal FC , and the joy it gives me that we do all the right things.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    And thank God I have a whacky sense of humor or else I”d have gone whacko a long time ago! And my friends are equally ‘ lost causes ‘ ! This was today’s contribution- Bobby Charlton was asked how he thought the England team of ’66 would have fared against Iceland . ” I. think we’d have won 1-0 . “. “Only 1-0? ” said the reporter. ” Yes,” said Bobby . Most of us are in our 70’s now !! ” OUCH !!

  • colario

    Brickfields Gunners
    July 2, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Nice one. Where did you hear/read that?

  • tunnygriffboy

    I certainly hope we have experts when it gets to finding and purchasing a new striker in the next couple of months.

    I hope the experts with the statsdata have identified and are pursuing the front man we need.

    You don’t have to be an expert that without Welbeck the need for a striker is paramount. As a non expert I know that Giroud will have had a long season with the Euro’s and can’t possibly be expected to carry the front line all by himself again. Fresh he’s a real handful. Fatigued his form falls off a cliff.

  • omgarsenal

    Praise God that Wenger, the AFC board, the administration and the managerial staff don’t listen to the BS shite that the aaa, some plastic fanbosy and the media excrete, but just get on running the Club like the professionals they are!

  • omgarsenal

    opps….plastic fanboys!!!

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Oga Tony, evening Sir.
    Please allow me the privilege on this your site to become the football player transfer expert at time for Arsenal.

    Would the Boss like to sign Half Robson-Kanu for free before another Premier League club snatch him away? Does that Robson-Kanu’s twist and turn displacing 2 Belgium CBs before sizing up Courtoir in the Belgium’s goal for the 2nd Wales goal came out of the ordinary and came from an ordinary player of Robson-Kanu despite his playing for the lower League club- Reading? No! I think that Wales 2nd goal on the night yesterday was special and scored by a special striker Robson-Kanu.

    Arsenal have been searching for a senior 2nd no9 striker to Olivier Giroud, who can give top quality cover and option to him. And I think Robson-Kanu could be the God given answer to our prayers to get another top quality striker after the snubbing of us by Jamie Vardy. The Boss should please not underestimate the free transfer of Robson-Kanu to Arsenal now.

  • Menace

    Yet again a referee who talks to a professional player after a clear kick to the opponents foot, rather than card him. Some strange decisions happening.

  • Menace

    Magic Ozil 1 Italy 0

  • Gord

    As mentioned in the other thread, Mesut forced commentators to mention his name, by scoring.

    The last game out, Arsenal Ladied drew 0-0. Today, in defence of Continental Cup against Reading, they won 1-3. Congratulations Ladies.

  • Menace

    Italy get a pen & equalise.

  • Menace

    Referee on Chianti not Riesling.

  • Gord

    Reading the comment about Boateng’s handball, is he on the take?

    It’s too bad, when one thinks every screwy call or play, is the result of blatterbills.

  • Menace

    no Boateng is clean but unlucky.

  • Florian

    Ozil was unlucky too, hitting the post.

    On the other hand Schweinsteiger got carded for all the wrong things he learned at manure. Of course Stewart Robson could see no wrong in planting the arm in the opponent’s chest to push him away. And the Italian player that missed the last kick plays for the same club. Goodness, there are things that shouldn’t exist.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Congratulations ozil and Ramsey, maybe more Arsenal players going through tomorrow.
    Much will be made in the media about Ozil missing penalties, but at arsenal, it doesn’t matter how good our players are at penalties, as we hardly ever get them.
    Have a feeling both our star midfielders will feature in the team of the tournament, and maybe even the final.
    And As for Jack, shame he has missed out, but he plays for a country with a propensity for inept managers, and a crap FA. He should just forget England and concentrate on Arsenal.

  • Pat

    Tony, you say the experts were defeated when it came to the EU referendum. Where were those experts?

    I saw very little truthful analysis, certainly in the mainstream media, of what the European Union is or what it has done to destroy the economies of countries like Greece and Portugal. And yet it goes on forcing them to take the same medicine.

    The EU has driven down wages and working conditions in all the countries that are its members, including the rich ones like Britain. Its policy of forcing countries to cut spending on public services is leading to the destruction of our health service.

    We have got the ridiculous situation where our council is trying to finance necessary new schools by building them at the bottom of massive blocks of flats for sale at prices no one can afford.

    I voted to leave the EU. It was a rational decision based on knowledge about the EU and what it has done. And it was because I care what happens to ordinary people in the countries of the EU, their jobs, homes, and public services.

    You keep bringing this issue up in different ways in article after article. If you carry on doing this, expect a response.

  • Rich

    “What they [Political strategists Goddard Gunster] said early on was ‘facts don’t work’ and that’s it.

    “The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”

  • Pat

    But the Remain campaign didn’t offer the full facts, only selective ones. And they didn’t accord with the experience of millions of British people who had seen their industries decimated and their communities destroyed.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Pat,sorry to ask but who destroyed the communities and industries you mention in your post?
    I haven’t written this in a nasty or challenging manner, just interested in who or whom you think is at fault.

  • Gord

    Welcome Takuma Asano to Arsenal.

    France Iceland

    Courtesty of The Local Fr

    Biggest consumer of cheese are the French, at 25.9 kg per year. Second biggest consumer is Iceland, at 25.2kg (mostly the yogurt-like

    8% of Iceland is in France for Euro 2016 (27000 people). 65000 French visited Iceland in 2015.

    The French were long term fishermen in Icelandic waters; for a bit more than 300 years (prior to 1938) about 5000 French fisherman plied the waters off Iceland looking for cod.

    People in Iceland really like French films; 10000 per year attend festivals in the capital.

    In return, the French really like Icelandic horses (cheval).

    Maybe you think the French are especially good at chevalling it, but horse turds are a good place to look for mushrooms. 🙂

  • Pat

    Hi Kenneth

    The policies of the EU force countries to open up their public services to privatisation and competition, rather than allowing them to spend the taxpayers’ money on services for the people. This of course suits governments like ours who don’t want to spend anything on public services anyway.

    The EU decides which countries will keep their industry and which will not. So Germany still has a lot of industry and Britain does not. Again, this suits a government like ours whose members do not care how many people lose their jobs as long as they can make money themselves by financial speculation and similar things.

    The EU does not allow a government to decide to nationalise and protect an essential industry for an independent economy such as, for example, steel. Witness the destruction of the great steel city of Sheffield where once 29 buses used to line up outside the steel works to take the workers home.

    The EU forces countries to allow their industries and other areas of their economy to be bought up by foreign capital which mainly comes from investors in other, stronger EU countries. This destroys the independence of those countries. Industries can be bought up with the sole intention of killing off the competition. People lose their jobs and may be forced to seek employment in other countries, rather than being able to use their skills for the benefit of their fellow countrymen and women.

    The EU donates (relatively small) amounts of money to certain projects in member countries but only on certain conditions. So, for example, funds for housing can’t be spent on providing council homes at cheap rents.

    Just a few of the crimes of the EU.

  • Goonermikey


    Thanks for the pointer to the New Scientist article, there are many who would benefit from reading it………….although having said that, it has some facts in it!!!

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Hi Pat,
    Thanks for getting back to me. Again, I haven’t written back in anger or nastiness, Im just interested.I hope it comes across that way.
    So do you think that Thatcher,Blair and Brown, who were the ones that changed Britain from an industrial nation, were actually innocent and only working under EU guidelines?
    So the miners back in ’84 should have fought against the EU and not Thatcher? Was Blairs dumbing down of Britain that took place in the 90s EU legislation? Why did Brown sell all the gold?
    Is Britain more wealthy than it was back twenty years ago?
    Why did much of the industrial parts of Britain already shut down in the 60s? How can Britain industrially compete with other countries that pay really lower wages?
    What do you think that the main drum-beaters of Brexit have all stood down?
    Do you think its right that a Citizen Kane character can manipulate peoples view, when his own is based on a power struggle?
    Do you think the real problem underlying Brexit, is actually a culture problem, as it has been for (certainly England’s) history? The fear that one culture changes and becomes another?
    Anyway, dont get me wrong Im just asking.

  • Pat


    I don’t like the term Brexit anyway. It trivialises the issue. Both sides concentrated on immigration during the debate and did not deal with the real question – what is the EU and what was it set up for? That is the important question. It is an undemocratic organisation which forces the governments of its members to adopt policies which favour the rich of the richest countries.

    Of course the British politicians you mention aren’t innocent – they are part of the club. But let us say Jeremy Corbyn continues to lead the Labour Party, and Labour under him wins an election, and he wishes to implement the kinds of policies he is talking about, and we are still in the EU – we will meet exactly the same fate as Greece and Portugal. We will be told we can’t and it doesn’t matter what we decide to do.

    The EU as well as destroying the living standards of the people of Europe is a brake on progressive development.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Pat-thanks for replying, I’ll get back to you later today.