By Tony Attwood
Of course, we all know that what the media and the bloggettas say has nothing to do with reality when it comes to football, but interesting to note (returning, as I have, to England after 3 weeks in Australia) that the press have got a bit fed up with Arsenal bashing and so have gone elsewhere instead.
A major part of the media’s problem is that the whole Arsenal-knocking story is one that contains within it no comparisons. If the story is “Arsenal have lost 1000 player days through injury in the last five seasons” we can’t judge it, not just because we don’t know if it is true or not, but also because there is no comparison for how many player-days other clubs have lost. Nor any analysis in terms of the importance or otherwise of that player. So we are left with statistics that might look shocking, but which we can’t actually analyse seriously – because there is no comparison.
And all that is before we get to the fact that no one asks “why?” any more.
In the press today we have, of course, “Claudio Ranieri sacked by Leicester less than a year after Premier League title”. Shock horror. But the “why” questions (and here there are two: why have Leicester done so much worse this season than last, and why sack Ranieri now) are hardly being touched upon.
The Guardian had a slight attempt in an article in which they claimed that “Ranieri had lost his grip on the dressing room” where “players had become frustrated and bewildered by some of his tactical changes and selection decisions, and the manager also seemed increasingly distant from members of his backroom staff.”
No evidence of course, no clarification of how the “increasingly distant” bit was measured. And a lot of other bits in that story are so vague as to make the whole piece meaningless.
I’ve had a couple of bashes at answering the “why” questions – and of course my approaches are also without too much evidence, but my excuse is that Untold is run by volunteers nor professional journalists with access to a team of researchers and people whose job it is to get inside information. But my point is that I might have got this wrong, but at least I had a go.
So my thoughts turned to the extraordinarily odd marketing machine that Leicester have, hidden away from the public gaze, doing deals in secret that don’t quite seem to add up. Plus the fact that the summer was badly handled, in that players were given ludicrous contract extensions to keep them at the club for years and years at high salaries, in response to alleged bids from elsewhere which in turn were surrounded by contradictory tales. Vardy to Arsenal? Riyad Mahrez going to Arsenal (for £37m???) Did we actually need either? Given that we are equal top scorers in the Premier League, the answer seems probably no. So were we about to buy either? Probably not. But the effect on Leicester was the worst – more money poured into players who were in the long term not as good as we had been told they were.
And the change in the way referees look at Leicester must be considered – although this is a complete no go zone for the media. But I do think refs are treating them differently this season – not least with regards to shirt pulling as a prime defensive tactic.
So then the thought – if that were true, was it a reflection on the manager (I suspect not for points one and two, only for point three). And yet the manager gets the sack. An interesting thought – but not one reflected in the media’s woeful “analysis.”
Two weeks ago, while I was away, I read a story about Leicester’s directors giving Ranieri “unwavering support.” The statement mentioned the club’s success had been “based firmly on stability, togetherness and determination to overcome even the greatest of challenges”.
And now that turns out to be a lie. What impact will that lie have on the recruitment policy of Leicester as it looks for a new manager – a man who will know that the original story was a lie, and that the players in the squad are tied into contracts that mean that they will have very little interest in leaving?
Plus, there is the fact that this is still within the season. Only out of work managers can apply! Who have they got in mind? Quite possibly we’ll know by the time I finish typing this little piece.
But of course that is not the only story that misses the big “why?” issues. Tottenham have been billed as the great up and coming team, the new dominant force in London and beyond. It was also (at the time when I got on the ferry to start my day and a half journey home from Australia) when Tottenham were to be taking the bull by the horns and show Arsenal how it should be done in Europe by playing what must be considered rather modest opposition in Europe, and hiring Wembley stadium in order to do so.
What do I find upon my return, but a headline that reads “Tottenham fluff their lines against Gent and head for Europa League exit”.
Why did they screw up so badly – such a super team charging ahead in the Premier League against a team in 8th place in the Belgium league? I don’t know because I am not sure anyone has done a serious analysis. Certainly the “why?” question is notably by its absence.
I also note that “Spurs must wait until March 23 to discover if they can use full Wembley capacity next season” which is interesting. Remember all the times Arsenal have been criticised for muddle and uncertainty, dithering and meandering. And now we find Tottenham have not even put in their application to use Wembley yet, so they can’t actually confirm they are going to play at Wembley. And why not? Errrrrr…. I don’t know because none of the papers tell me.