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Is it really so hard to ask “why?” in football, rather than always jump in with the answer?

By Tony Attwood

Just a couple of days back I raised the notion that maybe, just maybe, the football media was taking the first tiny, tiny steps towards recognising one of the the core problems in football: that they not only have viewpoints they also set the agenda.  They decide what is an “issue” in football, and then they decide how that issue will be addressed and what the answer is.

So the fact that the media gets 98% of its transfer predictions wrong is not an issue, nor is the notion that referees might be making errors in PL games on a level so vast that sometimes we are watching matches in which a computer handing out decisions at random would get more right that the referee.

And leading on from both of those, the question “why is it like this” hangs in the air.

The reason I thought there might be a change happening was that I read an article by Ewan Murray which considered the “dark arts” behind the “Barça brand” which “matters more than what should always be established codes of football conduct”.  He cited BT Sport as complicit in doing everything it could to maintain the brand, irrespective of what was really going on, on the pitch.

He continued, “Pundits fawn, laughably in respect of former footballers who would rightly be incandescent had they suffered at the hands of Barça’s routinely wobbly forwards.”  It was good stuff.

When I wrote that up, I suspected it was a one off, and that we would not see its likes again.  But I was wrong because in an article with the unpromising title “The English can stop sneering at Scottish football now” 

He writes, “What is the point of Scottish football?” asked one English quality title in a poorly researched article which, oddly, didn’t make it into the paper’s Scottish edition. On TalkSport radio, a former footballer called Jason Cundy, who flirted with mediocrity throughout his career in the English Premiership, became the latest media personality to dismiss Scottish football. He described it as “embarrassing” and suggested that Celtic would struggle to beat Stoke City.”

The notion of a member of one media outlet (Daily Mail), writing in another outlet (The Guardian) to attack a third (TalkSport) is not something I have noticed before and I am all for it because a lot of what is written and said in the name of football is at a level that is so low, it is an insult to the intelligence of most football fans.

What normally happens is that someone says something completely bonkers (like, for example, Stewart Robson on the Sprout) tells us without citing any evidence that Arsenal get more injuries than any other team.  He is listened to in a devout manner by the show’s host, who asks for no evidence, and then finds himself having his words repeated throughout the media as the established gospel truth.

To have someone from one paper pick up on the words of a commentator and not only attack them but also attack the whole agenda on which they are based is new.

The writer goes on, “Instead of aiming at the soft target of Scottish football, whose television deal is a tiny fraction of what the English game receives, Jason Cundy and his fellow trolls on TalkSport ought to be concerned about the lowly status of English football in European terms despite the riches of Sky and BT.”

He then notes our defeat to Bayern of course (but sadly fails to mention any refereeing issues there) and suggests that Manchester City and Leicester City may not go much further.   He fails to mention Tottenham’s rapid procession through the Champs League and the Europa, and thus it is not a completely balanced piece, but it does raise the point that, “It shouldn’t be like this. English club football remains the most competitive in the world and if you doubt this then take a look at the English Football League. The second tier of the game south of the border possesses eight clubs who have reached the final of a European club competition, almost as many as exist in the Bundesliga, Serie A or La Liga.”

And he comes up with a reason.  Apparently, the English clubs, “squander their television windfalls on the instant self-gratification of an overpriced overseas forward of dubious ability, a one-season wonder of suspect temperament, destined to have difficulties adjusting to the cultural and social challenges of 21st-century England. Meanwhile, they allow native young English talent to wither and die from an absence of long-term sustainable strategy for growth.”

Of course this is where the whole argument breaks down, first because no proof or evidence is offered to support his claim, and second, when you ask why English clubs are not always doing well in Europe and why the England team is not doing well in Europe and on the world stage, there are many other answers.   The writer picks one, and leaves it at that, with no evidence to back his position up, and no thought that any other answer might be possible.

So on that basis he is still stuck somewhere around year seven in the English schooling system (for ages 11 to 12) where you might expect a child to pick on his/her favourite explanation and wallow in it.  But even so, that really is progress, compared with the likes of S Robson and co.

Now, to get up to GCSE standard (that is the exam taken by 16 year olds in England, Wales and N Ireland, but not Scotland) what he ought to be thinking is “what other possible explanations fit with the facts?”

The writer chose one: English clubs waste their money and don’t bring through English youngsters.  Here’s another one: English Premier League football exists with a refereeing system akin to that used in Italy during its corruption era.  Players are so used to having games refereed in a particular way, that when they move out of the PL and Cup games and find something quite different, they can’t cope.

It’s a bit like Ewan Murray asking, “how come Barcelona keeps winning all the time, especially at home?”  Asking the question is a good first step.  Noting that most years only two teams compete is another good point.   Noting the “dark arts” and the way Barcelona players fall over, was a good third point.  Noting that the referee bought into it was the killer fourth point.

So Kevin McKenna is on first base here.  He is not accepting the load of old codswallop that his colleagues are serving up.  A great first step.  But now, instead of leaping to one conclusion he has to then ask, “what other reasons could there be?”

That’s not so hard to do is it?

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11 comments to Is it really so hard to ask “why?” in football, rather than always jump in with the answer?

  • Norman14

    Scotland is “blessed” with investigative sports journalists it seems – Jennings, Murray, McKenna..
    England, unfortunately has dimwit ex players and fast track amateur writers whose main claim to fame is that they coin phrases such as “nicking a living” or “Wexit”.

    I guess that is why we have to rely on the Scots to do the hard yards – our English equivalents are neither capable nor motivated.

  • Omo r'Arsenal

    Thanks Mr Tony.

    Well, for a noticeable change from the paradigm, at least they are asking questions now.

    Snail pace albeit, but whether we run, walk or crawl, so long as we keep moving and not stay in one place, it’s always better.
    As it helps to cover some ground actually.

    Someday, I pray it is soon, we’ll be treated to the greatest scandal in sport in global media corporations – the corruption in the EPL. ‘They’ cannot realistically sit on the impending monumental scandal for too long.

  • ossasa

    Hibeeeees!

  • Seydlitz

    These so called supporters attacking wenger are basically glory hunters ,losing to teams in a football match is not the German army at Stalingrad, get over it the next game is the one to to win. Wenger has done so much forArsenal football club he deserves much more respect. I hope we do end up like Derby county.

  • Seydlitz

    Sorry missed not

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Off topic but tonight’s U23 game against Man City is being broadcast live on the Arsenal player for those not going to the game. Full details on Arsenal.com. Kickoff is 19:00 UK time and coverage starts 10 min before kickoff.

    Man City and Everton are the stand out teams this year, we are in fourth place, two behind Liverpool who have a game in hand – we have four games left, ‘pool have five.

    As we only returned to the top level of U23 football this season, we have done as well as could be expected this season and a strong finish will see us fighting for third place.

  • Gord

    Speaking of the U23, the Arsenal.com page has the following picture:

    http://www.arsenal.com/match/report/1617/pre/under-21/u-23s-arsenal-v-man-city-preview
    http://www.arsenal.com/assets/_files/scaled/696×392/mar_17/gun__1489413914_drago.jpg

    To me, the opposition player has nothing but foul for intent in this image. Do you see any legal reason to approach a player in this manner?

  • Nitram

    This game tonight is the perfect example of the difference in the way we are refereed and commentated on. If we had behaved as Man United have tonight we would of been lucky to keep 10 men on the park.

    Damian did 2 bookables in the first 10 minutes and didn’t even get a yellow.

    How Valencia stayed on the pitch is beyond me.

    And Young only got booked for an almost identical foul to that which saw Xhaka sent of by Moss (2nd time). All we got from the commentators was “He took one for the team”. Slightly different attitude to when Xhaka did it.

    Also following the sending off about 5 or 6 players surrounded the ref, putting there hands on him, in his face. No reaction from the referee. No disgust from the commentators.

    Costa up to his old tricks.

    Keown: “I thought we’d seen the last of that from Costa”

    Commentator: “In a way I’m glad we haven’t” WHAT ?

    The two managers squaring up.

    The Commentator said: “I don’t see a problem with that. There just winners”

    Ruud Gullit thoughts: “It’s fantastic”

    And that’s just some of it.

    Honestly, the difference is unbelievable.

  • Nitram

    Sorry: ….keep 8 men on the park.

  • Menace

    Gord – sorry but I cannot see any foul ‘intent’ from the player. That is unless the opponents left foot gets planted on the Arsenal players right foot. It would then be a Red card for deliberately trying to injure an opponent.

  • Menace

    I watched the Chelsea v Man Utd with a very low volume. There were a few off the ground diving tackles that seemed to miss the bus & the select officials selective vision. How Costa didn’t get a red for a repeat of the ‘Kos type attempt fingers in the eye’ defies belief. There is definitely a different set of Laws for Arsenal.

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