By Dr Billy the Dog McGraw, senior consultant in the psychological study of football support, University Hospital of the North Circular Road.
I was struck by the comments made by two hedgehogs on a blog that was quoted on Untold the other day, in which the writers said they were thankful that Giroud was not playing in a forthcoming match – the implication being that he is a disaster.
The figures – even the most simple figures – of course show exactly the opposite; that in terms of goalscoring on a game for game count, he’s on a very similar trajectory to T. Henry.
The response to this analysis from one quarter was “you can prove anything with figures” and yes, to a degree that is true. You can also manipulate the news any way you wish as the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne reported this week. He resigned as chief political commentator of the paper over its coverage of the HSBC bank scandal (the one in which the bank aided and abetted the Very Rich to avoid tax.) The paper’s coverage of the tale has been odd to say the least – and highly influenced by the advertisers who support the Telegraph, and the Conservative Party whose members and ministers are affected by the scandal.
This is complex stuff of course – as politics often is. But then so is football both in terms of on the pitch, and in terms of its economics, the way it is reported, and what happens beyond the pitch.
But in all cases – be it football or politics or economics or the teeth of limpets (a big news story in Britain this morning for the science community) such stories can be reduced to simplicity if that is what the newspapers and pundits want to do.
And this is where Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan (born Piers Stefan O’Meara but generally known, for reasons that will not become clear at this point, as Piers Morgan) comes into the equation, because he is the man who likes to simplify things more than anyone else in order to prove that everything has gone wrong and will go wrong. He is thus the king of detrimental simplisitude – a most serious psychological condition. It is “detrimental” because it is seriously harming his own mental health and incorporates “simplisitude” because it can be stated (and has to be stated) in just a few very, very simple words.
Here, Morgan is at one with much contemporary journalism: the reduction of all ideas to simplicity. And accordingly it is now a major task of psychology to ask why? Why does everything have to come down to the simplest level even when it is patently obvious that this results in a lunatic distortion of the real world, and as a basis for prediction is as useful as throwing a turnip up in the air and seeing if it comes down heads or tails.
To get an insight into what is going on one might look at the various stories from around the blogs today. Here are four headlines…
- Wenger eyeing free signing as Prem star wanted by Arsenal
- BLOW as Arsenal bid has been REJECTED by La Liga club
- SHOCK MOVE as £40m PSG megastar set to SIGN for Arsenal.
- Arsenal WILL NEGOTIATE shock £15m deal in the coming weeks!
And so recently I, and my colleagues at the University Hospital of the North Circular Road have been studying is the effect of saying that everything in life and football can be reduced to simple headlines – when quite obviously life and football is a lot more complex than that.
So when people trapped by this simplicity go into the real world beyond their computer and TV they find themselves in an alien environment that does not meet their everyday expectations. They feel let down, and cry out. And although Piers Morgan is not a patient of mine I feel fairly sure this is what has happened to him.
Of course some kinds of rampant megalomania have their attractive sides – Genghis Khan for example wrote some fine lullabies – but Piers Morgan does not share this attribute. As when he tweeted “How on earth did Ramsey just given (sic) a new 5 year contract. Unbelievable” followed a year later by a claim that he had always seen Ramsey’s talent and ability. He later returned with “What does Wenger see in Ramsey? A complete and utter liability.”
As I say, not the vision of a balanced mind, nor actually a particularly intelligent one (as when for example he ordered his journalistic staff to follow Ian Hislop around and dig up all the dirt they could on him). For Morgan there is dirt everywhere, and I suspect that as a result he quite possibly does take his own delusional ravings seriously.
So what can we do for such people?
Basically nothing, although pointing a finger at them and laughing is said by many psychologists to help.
But what we can do for ourselves is look at the complexities of football, and reflect on exactly how people like Morgan are missing what is going on.
While Morgan wallows in his sorrows and his simplistic view of reality, football clubs have (for example) been introducing player tracking systems. However while doing this they have also been recognising that if they used the same technology as other clubs that would mean no advantage at all – each would instantly nullify the other. Arsenal therefore started looking at approaches that will predict the predictions and assumptions of the opposition, as well as help them find the right players for the Arsenal team.
Meanwhile, most helpfully, quite a few clubs are still in Morgan mode of raving about individual players and short term issues. Arsenal on the other hand have gone a lot further forwards.
Thus while wild ranters like Morgan complained that Arsenal started the season with only five senior defenders Arsenal knew that given the chance Bellerin would come good, and would be a double bonus for the club in that he would not be showing up on other team’s statistical analyses. Further if Arsenal bought a player to leapfrog Bellerin, then Bellerin would be lost – something that would be harmful to the chance of Arsenal securing other talented young players (something that Morgan revealed as being of no interest to him – as he reported he had no idea who Gnabry was when he played last season).
Likewise Coquelin. The faith in him was there and he was on the bench for most of the early games, but still needed to play. A short loan, and the stats showed he was ready. Monreal too was making strides forwards – but this again was not being picked up by opposition analytic systems – which gave him an extra boost.
And behind all this Arsenal bought StatDNA, the company that has turned the analysis of football upside down and inside out, and which only reports to Arsenal. It searches for meaningful patterns not only in Arsenal’s play but in the teams Arsenal will play, and it analyses there is now a team that works the data.
Of course in my line of work I have to search for meaningful patterns in people who like Piers Morgan wallow in detrimental simplisitude.
I fear that there is little that we can do for such fellows. I have suggested rounding them up and putting them in a field will, if nothing else, help keep the grass down, but I fear my ideas in this area are, as is so often the case, a little ahead of the game.
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