By Tony Attwood
There is an article in the Daily Telegraph that says, “This is no blip – the Premier League has changed forever” by Jason Burt, the Chief Football Correspondent.
It is in fact primarily a report of a natter with Slaven Bilic, and the claim to the portentous title comes down to the well known point that lots of smaller clubs now have more money because of the new broadcasting deal, so they can buy better players. “Changed forever” as a concept isn’t actually considered or analysed at all in the article.
There is, for example, no thought about what subsequent changes might happen – whether the prices paid by the media can rise forever, whether the phenomenal amount of money pumped into research programmes will give the top few an edge again, where Chelsea’s experiment with 35 loan players will take us, whether the changes to the emergency loan rules will have an impact, whether football might go into the sort of decline we saw in the 70s and 80s…
No, it is just a statement of certainty, with only one of many factors called in evidence. Simplicity is the name of the game. It is fostered by TV, radio and the newspapers, particularly their on line edition. Everything reduced to a single point, the last match, one simplistic idea. For example…
1: Get Wenger out
As a thorough debating point it isn’t very profound, but the Guardian has now told us that Arsenal is in a state of Civil War, although it is interesting that while they like to feature and give huge publicity to the anti-Wengerian groups and individuals, they have no real interest in the pro-Wenger lobby. Nor do they ever seriously analyse the achievements of Mr Wenger against other managers.
And I suspect that the reason for this is that the Wenger out message is much simpler than one that involves debating the structure of the club, the evolution of players, the financing of a stadium, who we might get as a manager, whether the “civil war” portrayed by the Guardian is dissuading managers from looking elsewhere, whether it is harming the players…
These are all complex points, and so not really meat and drink to most commentators. Best not get involved.
2: If we can’t beat Watford at home we are clearly useless
Relating things back to one game is something that the newspapers, radio and TV like. You can imagine someone trying to get on a phone-in and saying, “I think the issue is complex and there are at least eight factors involved.” He wouldn’t get past the receptionist.
Keep it simple is fine if the “it” being debated is simple. If it isn’t, well, then the argument has to be complex. And the running of a Premier League club and attempting to win the league is complex.
But we live in a society that doesn’t like complex. I have now heard someone say that Wenger should go, because he’s useless. “It’s not rocket science.” The fact that “he’s useless” could do with some evidence and comparison with the achievements of other managers is only part of the problem. As I suggested in the commentary on the anniversary of the first flight of the liquid powered rocket, rocket science is just about the simplest science there is.
“It isn’t rocket science,” really means, “this is phenomenally complex” but I don’t think most people who use the phrase understand that. (Rocket science using liquid fuel was invented in a garden shed without any grant or financial support by any institution and was rejected by the US government because it was too basic.)
3: You are spoiling the good name of Untold with this rubbish
Some people have been trying for the past three or four years to be a little bit cute by suggesting that they have loved Untold for years, but this latest article (whatever it is) shows we’ve lost the plot. The problem is we’ve been getting comments like this for years – and indeed all publications get them. It’s a bit like protesting that lots of away fans are disenchanted and want Wenger out, in response to an article about how BT Sport managed to get those pictures in the way they did at the time they did. It’s just changing the subject.
Changing the subject and debating something different, doesn’t actually make a point. It just changes the subject. Anyone can change the subject of course, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be listened to.
4. You can prove anything with statistics
After simplistic statements with no back up (1), reducing everything to one point (2), and changing the subject (3), the next most common way of dealing with arguments one doesn’t like these days is arguing against the whole concept of debate and analysis.
No, you can’t prove anything with statistics. You can draw lots of odd conclusions with bad statistics, but if you think the person making a point is using bad statistics then it is not a bad idea to bring forth your own stats, and show why the others are wrong.
If I say that Giroud is the top scorer in English football, and you think he isn’t you might present an authoritative chart, ideally quoting a source, and then we have a debating point. Calling me an idiot is not a debate, even though I might well be one.
The fact that I haven’t provided evidence isn’t really here or there. You are challenging me so you put up the evidence. It really doesn’t help if you just say I’m wrong – that’s a bit like little children arguing. You need evidence if you want to contradict a point made here, or come to that anywhere else.
5: It’s a conspiracy theory
Just calling a point of view a conspiracy theory doesn’t actually develop the point – and yet something like one third of people who argue against the views expressed on Untold claim that whatever we have said is another “conspiracy theory.” (I stopped publishing most of these a long time ago, but they still roll in).
The phrase “conspiracy theory” is generally used to mean explanations that invoke conspiracies without evidence of who the conspirators are or that they even exist. The hypotheses they produce contradict the prevailing understandings of historical events or simple facts, and are provided with little or no evidence, and rely on assertion.
The USA never put men on the moon, President Obama has ordered the mobilisation of the National Guard ready to attack the south and introduce Sharia Law, water fluoridation is all part of a mind-control scheme run by the government, US government officials were actively engaged in bringing down the twin towers on 9/11 to reign in the powers of big business.
So if I say, “the Premier League is fixed” you could call that a conspiracy theory. But if I present an analysis that shows that there are some odd goings on in the way refereeing is organised, that is not a conspiracy theory – that is an analysis of some undisputed facts, with the suggestion that what is happening is very unusual in world football.
This doesn’t mean that I have proven that there is something unsavoury going on, but that (in the case of refereeing in England), there are some strange things happening, and it is a little curious that the media never picks up on the matter – not even to deride the notion as a conspiracy theory.
If we then present evidence that Arsenal have one of the highest possession and highest pass completion rates in the league, but commit one of the highest numbers of fouls, that’s not a conspiracy theory, that is a presentation of some figures from which anyone can draw an opinion.
Dismissing a whole presentation as a “conspiracy theory” is a way of avoiding debate – it is a dismissal of debate. Just as “you can prove anything with statistics” is dismissal. Just as saying, “Wenger is a rubbish manager, everyone can see it” is a dismissal.
It is the opposite side of the invented stories – such as Arsenal get more red cards than any other team, or Arsenal get more injuries than any other team and it is all Wenger’s fault.
This is where football has got to, largely because the newspapers, their websites, the radio stations and TV stations have all found it to their advantage to reduce debate in football to one line assertions and name calling. When someone does try to expound a more complex explanation, it is derided.
There is precious little debate or proper analysis that takes into account more than one or two simplistic things. Football isn’t rocket science. It is far, far more complex than that.
The Untold Books
Danny Karbassiyoon’s book “The Arsenal Yankee” with a foreword by Arsene Wenger will be published on Tuesday 29 March. The book is available on Kindle, or you can buy the printed book…
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