By Dr Billy “the dog” McGraw.
Being negative and being critical brings a few advantages in life. Both can help if one wants to be a political or trades union leader, but for generally getting on ok in life it doesn’t tend to bring job advancement or win new friends. Except I suppose in journalism and blogging.
The trouble is though, it becomes a bit of a drug. Having being critical one day, and having negativity as a fundamental aspect of one’s life, all one can do the next day is be a bit more critical, and then a bit more and then a bit more. It’s a drug disguised as a manner of speaking, it eats into the individual’s inner being and becomes all consuming.
So in the end people who criticise all the time get their own punishment; they become miserable gits and get less and less out of life. But every day the media tries to outdo itself. Everyone wants to produce the ultimate insult – the insult of the day.
I remember a piece by a faculty member of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry who became a business coach in later life who argued that the harshest critics are often talented and productive people. The argument was that “they have a flaw that compels them to disparage others – almost, at times, as though they are diagnosing an illness in need of eradication.” It is as if they have read Mark Twain’s comment, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits,” and seen it as an fundamental guide to how to live life, rather than a warning about how not to behave.
The approach (especially among ex-footballers who become football commentators) goes like this: you see what you perceive as a player’s failing and you take it upon yourself to criticise. It doesn’t matter whether your criticism has been repeated elsewhere or whether there is any chance of you making a difference to the player’s behaviour – it is utterly vital that you criticise, because, well, it is really vital that you criticise.
According to the mainstream psychological theory, when this is handed out by a person who used to do the job about the person now doing the job, the old timer is being driven to criticize by a repressed-and-intolerable feeling that he also had what he deplores in others. In terms of a footballer, that he didn’t always give 100% and now he’s too old to go back and make amends.
In short, by criticising others all the time, he’s hiding what he perceives to be flaws in his past. Those flaws might not be what we as outsiders felt, but can be a ex-footballer or ex-manager just thinking that in his playing days he should have done more, he should have won more, he should have pushed on more.
It’s called “projection” in psychology – a mechanism that enables a person to deny their his/her problems (be they current or past) by attributing those traits to others. To give it a simple everyday example, a divorced lady spends a lot of time on the phone to her two sons, now in their 20s. She encourages them to phone her regularly and when she doesn’t hear she’s on the phone to them, checking that they are ok “as I haven’t heard from you for a while.” Her partner doesn’t do this, but one day gets a call from one of his grown-up children, and the woman is outraged. “Oh, so you’re going to talk to me now,” she says when he finishes. Projection, in other words, is commonplace. Vast numbers of people have it, and it appears in many guises.
It is generally traced back to a regret. The ex-footballer looking back believes (often quite wrongly) that he didn’t train enough, or wasn’t tough enough, or how too many nights out, or was not accurate enough in his passing, so now he blames and blames and blames anyone he sees the trait in. The ex-manager believes he could have got more out of those players
And so when Martin Keown says of Ozil, “Somebody needed to get hold of him a long time ago and give him a shake and say ‘we are working for you, but you’re not working for us… He’s not conning me, that’s not a proper performance, there’s so much more under the bonnet,” we are seeing projection. NOT I hasten to add because Martin didn’t give everything in every game, but because something else niggles from his past. Maybe the fact that he upped and left Arsenal and went to Villa, and now he regrets it.
Another ex who appears to suffer from this syndrome is Souness who on Xhaka said, “I’m sorry, it’s more of the same with Arsenal. That guy’s 25 years old. He’s been at Arsenal two years… When they’re in these games they’re not professional. I’ve said this for for a decade. They need a couple of men in there to sort it out.”
So what in Souness’ past as a manager is coming back to haunt him? Maybe it was his time at Rangers of which he has said, “When I look back on my actions and antics at Ibrox I bordered on being out of order. I was obnoxious and difficult to deal with.” That’s a clear indication for projection. That is honest but he was less self-aware speaking of his record at Liverpool which he blamed on the fact that the majority of key players were around or over age 30. He also seems to have had the problem of falling out with an awful lot of people at Anfield.
At Galatasaray he almost started off a riot by placing his team’s flag in the centre of the pitch of Fenerbahçe and quickly left. At Southampton he left within a year, after the hilarious (to the rest of us) Ali Dia incident in which he put the player on the pitch without ever having seen him play or train. He couldn’t play; it’s a classic film if you can get a copy.
Four months at Torino and he left. Just over a year at Benfica (saying of the President, “Vale e Azevedo lies when he looks in the eyes. Be careful, this man is dangerous,)” and on and on and on and on. Always someone else’s fault, never his.
It’s projection, a psychological condition, and these people need help. Taking their opinions as mainstream is, in my view, not doing football any good.
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From the History Society
- Arsenal v Tottenham update, team news and appalling, flagrant media bias
- Arsenal have benefitted by the world cup break: allegedly.
- Arsenal and Tottenham: which has had the easier ride so far this season?
- Arsenal v Tottenham: not exactly a battle of equals.
- Death by 300,000 passes: how the Arsenal transformation started 2 seasons ago.