by Sir Hardly Anyone
I have been arguing for a long time that football journalists, far from being the experts they claim to be, actually have no more idea what is going on than anyone else, and are thus completely redundant. Except for the fact that they run the football agenda by controlling what goes in the newspapers, what is said on TV and radio, and in the larger blogs.
It is an idea that has its statistical background: after all only around 3% of all transfer stories that they run each summer turn out to be true, and in reality, if any of them had any real insight how football works surely they would be out there managing a club rather than sniping at it.
Naturally, this notion of mine has not proved popular among those who pontificate on the subject of football in newspapers, on radio and TV and in blogs. At least until now. But then the Guardian has published a piece in which one of their own, Barney Ronay, admitted that no one in the business has much of a clue in an industry run on what he calls “corporate guesswork.”
The theme is that clubs meander from crisis to crisis, reacting to events without any real plan as to how to make success happen. The suggestion thus is that the famous incident in which Ferguson at Manchester United was one match away from getting the sack, and that match was being lost when suddenly a fortuitous goal turned things around, the manager kept his job, and the era of Man U dominance was ushered in – totally by chance.
The argument is a little flat-footed by the fact that it then links back to the Guardian’s article on the appointment of Emery as manager, which tells us “he club will operate on a £50m transfer budget next season,” which rather lets the whole notion of the reporter as being superior to what he is reporting, since Arsenal actually spent £68m that summer. But hey, a 36% level of inaccuracy – who cares when the whole purpose is endlessly to knock the club and make the journalist look as if he is above such nonsense, just looking down.
The key point in the article is that the move for Arteta (and indeed Everton’s recruitment of Ancelotti) is “evidence of the brittle, undercooked, essentially laughable nature of so much of the Premier League’s front-of-house management” and that “there is no tangible evidence to support the idea either of these hires will actually work.”
And that is true. Neither Arsenal nor Everton could prove their new appointments as manager will deliver an improvement in performance. Of course not. If there was ever evidence that a new managerial appointment would improve the club’s performance then every club would take that person.
But that lack of evidence is bound up by the nature of football. If I hire a new director for my company who has a track history of making the companies he works for become more profitable, then it might be reasonable to assert he can make my company grow, not least because the industry in which he works is growing, and many companies within it are growing. More profit this year than last year is how companies are judged and even if our rivals make more profit than before, there is nothing to say that we can’t as well.
However in football success is judged by winning things, and there are only three (four if you count the league cup) important competitions each year. Thus a manager can do brilliantly, but if another manager does even more brilliantly, the first manager still doesn’t win stuff.
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Beyond this, the problem with football is that it is surrounded by people like Mr Ronay who love to pretend that they know what’s what, and it is only the stupid people running the clubs that don’t win things, who don’t. This is the eternal journalistic lie in relation to football: that if only the stupid people running the clubs would let these knowledgeable journalists in, everything could be sorted.
So he wrote, “The notion that sticking Ancelotti on the front of all this will somehow back-fill the mess behind seems laughably optimistic,” and maybe that is the case. But what he doesn’t tell us is what the alternative is. If he had control at Everton, what would he do? And come to that, if he, a mere journalist, can see the way forward, why can’t the Everton board – or indeed the Arsenal board because, “Arsenal are in a more obvious mess.”
And that is always the strange question that goes unanswered. These journalists know it all and have all the answers, and yet don’t apply to be managers, and are not invited to become club managers. Why not?
Now the point is made that “Manchester City are routinely praised, marvelled at even, for the simple tactic of actually having a recruitment plan that runs beyond the next six months.” Err, yes, would that not be because they are owned by a man whose personal wealth exceeds half the countries on the planet and who can afford whatever it takes? And whose club, Manchester City, was able to tell Uefa that if it kept on looking into the club’s finances as it was doing, Man City would sue Uefa in every court in Europe in such a way as effectively to shut Uefa down?
He also says that “Liverpool are spoken of in awed terms for actually using data-driven intelligence to help with things such as recruitment, for having a coherent joined-up plan for running their £450m-turnover global business.” Quite possibly so, but I am not sure how that explains the fact that it has taken them 30 years to win the League (which I presume they will do this season).
I doubt that Mr Ronay doesn’t realise this. Rather what he is doing is what his fellow football journalists do all the time, pretend that they know how to run a successful football club, secure in the knowledge that no one will ever invite them to do so.
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