The transfer paradox: how expert knowledge in football became worthless

By Tony Attwood

It is strange how the discussions that go on in the media in Europe can be so very different from those in England.

For example, at the moment there is a discussion going on about the morality of asking players to have their salaries cut during the current crisis.  Into this debate comes the scenario in which players find themselves foregoing part of their salary so that the club has more money which it can then spend on more transfers… one of which might well lead them to sell a player who has been giving up part of his salary.

Curiously these are issues that are rarely being considered by those strange people who make up transfer stories all day long.

And that failure is part of a broader problem in England today in which experts in all fields are increasingly denigrated.

Thus we see that a man with no background in science who can assert that 5G telephone masts will kill us, and he is believed over the opinion of people who have a lifetime with working with this type of technology.

That approach transfers to football wherein football writers who are wrong 97% of the time when it comes to talking about transfers, still expect us to take them seriously.  Meanwhile we can show that Arsenal has had the fourth highest expenditure on players in the last five years while supporters complain either that that Arsenal is starved of funds, or that it is uniquely suffering under a manager and transfer team who are utterly lacking in an understanding of what players the team needs.

In short, modern day reporting on football leads to the view that we already know all we need to know and so can see what needs to be done, far more clearly than  those who are paid to take these decisions.

What’s more, the scientific approach, which often leads to a change of viewpoint as more data becomes available, instead of being welcomed (because it is taking new data into account) is now denigrated, with the implication that the analyser knows nothing because he may well change his mind.

It is as if having said that the sun clearly goes round the earth, because we can see it in the sky, anyone who changes his mind and says, actually no, the earth goes round the sun, is not to be considered seriously, for the simple reason that he has changed his mind!

But the biggest problems facing football is that, when given a choice between believing a highly credible journal that reports evidence, and a radio phone in which effectively offers the opinion of one person, many people prefer the one-person opinion.

In short reaching a conclusion without external evidence seems to give people a feeling that they have all the information they need to be able to understand the issue.  This seems to be because people do not want to be reminded of the complexity of a topic.  They want something that is easy to understand, so that they can feel they know about the subject, and (presumably) then sound off to their friends in what seems to be a knowledgeable way.

The reason is fairly obvious: what the simplistic articles do is leave the audience with a sense of confidence, as in “Here is an issue, the manager hasn’t got a clue how to solve it, but I can.”  Better still, anyone who reconsiders an issue and then changes his/her mind, can be denigrated for the simple fact of reconsidering.

Thus as journalists make football easier and easier to understand with ever more simple explanations of what is wrong, and ever greater emphasis on individuals rather than the complexity of an 11 man team, so readers like it more and more, even those these ever easier explanations are increasingly misleading and often contrary to the known facts.

This is happening everywhere and as a result across our society faith in experts is vanishing while the game itself is becoming increasingly complex.  In this approach the management at Arsenal are then reduced to the level of idiots who can’t see that David Luiz is useless, and don’t understand that paying the agent a fee equal to 60% of the transfer cost, on top of the transfer fee, is ludicrous.  The fact that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest Arsenal ever did pay such a fee is ignored.  It was said, it must be true.

So because Arsenal’s management are considered to have less knowledge of football as a game and football as a business than the man in the north bank (or any other part of the ground) the man in the ground is considered to be right.  Journalists know a free lunch when they see one, so they make up ever simpler stories of management incompetence.

Thus the notion that Arsenal won’t spend any money circulates, despite the figures showing that Arsenal had the fourth highest net spend in the Premier League across the last four years.  Faced with that dichotomy the tendency is to suggest that the figures are wrong because everyone know that Arsenal don’t spend money.

Thus exists contemporary commentary on football.


8 Replies to “The transfer paradox: how expert knowledge in football became worthless”

  1. Reading the article, it suddenly came to me how we can have more money for buying players at no extra cost to the club whatsoever.

    Instead of drawing a programme number at half-time for a signed shirt or football or whatever, the winner gets to manage the team for the following seven days. That way, all the fans who know how to run the team better than the manager get to prove themselves. Further, those that actually think that there is an instant improvement if you change the manager will get to see that happen every week.

    What’s more, the media don’t have time to start slagging off the manager or his tactics because s/he’ll be gone by the time they even find out who s/he is.

    It’s pure genius…..even if I do say so myself!!

  2. What’s more, if you give it two or three seasons we’ll actually have overtaken the Spuds in terms of how many managers we’ve had in the last 20 years 🙂

  3. Well, it’s the same thing you do Tony. You know how to run an FA more than the FA. You know how to run FIFA, UEFA more than the guys in charge. You know how to run a government more than the governments of UK, USA, China etc. So your article is one of pot calling kettle black.

  4. What I don’t understand Ango is that if you, and people like you who write in a similar way, find all that I say so utterly pointless and quite often predictable, and indeed something you disagree with, then there is one big question. Why do you spend your time not only coming to Untold Arsenal, where, judging by your commentary you know exactly what you are going to get before you even get here? And then having got here, you confirm that it is as you expected, and then you take up your time writing to tell us about it. Not only that, you then exaggerate with the bit about me knowing how to run the government of China better than the government of China.
    As it happens, I studied psychology, and although it was a long time ago, I can still remember the names psychologists give to most conditions but I don’t think I ever came across the name of the condition in which a person knows what is coming, and dislikes very much what is coming, still takes up her or his time to experience it, and then, takes up even more time to write about it, suggesting perhaps that you fear the case you are making isn’t strong enough on its own.
    Of course you are not the only one who does this, although the number is thankfully small, but I am in touch with one or two others who studied psychology to see if there is a word for deliberately experiencing what you don’t like, and then writing to complain about it. It must be an ology of some sort.
    It is a sort of variant of toxic personality disorder, but not really that. I’m at a loss for the moment, but when someone gives me the answer I shall be most grateful for I shall be able to use it fulsomely.
    Anyway, I will do an article about it, just to see if any one does know the correct name for what you are experiencing.
    But please do keep writing in, I find it fascinating even though I don’t understand.

  5. @Tony Attwood 18/06/2020 at 7:00 pm

    That is one the best answers I have seen you make. Agree totally.

    The tenet of the article transfer paradox etc.. is fitting for a lot of subjects in this country at the moment, sadly.

  6. @Tony, I fear you exaggerate the effects of your writings a bit too much. I read plenty of things, yours inclusive. Some I agree with, some I don’t. when I disagree with what is written, I say so, same as when I agree with what is said. It’s not a big deal bro. It doesn’t keep me up at night.
    You exaggerate when you say fans and other non- specialists feel they know how to run clubs more than those in management, I exaggerate when I accuse you of the same with China. Surely if I exaggerate because I don’t have a strong enough point, then the same must apply to you. I don’t really care much about criticising your writing, for me it’s more about bringing the irony to your knowledge, I doubt many regulars would do probably due to CONFIRMATION BIAS or SELECTIVE EXPOSURE( I can do the psychology thing too). From your response it is obvious you do not appreciate that being pointed out to you… Forgive me

  7. Sorry Tony but that’s not right at all:

    Blackadder: Baldrick, have you no idea what irony is?

    Baldrick: Yes, it’s like goldy and bronzy only it’s made out of iron.

    Now you cant argue with that.

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