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By Tony Attwood
I have been arguing for quite a long time that the way football is reported throughout the media is highly misleading, omitting certain facts (such as referee bias), failing to investigate certain oddities (such as the way Leicester could commit many more tackles than other clubs but get far fewer fouls against them), why Arsenal get such a small array of referees handling their games. At the same time the media has completely failed to investigate some interesting facts (such as the way in which for one third of a season Arsenal could play as a club facing relegation and then for the remaining two thirds be the second-best club in the league) and the other topics people won’t talk about in the media.
Now one might hope the media might see the error of their ways, but instead the reverse is happening as we seem to be venturing into new territory with the piece “Don’t mistake a three-way title race for a competitive Premier League in the Guardian.
Within this piece the point is made that “Increasingly, the league has been dominated by whichever teams finish first and second, with the Manchester clubs and Liverpool taking those top two spots over the last five seasons.
“This season offers the possibility of the duopoly at the summit of English football being disrupted, with three contenders for the title… (but) having a trio of realistic challengers has become a rarity.”
Now the basic facts are correct, but what is missing is another fact that would disrupt the essence of the whole article. So rather than consider it, the article simply ignores it, with the author and editor trusting that the paper’s football readership is either so sleepy or so lacking in any sense of enquiry generally, that they won’t notice.
For what is missing in the piece is that despite the financial dominance of Manchester City it is possible for a club to transform itself very quickly when it gets the approach right, using a combination of transfer purchases and tactical changes.
This is an incredibly simple concept that can be understood both by considering Arsenal’s league performance over six years and looking at how far Arsenal fell before rising to the top. And then of course having reported that, such a mythical article could ask simply how the club did it.
From 2016-17 to 2020-21 Arsenal came 5th, 6th, 5th, 8th and 8th. Now they are challenging for the title, sitting at the top of the league – and that in a league dominated by Manchester City who have more wealth that any club has ever imagined in the past.
Or they could look at why Liverpool has collapsed so fast. From 2018/19 to 2021/22 its finishing positions were 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 2nd. And now…
Or indeed one might look at Chelsea who went from league winners in 2014/15 to 10th in 2015/16 to league winners in 2016/17. Or more recently how, after four seasons of coming third and fourth, they are currently 10th.
Of course part of this utterly misleading approach in an article must be due to the ongoing attempt of all the media to cover up its en-masse failure to predict what would happen this season. They all tried, and they universally came up with Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur as their one-to-four in this season’s table. Only 50% of those teams now have any chance of making the top four, and I’m not too sure Tottenham will oblige. So yes, their accuracy level could be down to 25% – not in terms of exact positions, but simply in terms of who will make the top four.
The fact is it that given the impact of money on football it shouldn’t be that hard, (at least according to the pundits), to predict the top four – and yet they seem to be getting it very wrong! How can these people who are paid to comment on football, be so stupid?
The answer is that we reported (where no one else did) how Arsenal cut their yellow card total in half, in one season, and thus wrestled control over the club’s performances from PGMO back to the players. That single tactic made a significant difference to Arsenal, but I’ve never seen an article even mention that decline in cards, let alone as how Arsenal managed it – and indeed why it was so important.
The only conclusion we can reach is that stories based on evidence are not wanted. Instead pure opinion is all that is offered, and undoubtedly that is what will continue to happen as football transforms itself in a way that journalists either cannot understand or do not want to report. And whichever is true (that they “cannot understand” or “do not want to report”) the result is pretty unedifying as we see from the “Don’t mistake a three-way title race for a competitive Premier League in the Guardian.
That headline should read, “Don’t mistake any of this as being opinion dressed up as a report.”
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