I started writing this the day after the draw with United. Wrote a bit, then stopped, pondered for a day and a half whether this is relevant or not. Saw some tweets and posts on fan forums on Facebook which convinced me to go ahead and complete this! I still may be risking ridicule by overestimating people’s reactions to the subject matter I’m about to address!
This piece was initially inspired by a few paragraphs I read on a piece posted on The Bergy Blog; a rant-like piece written by fellow blogger and Gooner @JakeArsenal1. I would like to guide your attention to paragraphs 3-7. Jake has quite an outburst at the media and pundits but also counters with valid points. However, I am not here to build further on that nor counter argue.
In recent months, what has piqued my curiosity is how our fans react to the media and/or pundits’ words. Anything negative never seems to go down well with the majority of fans – newspapers bashing Ozil, pundits highlighting the trophy drought or Arsenal’s shortcomings etc. The fans then react with bashing the certain dailies or pundits and then responding by citing facts/figures whether relevant or not. Many fans also take the words seriously and become protective of the Arsenal – the club they love.
These reactions are something I cannot relate to. At first I wondered if it’s because I don’t live in England, I don’t read these dailies, I don’t receive Sky Sports or BBC Sports. However, the reactions on social media stem from Gooners all over the world! They’re just as active quoting the Daily Mail, or the Mirror, or what Thierry Henry/Neville/Carragher et al said and give their anger-filled two cents on the matter.
So why don’t I react similarly? Am I less passionate? The second question would require more introspection so let’s not go there! However, I can safely say that 2 questions always came to mind when I would see fans tweeting in anger, or posting on Facebook forums, and after I read Jake’s blog, were:
- Does it REALLY matter what the media and/or pundits say?
- If it does matter, how can we deal with it better?
Why I feel the second question is important, I’ll address later; but, I will be answering the second question via the answer to the first question.
Coming to the first question, specifically pertaining to media (before I move onto pundits) – your news dailies and sports websites whose content is populated by sports journalists. We’ll look at this from 3 angles:
- Personal influence
- General influence
I believe, and this is something I ALWAYS consider when reading something, we need to question the credibility of the author/writer/journalist. After all, we treat these media outlets as credible sources of information and views.
Most journalists have studied the sport and/or have followed it for many many years. They’d have interviewed managers and players over those years. Football seems to be their life and they can cite the different playing systems, mental approaches, the pros/cons of different transfers or staff changes, etc. Seems like a good base, right? Credible, right?
Well, yes, to some extent. One has to be a pretty bad journalist if they cannot report and/or document events without any bias. However, it’s the opinion pieces that can be irksome for people, me included.
When it comes to opinion pieces, what’s lacking, in my humble opinion, is the fact that most of them have not played professional football. Actually, we don’t even know how many of them have played football at any level really; or, have even been involved in coaching. By any level, I’m talking about the length of the entire spectrum – from professional to as amateur as University level! This shows in their writing as well, it’s all very general; scratching the surface, talking formation changes as if it’s as easy to implement as on FIFA or FM. It reminds me of what motivational speakers do – tell you what needs to be done but never tell you how.
Of course, it can be argued that they do that because of their audience i.e. fans. Anyway, not ALL writers are like this; but, the ones who really know their stuff – whether because they have somehow studied the game better, or have perhaps played at some level – will give you better analysis and rationale to support their opinion.
I think one of the best pieces I have ever read was by Gary Neville on the lost art of defending – he pinpointed specifics and went into technical details, it was a joy to read!
Coming back, what does this mean for me, the reader?
What we have got to remember is, at the end of the day, we also watched the game and formed our own opinion and/or have questions. However, we do not deem ourselves to be experts so we turn to these media outlets. Now, if you place the writer through the credibility criteria filter it should automatically place some perspective to what s/he has said.
How much weight am I going to give a journalist who just does not seem to be an authority on the subject matter anymore? Not much. It’s always nice to read/hear different points of view; but, I have no reason to take those views to heart. If the views make sense, fine, accept them but ALWAYS ask if there’s another way to look at things or if what you heard/read has really answered your questions. Never take everything on face value.
Nevertheless, what makes it EASY to ACCEPT what journalists churn out is their negligible impact on the general order of things.
This is where readers can really help me out because I could be totally off mark; but, when has content on the media affected decisions football clubs or their staff have made?
Can you imagine the number of articles and discussions that have criticized Wenger over the last 8-9 years? Has Wenger changed? No.
Has the Gooner fan base shrunk? No. This is even more remarkable on a global level considering Arsenal’s lack of trophies and lack of global tours compared to their competitors.
This is where the media’s role isn’t as influential as it may be in, say, politics. Simply because the targeted – clubs, managers, players – do not play to the tune of the media. Why? Because the clubs, managers, and players know football. Ozil, for example, knows he has to please his manager at the end of the day, not the media. Wenger would know best as to what he wants to get out of Ozil, or Giroud, or anyone else for that matter.
Sex scandals aside – we should learn from players and managers on how they deal with the media. They’re the ones targeted, not us. Yet, it is us who do a bit more than frown.
Let’s move onto pundits now! Remember, I’m still addressing the first question from above, so now I’ll apply that to pundits.
This is tricky because pundits are usually ex-players or even former managers or in some cases, both! Even Wenger says he watches MOTD to see what the pundits have to say.
Pundits do have more credibility, simply because they have played the game at a professional level. Does it mean what they say is always right? No. We need to remember that. We don’t need to lose our head if we feel they’re too harsh or that they’re way off mark.
With pundits, I believe we always need to try to understand where they’re coming from:
- The systems/managers they played under
- The kind of players they were
- The kind of players they were surrounded by
- The kind of players they faced in their playing days
- The success, or lack of, they experienced
Addressing these points will add perspective to what they say.
For example, Henry played in a system and in a team that was ruthless when going forward and had quicker build-ups and/or lightening quick counter attacks. Those teams went on to win a double and become Invincibles. He himself was a striker who was not only a great goal scorer, but a scorer of great goals – I believe I have taken this line from an Arsenal documentary but it’s very apt for the man. He turned situations around on his own when nothing else was working.
NOW re-visit his comments on Arsenal not being able to win the league with a striker like Giroud and about the spine. Henry played in teams whose spine consisted of Seaman/Lehmann, Adams/Campbell, Vieira, and himself. He wants that same aggression and leadership in those positions. He wants a striker to have the potential to do what he did – take the game by the scruff of the neck. I sometimes wonder if his admiration on Gerrard is also based on this, and not just his ability to pick a pass.
Coming back to pundits and their credibility, though I’m sure we all have filtered out who to listen to more intently, I’ll just add a bit more for those who have not.
Not every player, for some reason or the other, will analyze the game well – Michael Owen being a case in point. I don’t know if it has to do with education or influence of managers/coaches or some other factor, but some players just understand the game better than others. Perhaps being a defender gives you more perspective because you see the game being played in front of you, perhaps being a better team players helps you understand the demands of different positions and roles, perhaps an effort at understanding your manager’s philosophy rather than focusing on just what you do gives a more holistic view of the game, perhaps being more technically able helps you judge players better. It could be anything really, I’m just guessing.
However, what pundits say does seem to matter now and then because some players idolize them. Wilshere felt the need to address Scholes’ comments once upon a time, but he did it constructively. Hopefully Giroud doesn’t idolize Henry! Even if players did take to heart what pundits say, they should also try to address the points above before kicking back.
Will pundits impact what our managers do? You never know. If it’s something drastic, they probably won’t but if it’s something that makes sense to them, and they have not already thought of it themselves, then they may address it. After all, these are former players and managers. Nevertheless, managers have their philosophies of how the game should be played and want to prove a point to the world, so it’s quite unlikely that pundits can sway them.
Wrapping It Up
I felt the need to write this because I feel we waste too much energy on the media for no good reason, hence the need to deal with it better.
Pundits certainly give us food for thought and we’ll only deal with it better by taking a step back and try to place everything in context before reacting. I envy people who get to listen to the Sky panel, because I learn something new anytime I come across a clip that does the rounds on social media. I appreciate Star Sports – one of Asia’s leading sports networks – for bringing in former players and managers but so far only Owen Hargreaves really adds value to discussions and analysis, and he’s only been on air 2-3 times this season!
Lastly, some of you may have wondered where do blogs and podcasts fit into this picture? Why should any of us read or listen to them? None of us are journalists!
Well, blogs and podcasts are mostly done by fans. I, actually, have started reading more blogs and listening to more pods recently because of that very reason – fans. Fans, like you and I. Not just specific to football by the way; the rise of blogs and pods in all subject areas is because it’s made by us, for us. Our voices get heard.
They make easier reading and listening because there aren’t any expectation levels and you get a great variety of content. Fans discuss a VARIETY of things related to football. Some fans play the game at some level or are involved in coaching and the knowledge comes out in their thoughts, makes for good discussions and learning. Even the ones who don’t play, some make an effort to understand and learn more about the game. Older fans can give so much insight on club culture, history, playing systems because they’ve been watching for decades. Nor are bloggers/pod-runners restricted by any policies. The biggest plus is the fact that these forums are A LOT more interactive.
Moreover, because the content is created by one of us, we’re less inclined to get angry at anything. Furthermore, NO bloggers or pod-runners claim to be experts, hence we don’t treat them as so and our emotions are always in check.
Although journalists don’t claim the same, we treat them as such. Hence I specifically spoke about media and pundits and why we need not react the way we do!
I’m rambling now and this was supposed to be a wrap-up! Would love to hear your views on any of this and please let me know if I have blown the fans-reacting-to-media thing out of proportion!
Thanks for staying with me @omardelkhan7