Talk Sport, football clichés and lazy journalism
It’s that time of year again. The football season is all but over and once the small matter of the hooligan world championships to be held in Russia in June has finished, with England being knocked out by a surprise late entry made up of Russian pensioner blind amputees, the Talk Sport radio presenters will have little football to talk about except the anticipation of the next season to come. Football is full of clichés and Talk Sport rarely lets us down. We are in for months of uninspired garbage, with their presenters and analysts trotting out the same lazy conformist opinions, as the only alternative would be to actually prepare and present some original thought and considered debate. Here are a few that will be particularly common…
#1. “They will be better this year”.
If you are a Talk Sport listener I guarantee that you will hear this at least a dozen times a day, every day, between now and the start of the new campaign in August. No matter which club is under discussion, the consensus will be: “They have a new manager so they will be better this year”, or: “They have brought a load of new players in so they will definitely improve…” This will be said about Manchester’s City and United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, you can work your way right the way down the league, it doesn’t matter. It is the laziest and most inaccurate prediction and absolutely EVERYONE will use it.
Let’s just consider it for a moment. This is said every year, by every pundit, about every team. This means that in the view of the ‘experts’, every football club improves every year. This is clearly utter nonsense and simply impossible. Clubs cannot improve indefinitely, some seasons they will get better, whereas in others they will get weaker. Changing a manager does not equate to automatically getting stronger. Most managers, even the very best, struggle to make an impact in their first season. It is a time of change, of uncertainty. Equally, signing eight or nine new players won’t necessarily improve a team. New players have to adapt to new surroundings, teammates and tactics which takes time and regardless you will only see improvement if the new players are better than those used the previous season, which is often not the case. History has shown that those teams that actually do progress are those with consistency, continuity and stability, those with a core of younger players with just two or three quality signings being added to the squad. Major upheaval with either management or playing staff has rarely resulted in short term improvement but this won’t dissuade the brain-dead analysists from using this tried and trusted line over and over again.
A team’s likely performance for a coming year is also governed by the aging or loss of other players. During a transfer window, players move out as well as in and every year a club’s remaining playing staff are a year older. This may not be a problem for a younger squad, but if a key player has reached the point of no return (as many players do in their early to mid-thirties and as Rooney did quite unexpectedly at just 28) the negative impact upon a team can be significant.
So here’s a thought Talk Sport. It’s a bit radical I know, but hear me out. Why not employ some analysts with the ability to think and communicate with a degree of panache? Because in truth, absolutely anyone can say: “They will be better next year”, except perhaps Tony Cascarino, who uses the English language like a Rubik’s cube and would probably say something like: “They is will were am better than they was last year…”
#2 "Great players make great managers".
No they don’t. They really, really don’t. This is one of the oldest football clichés with few examples that can actually be used to back it up. A manager, compared to a player, uses a completely different skillset. It doesn’t follow that just because someone was good kicking a sack of air around a field, they will be the perfect person to take over running the club, in charge of a multi-million pound budget. It is like finding a great painter and decorator and making them Managing Director of B&Q. IT DOESN’T HAPPEN. But every time a high profile player finishes their career and ventures into management, the pundits are falling over themselves to proclaim what an undoubted success they will be. Currently we are hearing it with Gerrard (who shortly takes over Rangers) and Lampard (being touted for the Ipswich job). Don’t get me wrong, it may happen. One (or both) may do well. But the odds are definitely stacked against them and the fact that they had successful playing careers is an utter red herring when considering managerial potential.
Roy Keane was an exceptional player, a leader who inspired those around him and terrorised those that played against him. During his career, the pundits of the time would wax lyrical over his potential as a manager. But by any standards his managerial career was average at best. He had one good year at Sunderland, taking them from bottom three in the Championship to promotion, and he did a par job at Ipswich, but at neither club did he set the world alight.
Alan Shearer was a fine player who captained his club and country countless times. Every weekend on Match of the Day he delights us with his insightful and rapier-like analysis, pointing out where teams have gone wrong and how they should have played. He tells us this with the assurance and conviction of a man that, in his one foray into management, was an absolute disaster and took his beloved Newcastle United down after being brought in to save the club, taking a paltry five points from a possible twenty-four. Such was the lasting impression he made, he was never given another managerial role.
Brian Robson was another ‘born leader’ that captained England sixty-five times, but his C.V.as a manager is a little more understated. Avoiding relegation with West Bromwich Albion and three losing cup finals with Middlesbrough are the highlights of a rather forgettable managerial career which ended in 2011 with him in charge of the mighty Thailand.
There are dozens of more examples that disprove the theory. Paul Ince, Tony Adams, Ossie Ardiles, Paul Merson, John Barnes, Gazza, and Diego Maradona are just a few others that lit up the world stage as players but whose attempts at management were failures by varying degrees and will best be remembered only to illustrate articles such as this. Of course by the law of averages there will be exceptions. Glenn Hoddle is one more recent case in point, a cultured player and successful manager, initially with his first spell in charge of Spurs and then seemingly taking England along the right path, right up to the point when he went mad, with his use of a faith healer and bizarre views on the disabled providing the press all the ammunition they needed to secure his downfall. Going back a little further, Alex Fergusson and Brian Clough are two names that jump out as solid players that went on to excel as managers. But these are exceptions. On the other side of the coin you have the likes of Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, two of the more successful managers in England of recent times with little to speak of as a playing career; with Mourinho not playing higher than the Portuguese second division and Wenger who only made sixty-seven senior appearances as a player.
The bottom line is that it’s a tired, lazy and completely inaccurate cliché and those that use it should never be allowed on the radio again and should instead be forced to watch an extended highlights package from Bryan Robson’s time with Sheffield United.
#3 Any rant about ticket pricing and similar.
With the forthcoming World Cup tournament and Champions League final, Talk Sport has decided to run with the completely original theme, ‘aren’t these ticket, flight and hotel prices outrageous, something should be done’. Give me strength. This is the most ridiculous non-argument ever and needs to be treated with the same contempt as those who bleat about the cost of going abroad during the school holidays. It is a simple matter of supply and demand. If you have a football match that two hundred thousand people want to attend and there are only fifty thousand match tickets, and just a few thousand flight seats, then the prices will be steep and on the re-sale market they will be higher still, as people will willingly pay over the asking price to secure one. This is basic economics and has been since caveman-one out-bid caveman-two on the bearskin he wanted by offering an extra potato.
A price is not too high if people will pay it. That’s all there is to it. I hear people on radio phone-ins complaining about the cost of their club’s tickets. There is a remarkably simple solution. Don’t buy them. If people stop paying then the price has to come down. If a ground is only 25% full then the club has to reduce ticket prices to entice people in. Similarly, if Sharon, Wayne and baby Chlamydia can’t go to Benidorm this year because it’s too expensive, it is only because there are ten Sharons for every plane seat and the airlines, hotels and travel agents will adjust their price accordingly. When demand is high and supply is low then prices will rise – it makes complete business sense to maximise your profit at a time when demand is at its peak. So Sharon, there is absolutely no point complaining, it is an utter waste of air. The solution is quite easy, you either pay the extra potato or you decide that a week in Littlehampton really isn’t so bad after all.