Notes on no scandal

The Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

Just another week in paradise. With the resignation of Fabio Capello from his post as England Manager / press voodoo doll, we’re being reminded of some of the less savoury sides of the game. The politicking, the whooping hyenas in the press, the reminder that the never ending cuntishness of John Terry seems to hurt everybody expect John Terry. I had made a note to discuss the cynical, tiresome negativity with which the game seems to be reported by the fourth estate nowadays in this week’s column as it was.

But this issue has brought it from the margins of the notepad into bold type. Does anybody report about footballanymore? Or even the finer forensic details that influence it, such as how it’s financed, or even its cultural relevance. A fine example would revolve around the reportage of our FA Cup victory over Aston Villa. Having scored three goals in seven minutes to complete an exciting comeback, the back pages were full of innuendo around a pretty innocuous “elbow” incident. The game itself wasn’t enough. There had to be a scandal.

It’s the same on television, if you were to tune into post match analysis of any given game, without knowing the score, you probably wouldn’t ever find out who had won based on the flapping jaws of Adrian Chiles and chums. The focus is always on controversy or ignominy. The shrill blast of a referee’s whistle is given infinitely more weight than a beautiful through ball or a crisp finish.

As an indirect consequence, we’re left with managers resigning on points of PR principle and the particulars of a pre-match handshake requiring a board meeting and scripted press announcement. Because one lonely nut-job has the phone number for the Mirror sports desk, one of the most decorated managers in the world is reduced to spending a pre-match press conference talking about non-existent bin bag protests.

Of course, when the protest never materialises, the press are never held to account. They simply create the next scandal, and then stand back as if they are separated from it. I read this piece on Football365 this week and immediately related it back to the manager’s cryptic comments about profit in the Belgian press. They begged further exploration, further questions. There was a genuine level of intrigue.

Instead, the comments were just intentionally misreported as the manager saying he needs to make a profit on his transfer business. He didn’t actually say that – though he might have meant that. But of course his transfer business is the biggest, knobbliest stick everyone is beating him with at the moment so let’s try and bleed that delightful little stone again. We’ll probably never know what he truly meant now.

The wearily disavowing reportage of the game is leading to a fractious relationship between clubs and the media. In their hubris and self interest, journalists will posture that poor media relations hit the supporters. But in the age of instant information this is not true. Keep your eye on your Twitter feed the next time Wenger holds a pre match press conference. Arsenal will tweet the details in advance of any journalist. It almost looks like a deliberate and pointed “fuck you Fleet Street” to me.

The first place I read about Capello’s resignation was from the FA’s official twitter feed. No journalists were drip fed the story. The meeja have risen to such a level of arrogance that they don’t report the game. They think they are the game. But with access so open to all, clubs taking an increasingly untrusting stance and the plethora of online media, Fleet Street’s insatiable desire for soap opera could bring it down. Bloggers of the world unite and take over.

Coming back to Arsene’s comments in the Belgian press, they were very curious. He’s an intelligent man and will have known that they would be seized upon and analysed. Since he was discussing the prospect of signing Eden Hazard, it could be that he was reminding us that Arsenal operates as a responsible business whilst competitors for his signature do not. Or it could be that it was a pointed comment to his critics and / or his bosses of the constraints upon him.

Whilst it’s naïve to expect a manager to completely divorce himself from the financial side (he needs to know what he’s working with and, therefore, how to prioritise any targets) it does rather add to the suspicion that he’s too immersed in the books. I had the sense that there was something of a spin war with Kroenke and Usmanov duking it out for control of the club. But really this ought to have settled down by now. It adds to a supposition I made last week that there is still a suggestion of a lack of strong leadership in the current club structure. The AST reports that Red and White Holdings purchased more shares this week, suggesting that they have no intention of selling up and leaving.

In other news, it looks as though Johan Djourou has extended his contract for another two and a half years. I’d say this is an interesting development in how the club is treating contracts. I wrote last week about them looking for a happy medium between over rewarding unproven players (Diaby, Denilson) and protecting themselves against losing players that we’ve improved for free (Flamini, Edu).

Of course I’m not privy to the terms Djourou has agreed, but I’d suggest his progress has been studied and this deal seems to be a more cautious one. Whether that reveals a new strategy or else simply appreciates Djourou’s status as a 25 year old squad player will be borne out as deals are signed by other players. What I do know is that if Djourou does end up becoming a world class performer and mainstay of the team in the next 18 months, the length of the contract put in front of him this week will be greeted with retrospective howls of derision.

In closing I wanted to address some comments Theo Walcott made in the week. Having provided a commendable hat trick of assists in the 7-1 shellacking of Blackburn, young Theo told the official site that “creating assists is my main role.” Married with his persistent assertions that he should be a central striker, I have to say the comments worry me slightly. Walcott appears to have fallen into the trap many armchair pundits fall into of neatly formatting particular duties according to screen graphics.

I don’t see how assists can be weighted against goals. It comes back to a criticism I’ve made of Theo before, about failing to appreciate in game situations and act accordingly. The best teams are always fluid and Arsenal’s front three relies on that fluidity and quick thinking. The excellent form of Chamberlain has shown that a wide front man in our formation has liberty to come inside and either provide assists (think the pass for van Persie against Manchester United) or else to score, (his first against Blackburn).

In short, Theo should be looking to both assist and score, depending on what’s appropriate in the situation. If the pass is on, pass. If the shot is on, shoot. If his movement is intelligent enough, he’ll find plenty of opportunity to do both. He doesn’t need to be a centre forward to score goals and being a wide man doesn’t mean his only job is to supply crosses. His form in supplying van Persie is beyond reproach at the moment, but his finishing is ailing slightly and he needs to work on it.

I rather hope his attitude in training is less to simply point at his assists and more to say, “O.k. I’m supplying plenty, now if I score some more too I’ll be twice as lethal.” Anyway, three big away games on the horizon and a total of 3,280 miles travelling in 7 days. I shall scribble to you all again upon return from Italy. But to end, how about another story about David Bentley … LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here