Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Transfer hay fever

knowl·edge | nɒlɪdʒ/  Spelled [nol-ij]


1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things.

2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: A knowledge of accounting was necessary for the job.

3. acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: a knowledge of human nature.

in·for·ma·tion | ɪnfərˈmeɪʃən/  Spelled [in-fer-mey-shuhn]


1. knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance; news: information concerning a crime.

2. knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.; factual data: His wealth of general information is amazing.

3. the act or fact of informing.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. It’s at once empowering and humbling. Science constantly rolls back the frontiers of life’s greatest mysteries and provides explanations which once only myth and religious superstition sought to explain. Knowledge helps us to make sense of the information that is all around us and through increased understanding we can appreciate it in a much more meaningful way. In football, much like science, our knowledge is increasing all the time due to a fundamental increase in the information available to us.

We know how much money our clubs make, how many successful passes per game our central midfielders complete and exactly how many bums are on seats in our stadiums at any given game. Sage avatars, such as Swiss Ramble, Michael Cox et al can make sense of this information in a way that educates and enlightens us all. It can lead to fantastic, data driven analysis such as this.

Through scientific rigour and discovery, we know what allergies are. The human body takes in innumerable ‘foreign objects’ in an average day and sometimes it’s difficult for our bodies to distinguish that which is beneficial, that which is harmful and that which is inconsequential. Allergies occur when our immune systems become too aggressive and reject ‘foreign bodies’ which are actually not harmful to them.

In the very literal sense of the word, I am allergic to transfer speculation. I have tried to understand and embrace some of the branches football’s tree of knowledge has sprouted in modern times – the finance, the commercial, the tactical – even if I wouldn’t flatter myself that I’m an expert in any of them. Where transfers are concerned, I find it so hard to distinguish the information that is beneficial, inconsequential and harmful, that I end up rejecting it all outright. It’s for this reason I have come to completely ignore the whole thing.

The problem isn’t so much that we know too much, it’s that we think we know too much. Most of the information available to us does little to embellish our knowledge. The beauty of football is that the actual 90 minutes of a game are wonderfully and often hilariously unpredictable. Yet they can be analysed and discussed for hours, days, weeks, months, even years afterwards. Football is one of the purest forms of entertainment there is and the transfer market ought to be a fascinating and complimentary offshoot.

The issue is with the quality of the information we receive. Even the information that is true is repeated ad infinitum. In amongst those rare nuggets of truth are reams of fibbery about every single, agonising, minute stage of any deal. The betting status, the houses on the market, the medicals, the pregnant girlfriends, the ailing health of elderly relatives. In turn, this heightens people’s stress levels and creates an echo chamber of angst. The word ‘dithering’ has become a populist byword for much of Arsenal’s transfer business.

I don’t doubt transfers are more difficult to do at the level that Arsenal do them. But the impression that we’re ‘dithering’ or ‘penny pinching’ is largely a consequence of the volume of information we’re subjected to, most of which is horse shit anyway. The problem with transfer speculation is that the spontaneity isn’t there anymore, so it has ceased to be a form of entertainment (in my eyes anyway), even in the most tawdry, soap opera sense of the word.

A moist eyed Gus Poyet being informed of his sacking as Brighton manager whilst live on the BBC. Joe Kinnear’s hilariously gauche interview on Talksport. That’s the sort of superficial, tacky soap opera entertainment that football can be good for.  By the time a transfer comes to fruition, we’ve usually been impatiently awaiting its confirmation for weeks. It’s like a child being drip fed his Christmas presents from October. It makes Christmas Day an anti climax.

Yet the transfer market isn’t calculable enough to rigorously analyse either. There are no Swiss Ramble’s or Zonal Marking’s or niche transfer market experts to make sense of it all. It’s all utterly disposable. Disposable is fine so long as it’s fun. As Iggy Pop once irascibly spat, I just find the whole thing, “No Fun, my babe, No Fun.” Which is probably why I spend much of the summer with my fingers in my ears and my early 90s season review videos.

I’ll finish by touching on Tony Adams’ comments from last weekend offering himself as Arsenal’s chairman. The man’s legend as a player is watertight, even if he made mistakes. (One wonders what the Twitter generation would have made of the captain spending two months in prison half way through a title challenge for drunkenly driving his car through an old woman’s wall). I adored Adams as a player. I have a framed picture of his celebration against Everton in 1998 hanging on my wall at home. But his interviews increasingly sadden me.

That’s not because I believe he is wrong to criticise the club. It’s not the criticism that saddens me. (It’s not as if he’s scathing in any case, he talks about Arsenal with a lot of affection). He just sounds increasingly deluded, like he’s living in la la land. I mean, writing to Arsenal’s chairman asking to be installed as his replacement? Really? That’s quite an odd thing to do isn’t it? But what I found really strange was the popularly held view from many Arsenal fans online that Adams’ views were above criticism based on his past feats.

Logically, if Adams is beyond scrutiny for his past feats in an Arsenal shirt, then so is Arsene Wenger. I don’t think any of us really agree that Wenger is beyond scrutiny. I think it’s a symptom of nostalgia. The past is always a safe place. We can airbrush the parts that we don’t like and preserve it in sepia. You only have to look at Sol Campbell’s recent comments on the England U-21s  for evidence. When Sol Campbell played for the England U-21s, they twice failed to even qualify for the European Championships. Yet he talks of quality having diminished compared with the past.

Few symbolise the glories of our recent past quite like Tony Adams and with that mythology comes emotional baggage. I have always understood the statement “We want our Arsenal back” to mean “I want my Arsenal back, the Arsenal of my youth.” It’s not really a collective thing at all. Everybody feels sentimental about football from their youth (just this week I watched the 1991-92 season review). We all want our version of what we deem to be “My Arsenal” from a youth we long to recapture.

I felt nostalgic for the 1991-92 season (we finished 4th and won nothing) and I own both kits from that campaign. Merson, Limpar, Rocastle and Adams would all make it into my all time top 5 Arsenal players. Those of us of a certain age want the Victoria Concordia Crescit badge back (itself a modification that didn’t appear until 1949- 63 years into our existence) and we want the away kit to be yellow and blue (the first yellow and blue away kit arrived in the 1969-70 season).

If my Granddad (were he still around) my nephew and I were to chant “We want our Arsenal back” side by side, we would be yearning for completely different things. For many of us, Adams belongs to the Arsenal of our youth and to a mythological past. I think that explains the sensitivities towards those of us that felt his comments were bizarre. Adams was a hero of my past too and likely always will be. That doesn’t make his every utterance beyond reproach and nobody should be made to feel that they are betraying a whimsical past by feeling that way. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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