Presenting a football opinion to end all football opinion pieces… Or very least make you question the next one you read.
When I’m watchin’ my tv and a man comes on and tell me
How white my shirts can be,
But, he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke,
The same cigarettes as me.
– Rolling Stones, 1965.
Stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, arrhythmias. That’s not all! Order now, and we’ll throw in receding hairline and a Bart Simpson doll to choke, to go with your subscription to A Day in the Life of a Football Fan.
With an affliction as harmful and divisive as your choice of cigarettes, Marlboro or Manchester United, doesn’t matter which brand you indulge in, you cough up in the end. Whether it’s time, money, health – you’re invested. At least with cigarettes, those frauds over at Academy of Tobacco studies had the decency to come up with patches for you cope. You don’t simply quit your football club. This opiate is a type of a religion for the masses. There’s an economy thriving on your sense of entitlement, brand loyalty and validation. That jersey you bought probably fed a family of ten in Thailand their Christmas dinner. Well, done you.
Cary Grant and Carole Lombard are lighting up, Bette Davis, a chimney, and Bogart, remember the first picture with him and Lauren Bacall? […] She sort of shimmies in through the doorway. Nineteen years old. Pure sex. She says “Anyone got a match?” and Bogie throws the matches at her… and she catches them. Greatest romance in the century, how did it start? Lighting a cigarette. In these days, when someone smokes in the movies, they’re either a psychopath… or an European. The message that Hollywood needs to send out is “Smoking is Cool!”.
– Nick Naylor, Thank You For Smoking.
Supporting a football club is cool. What’s cooler is having opinions about the football club you follow. Everyone is entitled to one, everyone has one. And just as everyone has a nose, they like to poke it into other people’s business. Popular opinion is just that – a commonly held belief by a bunch of individuals. Sometimes it’s so powerful, it dictates the way we outwardly, largely behave as a race, or as communally as a group of supporters. Being liberal is looked down upon, as much as sideburns, service tax and syphilis. To profess level-headed, measured opinions in the heated atmosphere of a pub/twitter after a match gone awry is the equivalent of stepping into those odd Japanese trains where everyone has a stiff opinion, ready and primed, to gag you with their words in your mouth.
Take one’s daily routine for example. You wake up, you have a shower and head out to school, work or keep tables because you decided that being a film critic is a self-sustaining career move (you know who you are). But 300 years ago, the British reeked. Not in a way that they benevolently freed up foreign lands of infidels, over-abundantly crowded with natural resources and pride, and introducing healthy dosages of bureaucracy, genocide, football, fairplay and soap. No, I mean, reeked as in ‘has not showered in 3 weeks’. But then, as times changed so the norm. That is the power a bunch of soap-wielding sycophants.
Speaking of sycophancy: Please, allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of gimmicks and taste. I’m an advertising man (but don’t hold that against me, I’m just a cog in the conglomerate machinery). That new soap that you bought wasn’t any better than the last brand that you used. We just make it up as we go along. It probably has lead in it, for all we care. My higher-ups have the opinion that I am an insufferable know-it-all. In my opinion, the minions of client servicing, with their hamster-wheeled MBA degrees, with their wound-up toy levels of communication, are wheedling a living. I’m of the opinion that all I do, is I throw my catch phrases and keywords in this mental bowl, mix it up until the batter fills the company codified cookie-cutters. I put it in the oven to bake, and DING! Here, have a plate of instant gratification, with a sloppy side of malarkey.
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team.
– Pink Floyd, 1973.
In the context of football, opinion is perhaps the most determining factor for any fan. Each has his own thoughts on the way the team he has adopted from a young age should play. Players they would like to see donning the iconic colours that define the team loved from an early age. But, in the modern context, opinion is a fickle exit poll result. Popular opinion can sometimes defy logic, and the biggest case to be made for this is the victory of a certain businessman in the race to be President of the United States of America; or how #brexit is a thing in the 21st century. Ladies and gentlemen, fascism is back. This time with infinitely better PR strategy.
Stanley Kubrick, The Jetsons, Back To The Future, overshot the projection of human intelligence. Collectively, we remain as daft as ever. The only difference is that while the pitch-fork-tar-and-feathers mobs were a localised pastime instilling the virtues of community and ill-gotten ideas, the social media era has ever so kindly made the practice globally inclusive.
Banter. The evil, incestuous half-cousin of wit. Wit was about brevity and subtlety, and while the 140 character limit has upheld the time-honoured brevity, the so-called savagery has undermined the essence patience, humour and discretion. The spirit of one-upmanship has facilitated this constant transaction of piss-taking and mickey-making. Aspersions are cast, hype is hyped up to hyperbole, we are unconsciously subjugating slavish dedication to stupid cynicism and kneejerkism just to stay relevant.
Some people read, consume wholly, and work out permutations and combinations in their head – much like Xavi did on the football pitch, at his peak for FC Barcelona. He could see patterns emerging, define them and move them 3 moves ahead. In his mind, a move always led to a goal or a circulation of possession on the field of play. Every fan watching a match does it in their heads and everyone knows the inch-perfect pass or move that must be made, but few can do it. That Xavi Hernandez is missed, is a unanimous opinion with anyone associated with Barcelona football club.
In the context of shaping football, opinions sometimes matter more than requirements. Opinion is what brought Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barcelona in exchange for Samuel Eto’o. His opinion to play centrally made him leave arguably the greatest club team of all time for a limping AC Milan. The same AC Milan that inexplicably chose to take Lucas Blissett to Italy instead of Watford teammate, John Barnes, in 1983. And football, just like consumerism, is driven by popular opinion orchestrating moves for coaches and players and tactics, like throwing darts in the dark. Sometimes they stick, often times it puts someone out of a job or worse. If you see a manager with an eye-patch, you know what happened.
At world’s premier football brand, Manchester United, the popular opinion was to have Sir Alex Ferguson continue until long after he’s cold in the ground. Turning them from also-rans into a sure shout for the league title every season; and now, after his departure, the looming shadow of his legacy labours a team built with no expense spared. And its crown jewel, the world’s most expensive player – Paul Labile Pogba. After all, popular opinion, Adidas and projected shirt sales is what brought Paul Pogba to Manchester United – and very little else.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, there have been 3 managers, and zero major trophies. The squad left behind by the Scotsman was in major disrepair, with heavy investment needed in every department both on the field and behind the scenes. At the same time, Juventus acquired Paul Pogba – a prodigy midfielder for the bare minimum fee associated with a young player. And in the years that followed, United entered the doldrums as Juventus, and Pogba caught a second wind – first under Antonio Conte and subsequently, to this day, under Massimiliano Allegri.
Come the 2015-16 transfer window and Pogba was the toast of world football. The one irreverent cog that would supposedly make any team in the world better. Juventus realised this was only partly true, and started the process of constructing a slingshot of Pirlo and Marchisio/Vidal for Pogba to hurtle forward with reckless abandon – a team chemistry that challenged for titles in Europe as well sustain domination in Italy. And then came the transfer round-robin that took up miles of press space – Real Madrid blinked and in swooped Manchester United. A world-record fee was exchanged, and Pogba went from Bianconeri to Red Devil faster than you can say ‘Adidas image rights windfall’.
As a sporting decision? Well, in my opinion – it was a poor footballing decision, and the motivation was purely monetary. It was a luxury signing for a club that could have opted to build a Championship-winning team, instead. There’s very little romance or footballing reason for those searching: going from multiple title-winning Juventus – who were offering a starring role in a stage set for European dominance to lacklustre Manchester United – a team needing a major reshuffle, with Jose Mourinho of all people, being assigned instil a proactive brand of football that Old Trafford has come to expect. Jose. Mourinho.
Football is riddled with examples of popular opinion driving transfers. Just look at the move of Fernando Torres to Chelsea as an example. Roman Abramovich took it upon himself to justify and overlay £50 million on a striker who lost what made him astounding in the first place – his domineering pace. In many ways, Chelsea’s mixed form in the transfer market is the ultimate catharsis for humbler clubs everywhere. No other club, perhaps, has more high-profile flops. Players are bought because they can afford to, and stockpiled to keep them from being procured by their rivals; careers discarded by whims and fancies of their oligarch. The Blues success is the Red Herring of modern football.
My motivation to write this piece was to simply state that Liverpool’s Phil Coutinho may be the near-perfect heir to my club’s metronomic maestro, Andres Iniesta. Xavi agrees. But it doesn’t matter what we think, because it doesn’t work that way.
Until very recently, and to some degree still today, anyone who spent any time inside football soon discovered that just as oil was part of the oil business, stupidity was part of the football business.
– Soccernomics, Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski.