Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Football Press: the bad

I was going to write a post saying nice things about the few good football journalists around, but two recent offerings from the normally quite sane Guardian Football pages has ensured that I'll start my 'the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' series about the football press with the bad.

First, this incredibly over-the-top piece about just how depressed David Beckham is and how much his life sucks right now at Real Madrid. I'm not the biggest Real or England fan, but I've never had anything against Becks. He's honest, he's hard-working, he can still whip in a mean cross and he's great at set pieces. The Real supporters love him, as much for the grit as anything else. He's still England's best passer, as far as I'm concerned.

What John Carlin writes about Beckham's status at Real this season is fairly accurate. What I find distasteful is the crowing 'ha, look at him now' tone. Witness the last sentence:

If Beckham did not realise it before, he does now: you can be rich and handsome and famous and have three healthy children and a beautiful wife, but you can also be sad.

To which I can only say - what did Beckham ever do to you? To put that quote in context, here's this gem, which commits one of the most irritating sins a football journalist is capable of. That is, sprouting bullshit about a player or coach's mental state and claiming to know their deepest thoughts from their body language or clothes or something else equally inane (e.g. the handwringing about Wayne Rooney before he stormed back to form).

But his eyes said much more than that. The booking was merely the pretext, the occasion for venting a steaming churn of bottled-up feelings. There was anger and frustration, but there was sadness, too, and hurt. Towards those - such as the new Real coach, Fabio Capello - who have scorned him; towards himself for having lacked the foresight or self-knowledge to leave sooner; towards life, for being cruel.

I have no words. Well, a couple. Did he perhaps read Beckham's diary? Or better yet, look so deeply into the Englishman's anguished eyes that he read Beckham's soul?

Moving on. The subject of my second rant involves two of my favourite young Argentinean players, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, so I'm not unbiased. I do need to start by saying that the piece by Amy Lawrence which sparked this particular rant isn't actually that bad. It's a balanced assessment of West Ham's problems, and well worth a read. But it is very useful in reflecting an alarming trend in articles about the Hammers' problems. Very sensibly, Amy writes:

But maybe it is madness to judge the Argentines on their performances thus far.

Let me think. How about...YES. Yes, it is. Even more insane, though, is the insinuation, bordering on xenophobic, that the arrival of the Argentineans is the direct cause of the club's problems. Let me emphasize that. Direct cause, meaning they are personally to blame.

The reason I mention xenophobia is the tone of many articles - go on, have a look for any article about West Ham's problems, they're all similar - which seems to go like this: 1) West Ham was great when it was all traditionally English, 2) these dirty foreigners came in, 3) they threatened the Englishness of the club and 4) now everything's gone to hell, it must be because of the foreign influence.

The far more likely explanation that Amy touches on is second-seasonitis. There's also the suspicion that many of their key players from last season simply haven't shown up this time.

One other suggestion favoured by pundits is the takeover speculation having unsettled everyone at the club. I can see how that might work in the case of the training and coaching staff, but not the players. How many footballers give a toss who their boss is? Barcelona won their first Spanish title in 6 years during the 04-05 season while a full boardroom war was going on, while Real Madrid went on a great run during the second half of 05-06 even though they had 3 different Presidents during that time.

Lastly, these guys are 22 years old. They're not the most worldly or experienced players around, certainly not enough to turn a club's fortunes around by themselves. Neither of them speak English - Carlitos even had trouble mastering Portuguese when he was in Brazil, so it's going to take him a while. Neither has started more than 3 matches for the Hammers so far. Carlitos is nowhere near form, or even fitness, while poor Mascherano...I'm not sure he knows what he's supposed to be doing out there. Watch the way he played for Argentina in the World Cup, and you'll see why he was so highly rated, but none of that so far. Pardew is a crowd-pleaser: when people said the Argentineans were the problem, he stopped using them. Didn't make a lick of difference.

It's very frustrating for me personally, because I hate to see young Argentine talent have their careers stall overseas (see also Cavenangi, Fernando and Saviola, Javier). It's even more annoying when 2 young men completely new to the country and everything about it get blamed for a whole club's incapability.

I'll end with this:

Burkinshaw feels Tevez and Mascherano could enjoy similar success, but only if people are more patient with them.

He explained: "They are already writing these lads off, (saying) they shouldn't be here any longer and get rid of them.

"They haven't had a chance have they?"

Sensible words from the man who bought Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa to the Premiership.

On a related note, when your opponent bites you in the middle of a football match, how is it possible for you to be painted as the bad guy?


Gonzalo said...

Normally, I have no problems with John Carlin's journalistic style, but I have to agree this piece was over the top. My take on Beckham's plight right now is that he'll stick it out at Real hoping to win back that first team place (maybe emulating McManaman's similar situation a few years back). Frankly, he doesn't really have that many alternatives. Unless Barcelona want him, of course ;)

Derek said...

I agree with most of Amy's comments about West Ham. Have any of Tevez's and Mascherano's critics actually watched the Hammers this season? Most everyone is under-performing, including Zamora, who until today was the only one scoring. Even today's heroic performance was a display of wild talent and inconsistency. If it hadn't have been for Sheringham, I'm not so sure they would've pulled it off. And I'm sick and tired of critics who also perpetuate the lie that the South Americans somehow are unable to play in the Premiership because it's too fast, too physically demanding. No one is going to argue that the styles are different between the Argentinian and Premiership game, but Tevez and Mascherano are more likely to be experiencing the burnout of drastic lifestyle changes more than their supposed newfound inability to play football. I heard that both Ferguson and Wenger have six month adaptation periods for their new signings, so perhaps everyone should simply calm down for a bit. Let the Argentinians get acclimated to their new lives and club before slinging the proverbial mud at them. I just hope the Hammer faithful don't give up on them . . . if they haven't already.

linda said...

Gonzalo: yeah, I agree, he'll stick with Real, if only because of his desire to win something to show for his great efforts on the team's behalf.

As for Barca, we have the same kind of midfield excess as Real, except Rijkaard is crazy enough to field nearly all of them (see the 3-4-3 vs Chelsea).

Derek: a six month adaption period seems sensible to me. My hope is that the entire team will build on this result and keep improving. If they can get 10 men behind the ball, frustrate Arsenal and get something out of that game then that would be a good step forward. (I don't usually advocate such a style, but desperate times call for desperate measures.)