Talking about music is like dancing about architecture Elvis Costello once said. You could apply the same sentiment to football. It`s really all about what happens on the pitch surely? Except that there is a whole industry talking about football. Much of the fun is in talking about what has gone on, what will go on and what should have happened.
Every match has a preview of some sort and a post match analysis with comments from managers, assistant managers and all manner of pundits, ex-players, ex-referees, unemployed and unemployable managers and the like. Cyberspace is awash with fan sites and blogs linked to clubs, players, leagues from around the world all offering opinions on the game. The Sky match day programme starts with a 3 hour talk marathon involving a panel of 4 pundits each with the prejudices about the game that we all have. Sky even broadcasts a Sunday morning TV programme in which those who make a living writing about football talk about football for a match length 90 minutes. So it`s fair to say that talking about football is a pretty established part of the game.
Wenger is one of the few managers that will give his opinion to any question asked. Of course that opinion, though usually more balanced than most, invariably is one coloured by his perspective. Whose isn`t? Increasingly though, as other managers end press conferences early, censor certain media, avoid open forums or send out an assistant rather than risk having to answer questions, he is one of the few managers still willing to offer a genuine opinion.
The sports media love it of course. It`s easy to re-order quotes and emphasise selected sentences to suit the headline they want and few others will talk openly enough to allow the same headline opportunity Wenger provides. Yet you would imagine that as it`s so easy now to check what was said, to put it in its proper context, it shouldn`t spark the response Wengers openness seems to evoke from all manner of people who can take even the more malevolent sniping dished out by folk such as Adrian Durham of Talksport in a more sanguine manner. Yet the relatively benign comments from Arsene have had a plethora of PL managers this season, including McCarthy, Pulis, Brown, O`Neill and Ancelotti, responding in curmudgeonly fashion, whinging and moaning about imaginary whinging and moaning. In the case of Ancelotti, taking exception to the description of his team`s efficiency while himself describing his team play as more efficient than Wenger`s.
Most of those following football will of course be following a team other than Arsenal. There is a natural bias against anything anyone connected with a club says in support of his team. But there are a number of Arsenal supporters who feel that Wenger is too open – too definite with his opinions. If you look around the Arsenal sites you`ll find plenty of gooners also complaining that they dislike, or are annoyed or irritated by something Wenger has said. Yet you would expect gooners in particular would be more capable than most of joining up what was said with what has gone on before, establishing proper context.
We seem to crave opinion but aren`t able to absorb it. “If you want, we can have a press conference and I can say nothing” Wenger told reporters last week. Is it really better that we go back to a time when supporters were told that the post game review is one or other of ‘sick as a parrot’ or ‘over the moon’? When team appraisals are confined to ‘the boy done good’?
As politicians and others in the public eye are schooled in media training and develop the art of talking without saying anything it would be a shame if we didn`t encourage those with an opinion in football to do precisely the opposite. If stage managed press conferences with all the boxes ticked so that answers sit firmly on the fence become the norm then the debate will lose something. Surely we want more managers to emulate Wenger? To be confident enough to speak out without having their words distorted and then criticised for the distortions. Isn`t sincerely held considered and rational opinion preferable to bland PR pronouncements? Whether you agree with him or not Wenger is usually worth listening to.
Maybe other managers would be less reticent if they felt their words couldn`t be distorted too easily. It`s hard to imagine club websites allowing free access to media such as unedited press conferences so that all are free to check what was really said rather than what is reported. We could then even find that football folk are being schooled in the art of talking common sense. Sadly the concept of clubs passing up revenue just for the enlightenment of others is not the way the world of football is thinking even though the PR benefits might be great.
Fortunately Wenger remains happy in his own skin. “I am one of the few who says what he really thinks,” he said. “I am not scared to get different opinions that have a go at me. I give my opinion without any aggression or any bad opinion about any individual. I just speak about what I think. That`s it. It makes common sense what I say but many people, because they don`t want aggravation, they don`t say a word. I can live with that.”
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