Date: 10th August 2008 at 12:06pm
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As premier league teams get into their starting positions so the football pundits exercise their soundbite delivery. The practice relies on following conventional wisdoms. You can`t win anything with kids, such and such a team has bought well, this team hasn`t strengthened, not enough English backbone and so on and so forth. Elvis Costello once said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Talking about football is a substantial part of the football ‘experience` with match previews, post match analysis, team and player statistics to mull over. The art of football punditry relies on following the herd, taking the path of least resistance, saying those things that some may disagree with but the majority of partisan support will buy into. There are supporters of 19 premiership teams who will want to believe negatives about their competition and only one teams supporters who’ll be interested in the positives.

Those that have spent most money during the summer transfer period will usually be deemed by pundits to have strengthened. The conclusion relies on not considering too carefully the players that have left to fund the purchases or the history of failed signings from Morientes, through Veron to Shevchenko. In the case of most transfers you can have little real idea whether any individual transfer strengthens, weakens or makes no difference to a team until the season is at least half way through. Yet invariably purchases of players are seen as strengthening a squad while the departure of players past their physical peak is considered as weakening it. That`s the conventional wisdom and therefore safe punditry.

Similarly it is safe to point out that the team that has conceded the fewest goals has the best defence. Yet extending the analysis to consider whether defensive strength has more to do with attacking strength at home which isn`t necessarily reflected in defensive performance away when more defending is needed rarely occurs to pundits. If it did then it would take too carefully constructed and delicate an argument to fit into a few seconds of soundbite punditry. That`s where punditry falls down. It`s entertainment. Give the public what you think they want to believe and do it in 20 seconds.

Pundits are results driven. Take a look at player ratings in most of the newspapers and they will be based on the result of the game and not individual performance. Drop points, even if by a flukey goal, an absurd refereeing decision or simple bad luck and that will determine a team and its players ratings far more than what they actually did over 90 minutes. The team that has emerged as victors even if they were total rubbish will be that with the highest ratings in almost every case. It serves the simple need and requires little thought to accept that a team that has won must always be better than one that hasn`t.

Many of the supposed ‘high brow` (if any still exist) newspaper columnists are little better though you do still find the occasional piece with greater merit. All too few and far between though. Newspapers have to sell copies and so following popular opinion in football works in the same way as any other topical news item. Asylum seekers are all bad as are all foreign footballers.

The internet offers some opportunity to look beyond the pundits. That`s where you`ll find free thinkers now and more carefully considered and constructed arguments. It will still take some seeking out and invariably 90% of what you come across is no more carefully considered than most pundits and usually much poorer in presentation. But it is there if you find the right bloggers and forums.

As for the pundits you shouldn`t find them any more annoying than politicians, estate agents, used car salesmen and most involved in marketing. They are just telling you what they think that most of you want to hear. Dancing about architecture in fact.

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