Wednesday, 16 June 2010

It's never about what it's about

I know the readership here includes very few football fans. It includes very few of anybody! But bear with me, non-football lover, just for a moment. Something very illustrative about our public discourse has just happened in the football world and it's worth a few moments of consideration.

Frank Beckenbauer, former captain and obergruppenfuhrer of the German football team, has attacked the tactics practised by the England of Fabio 'Fab' Capello. According to the old Kraut, the England team has gone back to what is called 'kick and rush' football. I understand that to the non-initiated, calling any football 'kick and rush' might seem somewhat redundant; rather like calling boxing 'hit and duck'. But Becksie's point was that England under Capello have achieved the nadir of footballing tactics, abandoned the beautiful game and are lurking in the very worst darkness of schoolboy strategy. The press and the media in general are always eager for any stick to beat an England manager, and were anxious on Monday for an explanation of why England couldn't beat the USA last Saturday. Thus, they seized on these remarks and rolled them around their collective mouth, like an old tramp supping a bottle of meths. Indeed, this was mother's milk to a story-hungry press. Even Henry Winter in the Telegraph got confused and used FB's remarks to reflect on how badly English footballers are served by a foreigner-player driven Premier League.

All of which missed the point, which I note is slowly sinking in in some quarters ... that Beckenbauer's comments weren't about England; they were an assault intended to undermine England's confidence in the highly competitive context of the most important footballing competition in the world. In other words, the last thing we should do is ask whether this is true; the first thing we should do is ask why FB said it! It's not about what it's about.

Personally I find this a very useful rule of thumb. And a rule of thumb it is, since sometimes it is indeed about what it's about. But it's very often not. Human beings generate myths almost as easily as they exhale carbon dioxide. Of course we can and should distinguish conscious and unconscious myth making. The latter always makes me marvel at how much someone can come to believe their own spin. But it happens. Daily. Hourly for some.

I find it comforting in a media age to have to hand the kind of analytic tool we can use to scrutinize what our self-appointed guardians are doing for us. Ask first not whether what they say is true but why they have said it. The good ship Bull Shit can only set sail on a sea of caca.


  1. You have a point Innocent, especially when the comment is coming from the ranks of the opposition! I’m not sure about the “kick and rush” part, though. In my younger days (in the far distant past) I was an avid soccer player, but less of a fan of the broadcast games. However, it seems to me that back then (granted, memory impairs with age…) there was more action in soccer matches, more aggressive attacking and less ‘foostering around’ - as my old PP would have put it. It irks me to see teams endlessly passing the ball around – and even all the way back to the goalie from beyond center field! Attack! Move forward! Take shots!

    General George Patton once reminded his troops that he never wanted to hear a commander say that they were ‘holding their position’. He wanted them always moving forward. Of course Patton suffered a lot of casualties, but he got the job done. While it is unlikely that any soccer forward will die advancing (and don’t get me started on the histrionics of guys begging for fouls…) more offense and less defensive maneuvers would enhance the viewing experience – and might even win a match or three…

  2. All of which, GOR, still suggests Beckenbauer was messing with English minds!