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Soccernomics: Why England Lose and Other Curious Phenomena Explained, co-written by journalist Simon Kuper and economist Stefan Szymanski, is a book which applies economic principles and the impartial analysis of data to the different areas of football to gain new insight about the past and make reasonable predictions for the future. Put simply, it is Freakonomics for soccer. Undoubtedly heavily influenced by Levitt and Dubner’s popular work, it is also a child of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, referencing Lewis’ writing on Baseball coach Billy Beane frequently and following Lewis’ pursuit for smashing the conventional wisdom at every corner.

The book is a densely-packed anthology of football’s social, political and economic roots and effects, meticulously researched and stylishly written. For much of the book it is a joy to read, giving us the evidence and intellectual power to argue coherently against those clichés which are banded around so lazily in pubs and living rooms. Soccernomics contains fifteen chapters, tackling issues such as England’s underachievement, racial discrimination and suicide rates in the game, clubs as business, fans as consumers, what makes a country successful at soccer and which country’s fans love the game the most. The book tells countless stories, from the rise of Olympique Lyonnais to the intricacies of every Brian Clough transfer at Derby County to Stephen Pienaar’s flat in Amsterdam. The range of research and anecdotes are as extensive as they are relevant to their arguments.  

The authors treat contrarian figures, like the Wisconsin academic Rob Baade, as knights in shining armour, bravely fighting the power of the conventional wisdom, like England’s Brave John Terry fights away foreigners. But despite the amount of analytical sophistication throughout Soccernomics, it does sometimes feel as if the authors aim to dispose as many truisms as it can on every page. The importance of taking the Freakonomics approach is a lack of an agenda or a conclusion before the evidence and data has been considered, but often it seems as if the authors of Soccernomics are determined to arrive at a contrarian conclusion without having quite justified it.

For example, the authors use the fact that England’s performance in qualifiers before a successful tournament has been the same as before a less successful tournament to claim that England’s performances in tournaments are ‘entirely unpredictable’. This is an example of a headline-grabbing conclusion which has no grounding – England’s performance may not always correlate with qualifying success, but can all the other factors, such as squad, formation and manager not inform a sensible prediction of success?

When considering whether soccer fans do in fact dislike the hegemony of the big clubs in European leagues, the authors reference the sustained attendances of the big leagues fleetingly before asserting that, therefore, ‘fans enjoy unbalanced soccer’. Later, the authors jump to the conclusion that the loyal, devoted, Nick Hornby-esque football fan is in fact a ‘rare species’ compared to most fans, who change their allegiances frequently, despite evidence to the contrary. Often the issues they consider are more complicated than the conventional wisdom or cliché being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – sometimes, these truisms do in fact contain some truth in them.

Zonal Marking’s recent piece on whether Bolton do indeed play ‘attractive football’, as the conventional wisdom goes, or not, doesn’t jump hastily to smash that cliché as soon as it has considered a few graphs and statistics. ZM writes that “The true level of attractiveness can only be considered by an individual when viewing the side, and the fact that Bolton supporters appear happy with the quality of football is far more important than any graph”.

One of the great strengths of Soccernomics is the fact that the authors are two academics looking at the game from the outside. While for most of the book this gives a refreshingly original and unbiased view of the game’s issues, the authors occasionally don’t quite grasp some of the finer points of what the game is like on the inside. The psychology and mindset of the football fanatic can’t always be examined by numbers, and thus it is wrong to speak with great confidence about how fans behave by simply looking at attendance figures. When examining the effect of dominance in soccer leagues on fans, they argue that ‘if fans want all teams to be equal, they will shun games in which results are predictable’, and that ‘a thrilling title race does little to improve attendances’, so, therefore, equality in leagues is not in fact desirable by fans. However, it is a lot more complicated than that. Most fans aren’t concerned with the title race of a league, nor would they choose not to attend a game in which a certain result is likely. Soccer fans don’t operate like film-goers or shopping-addicts, as the authors treat them.

I wouldn’t want to comment on the mathematical techniques used by the authors, given they probably have actual qualifications in isolating fixed effects and incidental factors in a group of statistics, and I don’t. Suffice to say that not many people have made use of multiple regression when looking at soccer like Kuper and Szymanski, and so these intellectual tools are a useful introduction to this field.

So often, the authors set the background of a topic for the reader through a concise but detailed description of historical and social context, before going into its relevance and importance within the footballing world. The authors discuss the proximity of scientific networks in 17th century Europe, John von Neumann’s contribution to noncooperative games in game theory, and how industrialisation produced the growth of provincial cities in the 19th century, before explaining how this is linked to Arrigo Sacchi, Nicolas Anelka and the European Cup. Soccernomics is an a must-read anthology for any aspiring thinker of the game who wants to boost their intellectual armoury with an extensive knowledge of social history, rigorous analysis, and provoking opinions on the game we love.

You can follow Tom Goulding on Twitter here

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The ball bounces off a shin at an obtuse angle across the pitch. A player in blue sprints towards it, aiming to advance towards the opposition goal, and if possible take the ball with him too. He makes a heavy touch, and the opposing defender in red sprints towards the stray ball and puts his full bodyweight into the challenge. Red mistimes the challenge however, and ends up clattering the blue player with the ball first. Blue is flattened, but he gets up perfectly happily, with his team uncomplaining, to sprint towards the ball, now in a different area of the pitch.

Red advance. A player at the back post makes a strange, high-pitched bird call to indicate he is open. The ball is played into the feet of a red striker, so his blue marker tries to plough through him into the ball. This forces red striker to miscontrol the ball out of play. Due to making red lose it, the blue defence continue to use their full body weight to counter any attacking threat by making challenges with their shoulder every time their opponent gets the ball.

The match is a battle of pace, power, aggression and all round athleticism to see who turns out to be the ultimate athlete.

 –

Playing soccer in the United States isn’t always like this. But it often feels like it.

Having played soccer for various amateur but competitive teams in and around London for the past 8 months, it is certainly very different playing in New York with and against Americans. The average American sportsman is an athlete. The most highly held attributes for sports are specifically power and strength, and it’s difficult to know exactly why – part of it may be the popularity of sports like American football, ice hockey, athletics and lacrosse, where those qualities are central to excellence.

I was genuinely shocked at sitting down and watching my first proper game of ice hockey here to see players dispossess opponents of the puck by shoving them in the back into the plastic hoardings in the side. While I was appealing to the referee, waving my imaginary card, my American friend next to me asked me why I was so outraged. “That’s a simple body check. It’s within the rules.” When I asked what the player was supposed to have done to have kept the puck given he was shielding it safely, it seems the answer was simply ‘be quicker or be stronger’.

This strikes me as a worse set of sport rules than those used for soccer, a sport in which you can’t simply plough through the back of someone to win the ball. You have to use your brain. The ultimate extension of ice hockey is a simply test of who is bigger and fiercer than who. What goes on in a player’s brain during a tackle in ice hockey? I imagine nothing but red mist, a loud, piercing noise of rage, willing the skater to do as much damage to his opponents’ sternum as possible.

Part of soccer’s worldwide popularity is due to its simplicity, but part of it is also the fact that it is a game played in your mind. You have to think to be the best. While playing against these athletes in America, if you’re the kind of player who would allow a 6-foot, muscular, raging bull of an American water polo monster trample all over you on the left wing through sheer power, you won’t survive. You have to be able to compete physically to compete at all, and then if you use your brain as well, you have a significant advantage over many – which is true playing the game all over the world – but even more so in America.

There are of course exceptions to the ‘classic American’ teams we play. One team was made up of Hispanic friends from a Mexican community in Queens, and they gave us a lesson in how to perfect playing the referee, making the most of each foul, and making every one of our tackles seem like fouls. Additionally, I wouldn’t of course say that the UK or Europe in general is a paragon of widespread technical ability and intelligence either. In fact, the average American team as I have painted it isn’t too far from the stereotypical English team based on passion™ and pride™.

Of course using your mind primarily over your body to compete requires protection from the referee as well – at one point, an opponent was storming down the wing, I put my body between him and the ball, and his momentum flattened me. The referee for some reason thought I had just ‘got in the way’ and gave nothing. While I was moaning with my hands on my hips, my opponent said ‘This is American soccer. We don’t play like European pansies.’  Hmm.           

UPDATE: @danielbranowsky  has alerted me to this rather evocative video, illustrating my point about Hockey better than I ever could. Look at the skill and thought involved! http://bit.ly/mQ8DTf

Saturday night. We shall all be forgoing the trudge into a Wetherspoons at a tragically early hour and pounding our blood stream with alcohol, to sit on our arses and watch 22 men in Harrow try to kick a ball in a goal.

But which team should we objectively be rooting for? Of course, if you have tribalist connections to either of FC Barcelona or Manchester United, your mind is already made up. You may alternatively be a supporter of one of the teams’ rivals, and so you need no direction. But what about us neutrals? I have had different answers from various neutrals I have spoken to this week, and so I shall attempt to consider objectively, who we should cheer on.

The Case For Manchester United

Admiration for the football of Manchester United. This would be a much stronger argument if they weren’t playing the best, most philosophically pure footballing side for years. This United side have been at times seen as weak champions, but their efficiency and ruthlessness, especially in the last few months, has been genuinely impressive. From the immoveable force of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the back to the machine-like athleticism of Park Ji-Sung and Antonio Valencia and the ruthless excitement of Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney, United have rolled over team after team at Old Trafford.

You’re not allowed to dislike Barcelona or criticise them. Criticising the FCB is prohibited. If you do not swoon at your complete unworthiness and inferiority to the FCB you shall be vaporised in a big pot of logical fallacy. They are, as Barney Ronay once wrote, the iPod team, the self-righteous, intrinsically good, mes que un club, club. They are the ultimate moral absolute by which we are all measured. The Alpha and the Omega. They are Plato’s Form of the Good personified. They are, through their courageous unity with Unicef, the answer to all of the world’s problems.

Put an end to the Catalan domination. Eight of Barcelona’s starting XI in the semi-final against Real Madrid were part of the Spain World Cup winning squad, and most of them won Euro 2008 too. Can we have a change, please?

Dani Alves. He has his own name tattooed across his chest.

Barcelona are a bunch of cheaters. Apparently. They dive, they harrass the officials to influence their decisions, they roll around on the ground like a bunch of little girls. Manchester United of course never crowd the referee, or dive, do they? Barcelona on the other hand, are a disgrace to the game! A disgrace I tell you!

Barcelona tap up players and get away with it. This is the reason given by Arsenal fans that I know. Barcelona’s relentless tapping up of players such as Cesc Fabregas shows complete disregard for inter-club etiquette, and their disrespect shown towards the clubs of potential targets makes me sick. They think they are exception to the rules and it’s DISGUSTING.

UEFA are on Barcelona’s side. The non-charge of racism on Sergio Busquets towards Marcelo in the semi-final is the latest in a long line of incidents in which UEFA has managed to turn things in Barcelona’s favour. Just look at the semi-final in 2009 – all those blatant penalties for Chelsea turned down by referee Tom Ovrebo. UEFA must have been behind it. This also means that UEFA were the cause of Didier Drogba missing a series of very good chances for Chelsea over the two legs of that semi-final. That pesky organisation.

“I support English teams in Europe”. Some argue that we should all get behind a club from the same very specific geographical vacinity as us because they come under the same national bracket. How ‘English’ are Manchester United though? More English than some English clubs, but less so than others. Three Englishman will probably start the game for United (Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand), with a further two possibly on the bench (Paul Scholes…and Chris Smalling). Perhaps they have an English kitman or physio, and some English suits prancing around the boardroom collecting their paycheck. Do the passports of these people really mean we should support them?

Why should I want someone to do well just because they were born and they grew up vaguely near me, and they speak the same language as me?  Wayne Rooney grew up on the streets of Croxteth and recently tweeted to an idiot that  “I will put u asleep within 10 seconds”. Do I really have to be patriotic and support that?

A proponent of the ‘support English sides’ view is Daily Mail columnist Martin Samuel, who yesterday argued that ‘it would just be better for the soul of the sport if we could recapture that distant sense of unity’. Quite what Martin means by the ‘soul of the sport’ I’m not sure, but suddenly siding with United would strike me as quite hypocritical. I hated them the other week when my club played them. Am I suppose to like them now? I’m confused. Has anyone got an instruction manual for who I’m supposed to hate and love, and when?

And also, you don’t support the ‘most English’ side in Premier League matches do you? Only when a club with vague English connections come up against those pesky Jonny Foreigners do I support ‘the English’, because heaven forbid the brave, passionate English get beaten by…..by….

I’m sorry, I can’t remember the point I was making as I have been overcome with a sudden urge to stand up and sing “RULE BRITTANIA!”.

The argument for Barcelona

Martin Samuel said “there is a single  English club at Wembley, against one from Spain. Why would anyone want United to lose?”. Well, here are 11 reasons, Martin.

Barcelona are the best team in the world. It would therefore be a great shame, perhaps even an injustice, were they not to win the biggest club competition in the world™. It would be the ultimate fulfilment and gratification for the tikki-takka, for Xavi and Iniesta, for Messi, and for Pep Guardiola, the child of Cruyff.

Wayne Rooney. A money-grabbing, brutish, mindless thug. To some people. (To other people, a dreamy hero).

Javier Hernandez. The way he does his kneeling-down, hey-everybody-look-at-me-I’m-so-spiritual prayer to God at the start of every game on the pitch. Why can’t he do it in the dressing room? And Javier, would it be fair of God to favour you in a particular game over everyone else? After all God loves everyone equally, apparently.

Rio Ferdinand. ‘Tweeps’. ‘Twitfam’. ‘Nuff said’. ‘End of’. ‘Fact’. ‘Stay on your feet’.

Sir Alex Ferguson. Best British manager of last blah blah blah – hypocritical and a bully. Ferguson commented ‘Typical Germans’ after last year’s Champions League exit to Bayern Munich, aimed at Frenchman Frank Ribery and Croatian Ivica Olic who pressured the referee to show United defender Rafael a second yellow card. While the comment was in truth comedy glold, it was said in all seriousness. I can’t be bothered to document all SAF’s good points and bad points – suffice to say, there is reasonable evidence to dislike him.

“We’re Man United, we’ll do what we want”. Ok, well, you won’t. The British judicial system doesn’t favour fans of any particular sports team, club or organization.

I support Spanish sides in Europe. If you try to use the argument that ‘we should support English sides in Europe’, why not turn it round and argue for supporting Spanish sides in Europe? They generally have better technical ability and are more enjoyable to watch. Spain is a glorious country of sangria, sunshine, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, Picasso and Goya. Catalonia itself is home to Dali, and, er, Tommy Robredo. You won’t get approached by a pissed-up, middle class, flannel t-shirt-wearing, foul-mouthed Wetherspoonian in a Spanish plaza at 1a.m., looking for a fight. There is no ‘Only Way is Zaragoza’ or ‘Murcia Shore’ TV show.

Marca and the Madrid press would be right royally pissed off. Next.

Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets. Some people don’t like diving. I think it’s really useful, clever, and funny, when used correctly. These players are two of the great Krasicologists who make the tumble an art form. I admire them greatly.

That semi-final. Barcelona played their part in one of the most hilarious, wonderful European semi-finals in history at the Bernabeu in April. The wonderful imaginary card-waving and finger-pointing, the glorious diving, better than we’ve ever seen, and the exquisite rolling around on the floor, all became part of something truly special – an intriguing to and fro of ‘Who would win first, and what even is winning?, finally settled by Dani Alves getting Pepe a red card. Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy that game. Football as comedy – glorious, glorious comedy.

A United win would fuel the idiocy of the media. Just imagine the headlines – “Premier League proven to be the best as Barcelona fall scared of the brave English lions” and “The compelling evidence that being English is scientifically better than being anything else”.

Conclusion

You’ll all have (arrogantly) made your own minds up, depending on how much weight you give to each category. Giving the aforementioned arguments, I recommend supporting Barcelona. Of course, it doesn’t really matter who wins this year. There will always be a next year.

On Luka Modric

Tom Goulding feels the need to say something. Yet again.

The opinion that Luka Modric is Spurs’ best player, their player of the season, perhaps even the Premier League player of the season, is quickly becoming less and less fashionable. Its fashionability peaked when Gareth Bale won PFA Player of the Year and people repeatedly pointed to the fact that Gareth Bale wasn’t even the best performer for his own side over this past season.

Previously, men in pubs could cling on to their insight that Bale was the reason why Spurs were so good, pointing to footage of him beating a foreign full-back repeatedly and saying ‘Look, there’s my evidence, I am right!’. Meanwhile, hacks at the Guardian and those types who have ZonalMarking.net at the top of their bookmarks would snigger and tweet cynically how the qualities of Luka Modric are in truth the real the reason why Spurs can compete so well.

And so here I am, many weeks later, writing about Luka Modric at a time when we are well past the sell-by date of an article which tries to be insightful and revelatory. I still feel however, there are a few things which can be said about Luka.

When we watch football, we are constantly hoping that the player who has the ball performs a particular task. With our superior view of the pitch, we can generally see the space and the options which face a player in his decision-making better than he can. “Run with the ball!” we think. “Turn – you’ve got space!”. “Switch it!”. We are always in a state of hoping that the player realises what we, as viewers, know, and and that he picks the right choice appropriate to the situation – whether that be to pass, to run, or to shoot.

Luka Modric is an exception to this. Having watched over 40 games this season featuring Luka, whenever he has the ball, I am relaxed. I simply trust that whatever he is going to do is the right choice. I have become so accustomed to him playing the right ball, weaving his way out of dead-ends, and bringing the calm composure to the frenzied and entropic midfield battles that occur in English games that I don’t worry what he decides. I am simply pleased and excited that he has the ball, for I know that something good will probably happen.

Of course this isn’t to say that he doesn’t make mistakes or doesn’t have faults. In his 119 games for Spurs, Modric has scored just 12 goals for the club – he is in fact one of the worst players at the club at shooting. But he has moved into that bracket of footballers who’s decision-making and subsequent execution is so refined, they are a joy to watch. Barcelona’s Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas are three others who provoke a similar confidence in me as a viewer that they will choose correctly; reluctantly, so is Jack Wilshere at times.

There is nothing more frustrating than a player lashing the ball over the bar when a teammate is free 10 yards to the left, and thus superior decision-making is one of the main reasons Luka is so enjoyable to watch. Another reason is his ability to control the ball – not just through his first touch, but also his control of where the ball is moving, in relation to him and in relation to his opponent. One of the hardest things to do when playing the game yourself competitively is to make a ball which is bouncing around or moving fast to stop and to put it in exactly the right position relative to you and those around you. Some of us can pass well, some of us can finish brilliantly, and some of us can sprint fast; but if you can’t control a moving ball and put it in exactly the right place for yourself, you will so often be frustrated.

Luka uses this ability to control the ball to always exploit space, whether himself or through a teammate. Unexploited space is exasperating for the viewer, and so the way that Luka will sprint forward if the space is there, or invite a teammate in space to sprint forward by passing it to him is deeply satisfying.

Modric has now played three full seasons for Spurs, with 44, then 32, then 43 appearances in each season respectively (a broken leg in August 2009 restricting his gametime in his second season). His first season at Spurs was spent playing in the first ‘1’ in a 4-4-1-1 formation, mainly behind Darren Bent, due to Spurs’ deficiency in strikers. He moved back into the second line of midfield in 2009 with the arrival of Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and later on, Peter Crouch.

The conventional wisdom was that he couldn’t play as a 2 in the centre of midfield – he was too slight. But a man-of-the-match display in the centre of midfield at home to Stoke in January 2009 (admittedly up against Glenn Whelan and Amdy Faye) was the first sign that his natural position is indeed central. After months of cutting in from wide, manager Harry Redknapp then played Luka as a central, deep lying playmaker, in four decisive games at the end of the season in April and May 2010, against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Bolton. Spurs won all four games, qualified for the Champions League for the first time, and it was clear where Modric’s natural position would be.

Since then Modric has run games at the whim of his boots throughout this past season, leading LMA Manager of the Year Sir Alex Ferguson to say that Modric was his player of the year. Of course, this has led to much speculation that Modric would move to a club like Manchester United or FC Barcelona, and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy wrote to fans last week, saying that “I can assure you that we have no reason to sell, and every intention of retaining, our key players. We shall simply not entertain any approaches for these players.” How true this statement will remain over the course of the summer is yet to be seen, but if Spurs want to keep within touching distance of the top clubs, keeping Luka Modric is absolutely vital.

You can follow Tom on Twitter here

Jamie Cutteridge is young (sort of). He is also a sports writer (sort of). 

Upon reaching a certain stage of life, one is able to look back and laugh at the mistakes that one has made, reflecting on the innocence and naivety of youth. Some of us warm to the task more than others, but ultimately, just as the entirety of the universe evolves over time, humans, with age, develop wiser heads built on years of mistakes. Similarly, amongst football fans it is at the end of the season where a similar process emerges and we are able to reflect on, pour scorn upon, contextualise and propagate the myths and narratives that have perpetuated throughout, been highlighted during, and been ultimately falsified by the end of another football season.

So when we look back upon 2010/2011 we are bombarded by myths and legends that will remain left in this season, those fleeting moments where heroes are made and then forgotten, and all acceptable in a world where context only extends to next Saturday.

Perhaps the most interesting example of a perpetuated narrative being miles off target this season was the sudden love-in that appeared around Bolton somewhere in the middle of the season. A few good results and the odd pass along the floor resulted in the ruling idea of the winter epoch being one that Bolton had metamorphosed into the North-West Barcelona. They finished 14th and as a recent piece by Zonal Marking showed , their football didn’t add up to the plaudits it was getting, either.

In January Villa were in crisis and Darren Bent was a panic signing. He then scored 9 in 16, outshining two other strikers (Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres) whose vastly higher fees raised less eyebrows (except perhaps one of Ancelotti’s) as Villa finished 9th. Gareth Bale was touted as the greatest player in the history of mankind (hyperbole worthy of Gareth Bale himself) before becoming an injury prone flash in the pan who had been found out. Ah, the fickle hand of media-induced narrative. Jack Wilshere stepped up to the plate to become both the future of English football as well as its latest thug whilst Stoke were simultaneously the best and worst side on the face of planet Earth.

Just a few examples of the ridiculous notions that have been touted in various media outlets, twitter feeds and forums, and all wholeheartedly believed by those pedalling them. We go along with them initially, thinking ourselves cool, bohemian and ahead of the trend before the general, Match of the Day-watching public catch up. We feel the need to go full circle by saying exactly the same things but this time drenching them in the irony that we are unaware we are drowning in.

We scoff at Shearer saying what we said 10 days ago and feel smug on our high horses, making only veiled nods to them for the rest of the season in the knowledge that we will look like the kind of football observer (not fan) that everyone should want to be, mocking the journalists who get paid to be behind the twitterati on matters of such importance as the virtues of Scott Parker. We think ourselves better than the conventional media and only read the two columnists on the Guardian that we deem acceptable as well as Run of Play, Twisted Blood and Equaliser Blog as they don’t fall into the same traps as everyone else. Because all the stuff that is wrong with football, that’s the media’s fault.

But you know what? It isn’t. IT’S YOUR FAULT YOU DELINQUENT DICK. YOU’RE READING THIS INSTEAD OF PROUST. YOU SPEND YOUR DAY TALKING ABOUT RYAN GIGGS’ PENIS ON TWITTER INSTEAD OF ENGAGING WITH THE POLITICAL NUANCES OF THE CONFLICTS IN AFRICA. YOU POST ON MESSAGE BOARDS BUT HAVEN’T HAND WRITTEN A LETTER IN 5 YEARS. YOU READ EVERY PATHETIC ARTICLE ABOUT YOUR CLUB ON NEWSNOW, BUT HAVE NEVER READ SHAKESPEARE. YOU QUOTE NIETZSCHE BUT ONLY BECAUSE HE ONCE APPEARED IN A GOOGLE SEARCH. YOUR ONLY CONTACT WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD WAS TALKING TO THE POSTMAN BECAUSE THE BLIZZARD WOULDN’T FIT THROUGH YOUR APPROPRIATELY SMALL LETTERBOX YOU SMALL-MINDED, MEDIA-PERPETUATING, SELF-IMPORTANT, NO SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE PENIS.

Do you get it? No-one is impressed at your apparently ironic knowledge of every Premier League season. Your hilarious pictures of Ryan Giggs (whom you only refer to as ‘unnamed Premiership footballer’) are only laughed at by idiots who deem that humour funny. And what is worse is that you have the indignity and the callousness to blame the media for all that you deem wrong with the game. Firstly, you assume the moral authority to call anything right and wrong within a game that you are a mere observer of. Secondly, you are ignorant of the fact that it’s your fault. And by you, I mean me, I mean all of us.

We let all the all-encompassing monolith of football take an important place in our lives and then wonder why small instances become major narratives, why non-stories are on the back pages and why journalists seem to change their mind at every turn. They don’t have a choice, you may not voice it, but you demand it, perhaps unknowingly, and your appetite for the game, every link you click and every tweet you make demands it. As with anything in society, anything with power demands more power and demands stories to hang its action on.

So if Bolton changing their identity, based on a small sample size, is interesting, so be it. Ditto with Bale, Villa, Wilshere and whoever is next. The irony is that the more we moan about these narratives, the more new ones are needed to fill the void as previous ones are discarded. The more you dismiss journalists, the more ‘out there’ they need to be to earn back your affection.

And you know what, these narratives have a purpose, they have a use. They paint pictures, pictures of moments of a season, capturing the mood, the hopes, and the stories of the season. So we look back and see them as flawed, but they have still shaped the identity and flow of the season, just as those early life mistakes have brought us to the place we are at today. Whilst they may only be correct in the perfect vacuum created by context, they ultimately filter our perceptions of the season, creating wider narratives than seem plausible on a week by week basis. Sure they may be false, but this does not make them any less true.

To explain this notion let me take us to the Bible. Jesus spoke in parables, yes? (You need not be a Biblical scholar to be familiar with this idea). Christians would claim that despite these stories not actually occurring, they are still true, and they still hold value. In the same way these narratives may not be a reflection of actual events but they capture a trend, a feeling, a resonating moment, better than any preposterous hashtag ever will.

So yes, let us use these summer months to mock the media-circulated narratives accepted by idiots across the country for the entire season, but do so in the knowledge that ultimately, not only is it your sodding fault, but that they’ll say more about a season than your self-righteous blog ever will.

When reading an article and offering commentary, it’s easy to simply pick the one or two small things you disagreed with in the article and blow them up to large proportions. It’s not interesting to say ‘I agree’ or ‘Well done’ for each and every point which meets your approval; sometimes it feels better to, for example, having read a wonderfully researched series of essays on the top twenty managers to have influenced the game of football, simply comment ‘Don Revie!?’. Or you could, after reading a 900 word piece on treatment of referees, simply comment “I thought this was a poor article.”

And so we gloss over well-thought out argument and elegant prose.  I will try, then, not to belittle the redeeming features of Greg Theoharis’ (Dispatches from a Football Sofa) latest piece on Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. Greg writes a long,  simile, comparing Nick Clegg’s marriage of inconvenience to the Conservative party in coalition government to Spurs’ fans marriage of inconvenience to manager Harry Redknapp. He uses the common formula, a go-to recipe for all football bloggers, of “Here’s something in the outside world. And here is its equivalent in the footballing world”, and he does it linguistically well.

Except, I have to disagree with the jist of the piece. Greg paints Spurs’ current predicament unfavourably compared to twelve months ago when Spurs achieved Champions League qualification. We have seen the “European dream crumble to dust”, apparently.  The European adventure was in fact a dream come true for 8 months until Spurs reached the final eight, and faced highly superior opposition.  While Greg is right that Spurs had “one win in thirteen games, a goalkeeper shot of confidence, a serious injury sustained by the Player of the Season”, shall we look at the good things they have? Two of the most in demand midfielders in the world (for now) in Luka Modric and Sandro Raniere, a strong squad of international players, European football next season, and a hell of a lot of memories, unlike the vast majority of the previous decade. The background given to consider the current predicament needs to be balanced.

Greg’s main point is that Redknapp does not have the best interests of the club at heart, compared to someone like Martin Jol.

“Because in Jol, I saw a manager whom I genuinely believe had the best interests of the club at heart. Redknapp however, for all the good he has indeed done, is always quick to mock Spurs supporters with pithy asides. Can anyone genuinely, hand-on-heart believe that he would see the job through if a better offer came along?”

I’m not sure ‘pithy asides’ are enough evidence to say Redknapp doesn’t care about the club. He is justifiably annoyed at some fans’ lack of patience and sheer demand for consistent excellence. But even if Spurs don’t occupy a warm place in the depths of his heart, will this really make a difference to his performance as manager? Will the prospect of an England job in 12 months mean he won’t do as well in guiding us to three points each weekend? The clubs results reflect completely on him and so even if he cared only for number one, that would mean that making sure Spurs succeed.

Greg then points to his time at Portsmouth as more evidence for Redknapp’s egotistical recklessness.

“Spending lavishly on players that a club like Portsmouth simply could not afford, he and his acolytes vanished into the night as the south coast club fell apart at the seams. His response to the justified anger of the Pompey faithful was to shrug and suggest that they should feel lucky that he had brought them the greatest period of success in recent memory.”

The reason this point cannot simply be transferred to his situation at Spurs is because he hasn’t spent lavishly or excessively here. Yes, that may be because he hasn’t been able to. But if you leave your clubs finances in the hands of people who aren’t accountants, you pay the price. Portsmouth fans should feel lucky for the football results Redknapp brought them. And so should we to an extent. Yes, we should still question why results have not been as good as they could have been, especially recently. But holding Redknapp to account is not incompatible with grateful respect for what he has brought to the club.

Part of my reluctance to become hostile to Redknapp is the assumption that there is a more impressive alternative simply waiting in the wings. Greg’s speculation that Martin Jol ‘would have also ‘undoubtedly succeeded’ in bringing us Champions League football doesn’t seem to be based on the evidence of Jol’s three years at the club. And even if we qualified for the CL with Jol, would he really have been the man to go to the San Siro in a knockout round of the Champions League and see out a 1-0 win? Would that man of so many thrown-away leads have been able to do that? It would be pure conjecture to believe so.

“Can anyone genuinely, hand-on-heart believe that Redknapp would see the job through if a better offer came along?” Well, no. If a better job came alone, it is, by definition, more attractive and worth taking. We don’t need a messiah or a hero, who sleeps in a Tottenham duvet. We need results, and Harry’s employment in N17 is by no means our ‘marriage of inconvenience’.

Apart from that, it’s a great article.

After a disappointing World Championship, Phil Taylor is back on top of the darting world and is the firm favourite to win this year’s Premier League Darts. Taylor’s 8-2 defeat to Adrian Lewis on opening night suggested that the upheaval of the darting order that we witnessed over Christmas at the World Championships had a permanency about it. Not so. Since that point, Taylor has won his last 11 games and has a 6-point lead at the top of the table. Although he has outscored and out-finished his opponents, his greatest asset has been his merciless drive to win every game he plays 8-0. The enigmatic , erratic Lewis must scrap for his place in the last four. How times change.

Barely hanging onto Taylor’s coat-tails is Gary Anderson. The Scot has been the only person to regularly average over 100 other than Taylor, and yet hasn’t scored to his full potential. The Premier League is new for Anderson, so perhaps we can forgive him by the fact that he has by his own standards been pedestrian. If he produces his best game at the play-offs in Wembley Arena, he could overwhelm even a resurgent Taylor.

Alongside these two is Ray van Barneveld, who barring a mathematical aberration will be advancing to finals night. Barneveld has been a resurgent figure; not quite the same man who hit 21 180s in beating Phil Taylor to become world champion 4 years ago, but much closer to that high standard than he has been. For years now, Barneveld has looked obviously talented yet mentally weak and resigned to his position in the queue behind Taylor. Now there is a purpose about him, much to the delight of the ‘Barney Army’. Taylor is not the only member of the old guard to have bitten back.

Probably the most intriguing player in the league is James Wade. After a miserable start to his campaign, Wade has gone unbeaten in his past 4 games. Wade isn’t naturally brilliant, but, quick to lose his confidence also, he isn’t exceptionally gritty either. How he has won so many major tournaments in recent years is a question few people can answer. Somehow, he has worked himself into a qualifying spot but he is yet to play Taylor a second time.

Wade’s main contender for the 4th spot is the enigmatic Lewis. Despite being the champion of the world, and perhaps equally importantly, having beaten Taylor five-four in a televised semi last October, Lewis hasn’t fully dispelled the age-old suspicions that he cannot hit big doubles or finish off opponents. It could come down to his final fixture against Anderson, the man he beat to win the world title, whose fast throw might suit his game.

Contesting Wade and Lewis for the final qualifying spot are Simon Whitlock (10 points) and the avuncular Terry Jenkins (8). Jenkins has been typically plucky in winning and drawing his last two games. The bookies are wrong to right him off but it will take more than fighting spirit for him to reach the last 4 from here. And the most conclusive evidence that the darting world has regained a sense of order is Mark Webster. Last Christmas Webster decimated Taylor 5-2 in the quarter-finals at Alexandra Palace, a defeat that some saw as the beginning of the end for Taylor. He is now at the bottom of the table, having lost his last 8 games.

There are two weeks of fixtures remaining this year. The games between Anderson and Lewis and Anderson and Van Barneveld will be pulsating, high-scoring and ultimately brilliant in and of themselves, though the most exciting storyline is the mini-league between Wade, Whitlock and Lewis. Lewis has the advantage in that the other two must play Taylor. The purist, too, must be cheering Lewis’ effortless grace rather than the mechanical, uncharismatic Wade and Whitlock. Lewis and Anderson, representing the new era, and Taylor and Barneveld, representing the established elite, would make an apt line-up in the playoffs.