For a team game football inspires a lot of discussion of individuals. It is often referred to as a soap opera and, as Gavin wrote last week, has a cast of villains and heroes to match.
But who decides who’s who?
My current view of things is that Wilshere and Hernandez are great, Rooney and Joe Cole are dreadful (better off injured) and Darren Fletcher plays with identical levels of reliability week in week out. I imagine yours is similar?
Most of us watch the majority of our football in highlight form, which puts our opinions very much at the mercy of the people whose job it is to cut and paste 90-minute matches into 10-minute highlight reels.
Even when we watch whole games we’re normally subjected to commentary, cuts, camera angles and post-match interviews that combine into the latest story line. Either the latest villain is villainised further, or redeemed (see Torres yesterday). The current flavour of the month is either cast in gold, or cast down.
Right now, for example, Sky Sports are working hard to force Gareth Bale into our affections.
Here is Rafael van der Vaart (who played in this year’s world cup final, and was a Real Madrid player three months ago) being asked if he has ever played with a better player than Bale. (A lot of people would say that van der Vaart himself is better than Bale, I wish he’d been one of them).
Bale is really good, he’s fast and strong and direct. No other players do the things he does (or at least they don’t do them as well as he does). That is my objective opinion, but even my objective opinion is a product of viewings of Bale filtered through Sky or the BBC’s highly subjective ‘he’s the best player EVER’ representations of the young Welshman. Maybe, as the OPTA stat that he has zero Premier League assists this season suggests, he’s not that good. Peter Crouch has scored 5 Champions League goals this season, but no one troubles van der Vaart with questions over Crouchy’s global standing.
Maybe it’s because he’s young and good looking, or it’s because the marketing guys have identified that the British football viewer loves an exciting winger. Whatever the reason, it seems the media are pushing the ‘Bale’s great’ angle exceptionally hard right now. I certainly don’t begrudge him his success, but it raises a few questions.
The ever-dependable Darren Fletcher is an interesting one. Dependability is a difficult attribute to highlight, so often we’re just told that this is Fletcher’s great attribute and then shown a few clips of him hustling, tackling, intercepting and ‘knocking the ball off’ (a skill Alan Hansen, in particular, seems to have an incredible degree of esteem for). Fletcher, at least on the 90-minute evidence I’ve seen, is actually pretty dependable but his character has been taken to define that of anyone who plays his position, which is unglamorous and (even if it spawns a few villains) is unlikely to house a hero; as a result anyone who plays his position is a less good version of him (at least until Michael Essien gets a good run in the Chelsea team), so most of the ‘dependability’ sections of football programming are devoted to him. He plays that part in the drama.
Obviously, there are other central midfield players plying their trades in England right now, with varying degrees of dependability. This kind of gets ignored.
Denilson, for example, was absolutely awful last weekend against West Ham. His performance wasn’t just bad, he was an horrendous liability until he was mercifully withdrawn after 67 minutes.
This didn’t get highlighted, probably because it doesn’t really matter. Denilson, as a young Brazilian who plays in possibly the least exciting position on the pitch, is a character who doesn’t really matter. He is a less good Fletcher, that’s all there is to say about him; he’s neither hero nor villain, so we don’t talk about him.
Here’s my media XI, any other suggestions?
Van der Sar
A. Cole Terry King G. Neville
Bale Gerrard Fletcher Walcott