John Terry Causes Shit Journalism

Calum wrote a piece on SB Nation today explaining why so much of the stuff written about JT’s trial was rubbish. You can read it here. It’s good (Calum). But it doesn’t name names. So here’s a name: Natasha Henry. Her thing, in the Observer (the actual one, not just the website – though you can find it there here), was the worst. The single worst. The most shit. Piece of journalism.

Graham MacAree, on We Ain’t Got No History, explained in some detail what was wrong with it. He got called a holocaust denier for his trouble. Which is strange. To head that off: the holocaust definitely happened.

What Graham’s go leaves out, though, is comment on the sheer vacuity of the piece. What are you talking about Natasha? What? Just look at this pair of sentences (they’re also, actually, a paragraph all in their own right too; the second last paragraph – the crescendo, if you will – bear that in mind):

How do I explain to my 10-year-old cousin that racially charged language is not OK, when now perhaps it is? Of course, this is based on the fact that it wasn’t said in an insulting manner.

This is so bad. Really just unspeakably bad. The circularity is unbearable. The prose just chases itself. Round and Round. It’s inescapable. So what to do with it?

You could try and answer her question, but I think you’d have some difficulty figuring out what her question is. You could point out that racially charged language is, by definition, said in an insulting manner. That’s what ‘charged’ means. But if you did that, then you’d sort of nullify the presumably rhetorical purpose of the question. Why does she say fact? You could point out that lots of things which are not ok – farting in lifts for example – are not necessarily illegal. You could ask her what the hell she is playing at with her pronouns.

But there’s probably no point. It’s shit and sometimes you’ve got to just call shit shit and move on. It feels better.

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Robin van Persie will leave Arsenal in the Summer.

Robin van Persie, injured (image courtesy of Wonker; *attribution below)

This piece was first published in February. It is timely again today.

Last summer Fabregas left and Nasri left. Next summer, Robin van Persie will go. In truth, he probably would have been off earlier if it weren’t for those much lamented, injury-enforced sabbaticals. If last season’s high profile departures weren’t evidence enough, Wednesday night’s Arsenal performance – in which van Persie wasn’t so much head and shoulders as nipples, navel and nads above his teammates – surely was. And so in the summer, Arsenal (after almost twenty years under Tony Adams) will name their sixth captain this decade.

Partly a result of Wenger’s apparent penchant for using the captain’s armband as a ‘stay, pleeeeeze, please stay’ device, the Arsenal captaincy has served, in recent years, as a period of notice, a sort of elongated testimonial for the club’s outstanding player. (Gallas, of course, is an exception; his regime lacked even this flimsy justification).

Perhaps this has been successful and maybe Vieira, Henry, Fabregas would have departed the club earlier were it not for their latter elevations. On the other hand, the final seasons of both Henry and Fabregas were tainted by the perpetual frustration of a captain so consciously superior to his teammates (witness Thierry’s apparent bullying of Walcott, or Fabregas’s disgusted reaction to Eboue’s concession of a late penalty at home to Liverpool). Maybe the captaincy endorsed an otherwise unspoken attitude: you guys work for me. Increasingly, van Persie, flabbergasted last night by the wayward finishing of, especially Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, looks like a man labouring under the same impression.

Van Persie’s situation is different, though, because of the incredible extent to which he is superior to his teammates/subjects. In Henry’s last season, Fabregas had become established, so too Adebayor, while van Persie himself was maturing into a quality player. Even last year, the presence of Nasri and van Persie (plus the strong form of Theo Walcott and the still occasional quality of Andrey Arshavin) meant that quality was spread through the squad. This season, however, that is not the case. Van Persie scores or creates all of Arsenal’s goals. The entire team plays to that effect. Arsenal’s previously feted ‘short, quick passing game’ has been replaced by the give it to van Persie game.

He may find this gratifying. It probably rubs his ego in a way that feels good and so he might like it. But, he will know that it is not going to lead to professional success. And so he will leave.

Quite simply, if Arsenal had another three or four players at his level, they would be three or four times more likely to win the trophies that van Persie, now in his late twenties, is entitled to crave. Other clubs – Manchester City, the Milan clubs, Madrid and Barcelona – do possess the distributed quality absent at Arsenal; they have players capable of playing like van Persie so he’ll go and play for one of them.

All of which (as with Nasri’s deservedly unpopular parting comments) is to ignore the elephant in the room; the elephant, in fact, in the Emirates stadium. Money. Van Persie, when he leaves Arsenal in the summer, will probably double his wages.

This isn’t to say that he is vindicated on personal, financial grounds (the ninety-odd grand that Arsenal must pay him is more than comfortable), rather that his move exposes the duplicity of the Arsenal business model, which, as John Cross pithily summarises, requires fans to pay Harrods prices for a Primark product.

Due later this month, Arsenal will again reveal strong financial results. These will probably open with a few words about property sales (because this is a business) and end with some remarks on the club’s position in advance of Financial Fair Play (FFP) and a pledge that ‘on-field’ performance remains the board’s priority.

Arsenal have a unique understanding of FFP: desperate, like the witnesses of Jehovah, for the restorative rapture, arresting the spendthriftery of their sinful rivals. In a strange way (and there is a whiff of Jehovah about this too) Arsenal (and sections of their fans) seem to regard FFP as something at which they can beat their rivals. Whereas other clubs calculate how much they can spend and still be allowed into Europe, Arsenal’s calculation works the other way round: how little can we spend, while still qualifying for ‘European Competition’ (which means, of course, the Champions League). In practical terms, this has effectively meant the annual shedding of one world class player and that is why the club finds itself at its current critical balance: there is only one world class player left.

There is no way that van Persie (especially with his injury record and now in his late-twenties) is going to accept this situation for another season. And so he will leave.

* Image courtesy of Wonker; some rights reserved.

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Euro 2012 Semi-Finals: Are Spain boring, yes/no/NEITHER.

On-line football analysis, which has to use a technical term, ‘mushroomed’ in recent years, has reached its ‘meta’ stage.

Having graduated from Andy Townsend’s tactics truck to Opta Joe, from Charles Reep banging it into the box to Jonathan Wilson’s inversion of the pyramid, via a wealth of accessible online data (from the likes of and its privatised counterpart ProZone, football has been broken down into a huge trove of analysable numbers. Moneyball.

That quantative work having been done, the next and unavoidable stage is qualitative analysis. This is a familiar process, back in Aristotle’s day ‘ethics’ was simply a list of things that were good. Even Kant, that notorious complicater of the good things, was concerned simply to find out how we work out stuff that is good. So far so familiar, Opta Joe is like the Aristotle of football:

S/He collates facts for us, and classifies them with adjectives. Straightforward.

The next phase, philosophically speaking, is about qualification. But what, asks the meta-ethicist, think Wittgenstein, or AJ Ayer, Logical Positivism innit, does good mean? In the case of Opta Joe, and the above tweet, the question would be what does burly mean?

And this is the direction that football analysis has taken. The vanguard of this new movement has been, appropriately, the all conquering Spanish team: tiki-taki-ing progenitors of a thousand passes.

The People’s Republic of Twitter is divided on the issue: some think Spain are boring, at least as many think they’re great and the same number again think that even if they are it’s not their fault.

All of these people are wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr David Hume:

“I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence” (A Treatise of Human Nature).

This, admittedly rather wordy, formulation is sometimes called Hume’s Guillotine and fundamentally splits ‘ought’ sentences from ‘is’-es. Logically, Hume argues, there is no link between, for example, the hurt caused by murder and our obligation not to do it.

In the same way, it seems that there is no logical link between the number of passes Sergio Busquets gets through in a match (74 last time out) and the desirability of passes in general. Which means that it is not that you ‘ought’ to love Biscuits or ‘ought’ to think he’s dull. It’s up to you.

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Ireland vs. Spain: Or why Airlines shouldn’t do previews


All has been quiet, too quiet (apologies for that) on the Big Man as we have all been enjoying the football/(working and romancing and shit) too much to actually write anything about it. Fortunately, this e-mail dropped into my inbox the other day and saved me the bother.

If you’re interested in their “preview”; the link is here. Of course, given that it’s an Airline, there is a distracting amount of logistical information, but it is maybe worth watching to see if you can spot the Hansenism at the end. Lovely stuff.

If you want a preview by a football ‘expert’ then you should ask one. For what it’s worth, I think Ireland will lose 2-0. Spain are very good, you see, even without strikers.

– Some of us are off to Prague now for a reprisal of this. Should be fun. There’ll be more (as in a greater amount of, not an ongoing accumulation of) in-depth coverage of the knockout stages and England’s glorious last gasp failure/grasp at glory on here when we return.

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