Every Monday morning, I read the Times. Partly for Bill Edgar’s statistical take on the weekend’s football, but more for the more in-depth world football analysis provided by Gabriel Marcotti. I’m sure you know of him – he’s been writing continually excellently for many years, about subjects I find relevant to my football-watching more often than not. I find I agree with what he says more often than not, too, which is why I wanted to write this piece.
I’ve recently been reading Simon Barnes’ the Meaning of Sport, and he makes a lot of very accurate points about writing about sport – the fleeting nature of the subject matter renders the contemporaneous reporting to be almost gossamer. Thus, I don’t expect this writing to echo through the ages, its just me raising my head above the waterline and saying ‘I disagree, and this is why’, before the tide washes everything away to show a fresh beach tomorrow morning.
Today’s piece by Mr. Marcotti, then, was about Jose Mourinho and how support of the Portuguese transcends club loyalty. He elaborates on the uniqueness of that phenomena (though I suspect he deliberately neglected to mention Zeman and Bielsa in that, perhaps even Pep Guardiola – we will see in time) for managers, but how it has bled in from players; Cristiano Ronaldo the example he gives.
So far, so uncontroversial.
Where we differ is in the soap opera aspect of following these personalities. It is not a great stretch to say Mourinho will take apologists and supporters with him wherever he winds up after Madrid, and that in some ways the manager is ‘bigger’ than the club in that case. Certainly, any news of Real Madrid recently is filtered through a Mourinho shaped glass to see what it really means. The soap opera rumbles on with the characters getting into more and more ludicrous scrapes, all being reported by the media who lap up any and all of these things, safe in the knowledge that people either want to read about these things (because they support Real Madrid, or they like Mourinho) or actively don’t want to read about these things (because they don’t support Madrid, or don’t like Mourinho) but feel they have to know how it will affect their team, even if only reflectively.
In some ways, this is where the media set the agenda. I won’t rail about that here – suffice to say it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, people read about Juventus, thus people want to read more about Juventus – the Bianconeri get the stage lights shone bright upon them, while we need to provide our own torch for Torino, as they only hove into view when their path crosses beams that already exist. That’s why I tend not to write about the ‘big’ teams – they get enough publicity.
We then move onto the point that people who do not support the teams where these people are are still interested in the goings-on of the big names – the point I want to disagree with “you can justify it by saying they might one day sign for your club”. I’m not buying it.
I’ll take it logically. If we’re thinking of people who ‘transcend’ their club, it stands to reason they’ve represented more than one club in their time. It also stands to reason they’ve got personality outside of their day job (be it player or manager) and the first two names that spring to mind are, as Marcotti rightly points out, Mourinho and, as he doesn’t, Mario Balotelli.
Are Rochdale fans who enjoy the antics of Balotelli thinking, even for a second ‘Oh, he might sign for us one day?’ I’m going to guess not – the situation is far more that of an actual soap opera; because of the detachment from Rochdale to Milan, they can watch Balotelli do exciting things, stupid things, wonderful things, and enjoy them all, safe in the knowledge he will never come into their club and cause the undoubted headaches that go with it their own.
Taking the controversial characters out of it, I can most definitely watch Bayern v. Barcelona, even enjoy David Villa (as I do – always have) playing in that game, without ever thinking ‘I wish he’d sign for Huddersfield’, safe in the knowledge that for him to reach that level either Huddersfield would have to become something I wouldn’t want, or David Villa would. I don’t see it as a betrayal to enjoy another team, or another team’s player.
We do not dream of being Barcelona, or Borussia Dortmund. Some of us dream of ‘doing a Swansea’, some of ‘doing a Stoke’; as you go further down the tables, and people want to ‘do a Stevenage’ or perhaps, as of today, ‘do a Yeovil’. All pipe dreams, all adjusted for scale according to club.
Yes, I’m sure there’s Liverpool fans who watch Barcelona wondering how well Xavi would slot into their midfield, but Liverpool aren’t a lifetime away from competing at the same level, even if they’re at something of a low ebb of late.
I think Marcotti is perhaps ignoring, perhaps ignorant, of the fact that a lot of football fans see the big clubs and big ‘players’ to be something of a comedic sideshow; people who laugh at fans who cry because they miss out on the Champions League places. The distance between them and the teams they watch is so great that its almost as if you’re watching a different sport, so it can’t be seen as any kind of betrayal to do it; its no different to watching Yorkshire at Headingley one day and watching the Leeds Rhinos round the back of the cricket ground the next.
Maybe we have reached the point that lower league fans don’t even count any more – that only those teams who want to be in the Champions League, rather than just survive, are worth our consideration. That said, I find it strange that Marcotti’s article was printed directly only a few pages after another, by Football Editor Tony Evans saying that grass roots fans have to try to take the game back from the Premier League. If the only way they can do that is by dreaming of having Mourinho as their manager at Broadhall Way or Balotelli up front for Plymouth, then the Times has got its wires crossed very badly indeed.