Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A great personality

Like any confident, red blooded, virile 21st century guy (read: sad, lonely and desperate), I have dabbled in online dating. It's a strange world where to avoid disaster you need to quickly learn how to translate certain words and phrases that appear on girls' profiles. For example, if they describe themselves as “bubbly”, instead read “fat”. No photos that show anything below the shoulders? Also fat. Photos with no date stamp on them? Ten years older than they claim (and also probably ten pounds heavier). No photos at all? Male.

Still would, though

The brightest, reddest warning light by far, however, is when someone is described as having “a great personality”.  What exactly does that mean (apart from that it's more than likely they've been smacked around a bit with the ugly stick)?  And why do we give awards to sportsmen based on their personality?  Since 1991 only three footballers have won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, for such achievements as scoring a goal against Argentina (Michael Owen, 1998), scoring a goal against Greece (David Beckham, 2001) and being a bit old (Ryan Giggs, 2009).  Three winners out of the last twenty two – for the nation's biggest sport that's pretty poor.

So is it the case that footballers as a whole don't have “a great personality”?  I think it's more likely that, given the role of the media in football, players are coached out of saying anything particularly controversial in interviews from an early age.  Whether this extends into their private life is an interesting question though - would you have a good evening sharing a Nando's with Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka and James Milner?

Of course not - Milner is more of a Wagamama man

If footballers want to express themselves more freely, they have to be careful.  The media love to jump on anyone acting a little bit differently from the herd – look at the attitudes towards Mario Balotelli and Joey Barton.  If they hang around with their other rich footballer friends they're aloof and not in touch with the common fan.  If they prefer not to be ostentatious then they're labelled as “boring”.  Footballers also use Twitter, though I think we all know what happens there time and time and time again.

It seems like a bit of a no-win situation, which is maybe why the majority of footballers don't seem that bothered about their public perception and so don't feel a need to be more “interesting”.  Those that do need a very thick skin and the ability to not take themselves too seriously.  As Joey Barton may say, “I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure.  I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle.  But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best”.  Just don't put it in a dating profile Joey, it's code for “I'm a twat”.

Monday, 12 November 2012

How deep is your love (of tactics)?

Do you know your regista from your trequartista? Could you tell the difference between an enganche and a ponta da lanca without whipping out a phrasebook?  Not so long ago the only positions on the football pitch you needed to worry about were defence, midfield and attack, but now there seem to be as many varieties of midfielder as there are overpriced, milky coffee drinks at your local Starbucks.

"A tall, skinny, wet volante, please"

This new vocabulary is used pretty extensively by those who analyse tactics on a regular basis, such as Jonathan Wilson or Zonal Marking.  Detailed analysis is made easier by the availability of chalkboards and, more recently, Manchester City's Analytics data.  It's important at this point, I think, to distinguish between tactical analysis and statistical analysis (which I've written about previously).  However, with these statistical resources the tools are there for anyone to delve as deep into a side's tactical system as they dare, and there are many interesting tactical analysis blogs out there if you know where to look.

But what is the appetite for in-depth analysis?  Match Of The Day pulls in around 3 million viewers each week, but the 'analysis' performed by Shearer, Hansen and their colleagues is barely worthy of the name.  Granted there isn't a huge amount of time between the final whistle and transmission in which they can be insightful, but their approach hardly extends beyond describing exactly what the viewer can see with their own eyes.  If the most-watched weekly football show in the country doesn't think its viewers want detailed tactical analysis, is this not telling?

In the stands, discussion is rarely about the strengths and weaknesses of playing a deep-lying playmaker against a team with inverted wingers.  On a football forum I visit I have seen football analysts described as “over-analysing try hard football hipster twat bell ends”, “autistic smug pricks”, and “some nerdy obsessive losers getting hard about the tactics in obscure matches”.  Playing Sunday League each week, tactical instructions seldom go beyond “get stuck in” or “let's up it another 10%”.  When Owen Coyle was asked about a Zonal Marking analysis of his Bolton side that suggested they did not play as 'attractive' a style of football as pundits were claiming, he countered that “facts and stats will tell you anything you want but nothing can beat the naked eye in football”.

That quote again - "nothing can beat the naked eye in football"

So do the majority of football fans actually want in-depth tactical analysis in the mainstream?  Or should it remain more on the sidelines as an alternative for those who want a little more than the 'say what you see' approach that many pundits take?  Is there a middle ground, where the current pundits just need to put a little more effort and thought into their analysis, a little like Gary Neville has done?  Or even scope for a new weekly show that looks at one or two interesting tactical battles that happened during the week?  That's a lot of questions for one paragraph and it's starting to make my head hurt, but with football clubs placing ever more importance on reaching out to and engaging with their fans, perhaps this is an area where the media can follow suit.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Flippin' Marvellous

I've written previously about how certain things can make you feel old. Another example happened over the weekend, with Football Manager 2013 being released. Why should the release of a computer game (or, “silly computer game” if you're that way inclined) make me check the mirror repeatedly for grey hairs and wrinkles? Well, it made me realise that it is now 20 years since I first played an iteration of the series - Championship Manager 93.

I still wonder how he came by those webbed fingers on his left hand

Back in those days we didn't have a powerful enough computer at home to run the game (I think our home computer was still coal-fired), so I had to play at a friend's house.  I will always remember the agonies we went through in deciding whether to sign Alessandro Melli (real-life international caps: 2) for our all-conquering Sheffield Wednesday side, and how he would link up with the midfield powerhouses of Chris Bart-Williams (real-life international caps: 0) and Jamie Pollock (real-life international caps: 0).

From CM93 I progressed to CM2, and still remember during school exams spending vital “essay planning time” sketching out formations or areas of my team's squad I needed to improve.  With the addition of the new-fangled internet, time was also spent waiting for lists of recommended players to load over old 28.8k modems.  The internet / intranet also later enabled online play, resulting in an epic network game at uni on CM 2000/01 which rivalled the intensity of 4 player PES matches.  Winning Serie A with Pistoiese from under the noses of a Roma side managed by one of my mates still gets brought up in conversation even to this day.  Thank you, Hashimu Garba.

Other healthy pursuits were also followed at uni, of course

I'm pretty sure everyone who has played versions of CM or FM will have similar memories that they won't forget, so it's no real surprise that earlier this year a book was released that compiled many such stories from around the world.  Thankfully, my own personal experiences never quite progressed to donning a suit for a Cup Final, or shaking hands with a doorknob pretending it was a senior official from the FA.  But we've all conducted our own post-match interviews, right?  RIGHT?!

And so to the present.  FM 2013 has continued along the path laid down by its recent predecessors, becoming more detailed and complex than ever before (although I would question whether a game that tells you “A player with a high corner taking attribute would be a good choice to take your corners” could actually be called complex).  For example, the new game includes details of countries' income tax laws that affect players' take-home salaries.  Yeah, you read that right, tax law is now in FM.  Exciting.  This level of detail seems worlds away from the earlier games in which you could blast through a season in about a day.  Speaking of those earlier games, several (in particular CM93, CM 97/98 and CM 01/02) are available for free download if you know where to look.  But if you fancy a trip down memory lane, be warned – do not start your journey if you have any impending work, family or medical deadlines approaching.

Or if your computer can't handle the 16MB version

I shudder to think how many hours I've spent playing the CM and FM games over time, or, even worse, what I could have accomplished instead using that time.  Still, who needs to be able to speak Mandarin or paint when the good people of Sunderland have built a statue of you to commemorate your managerial achievements?