Fickleness in MDF, by Sean McAllister

Spurs flop Gareth could Bale out as Birmingham eye £3m defender”. We’ve all seen the image of the Daily Mail’s story on Twitter. Fast forward 5 years and we have: “Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo pounce in extra time to win Champions League Final”.

Same player. Same newspaper. You’d be forgiven for thinking that there are two footballers with the same name. How can somebody deemed a flop by the press go on to be the most expensive player in football history?

Perhaps, like most young promising footballers, Bale didn’t hit the ground running when Spurs signed him from Southampton. Injuries and lack of form hindered his progress. Arguably he was played out of position, too. But no matter how many genuine excuses a promising young player has for under-performing, the British press are always quick to label them as ‘flops’. Ultimately this influences fan opinion, enabling them to get on the players back.

This generation of under 30 football fans have been influenced by the media so much that most of their opinions are based on what they’ve been told to think, what the media has taught them. Who actually watched Neymar play in Brazil before he moved to Barcelona? If it wasn’t for Nike, the FIFA football game and Youtube, no one would know anything of Neymar, nor how good he is. As soon as he moved to Barcelona, he was under the spotlight.

Unfortunately, for Barcelona and Neymar, his transfer has been subject to investigation. A few abject performances and niggling injuries have allowed people to question whether he fits into Barcelona or not, and does his presence in the team negatively affect Messi’s game? Now that they can see Neymar play week in week out on Sky Sports, people’s opinions have swung once more. Most of the World still considers Wayne Rooney to be a top class performer and this is mostly down to Nike. Pele was recently quoted as saying “I’d have Wayne Rooney is my team”. If that team was players endorsed by Nike, then maybe. The locals in Brazil must see all the posters with Rooney’s face, and still think he’s the dogs bollocks. However, former team mate Paul Scholes has scrutinized Wayne’s domestic form and tends to think otherwise (perhaps his 300k per week contract is rewarding more than his football talent).

The discussed theme works in another sense; whilst we are molded into thinking that a certain player is good, we are also quick to put another player down. When Joe Allen signed for Liverpool, or Jordan Henderson, or Lucas, a lot of the country lamented the performances of these young and budding players – without showing an appreciation for their development – allowing for their shit to stick. It made the task of these three players a hell of a lot harder as their every kick of the ball was scrutinized and compared to that of rival players, at rival clubs, available for other fees: ‘We could have gotten him instead for £7m!’ This is a direct example of the backside of globalization. Whereas in previous years the goings on outside your stadium in other grounds up and down the country mattered little to you. We have became Premier League fans as well as, say, Arsenal fans. We identify our standing in comparison to those teams around us. When in the 1970′s or 80′s Ipswich came to town, we knew less of their team or form. Nowadays however, every single kick of the ball for every aspiring player is laid out for the World to see, scrutinize, demonize and derail. It wouldn’t shock the reader to think that Rooney, Messi and their lack of form this season is a result of an already long career of microscopic global inspection since the age of 17. Maybe they’re just suffering burn out from the scolding lights of showbiz.

It also amuses me how many football fans will assume that the media and gambling industry are a reliable source for accurate information. Uruguay, for example, recently beat by Costa Rica, were deemed as “dark horses” to win the World Cup. In reality, they only just qualified for the tournament via a play off match against Jordan. Yes, they have a few top class players. So do most of the other ‘lesser’ teams there. The media hype around Luis Suarez, and how England must be fearful of the free-flowing attacking football the Uruguayans play had everyone convinced that surely they would trounce Costa Rica.

Alas, young footballers need to have extremely thick skin to succeed in modern football. There will be a few more Jordan Henderson’s and less David Bentley’s that way. Or perhaps we can just be less judgmental and more patient? Either way, the modern game is just too fickle.