Sunday, January 20, 2008
ESPNsoccernet: January 21, 5:52 PM UK
Don't believe the hype
In today's football coverage, the name of the game is hyperbole.
Superlatives are no longer a stylistic device but most reporters' standard mode of expression. On Saturday afternoon, for instance, I was having a late lunch or early dinner in the kitchen when suddenly the whole family gave a start, including the cat. There was a hysteric voice booming out of the tv set in the living room informing us that something was 'unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable'.
Since Chelsea's game at Birmingham City was on, I rushed over, expecting at the very least that Michael Ballack had scored with a bicycle kick from 20 yards out. But it was more or less ... well, nothing. Claudio Pizarro had headed home from the edge of the six- yard box following a Juliano Belletti corner.
It turned out that this was only Pizarro's second league goal for the Blues. And the first one had come - get this! - on the first day of the season against - wait for it! - Birmingham. According to the commentator, this was unbelievable, just unbelievable.
As someone who makes his living using words carefully, such thoughtlessness always annoys me. And it annoys others as well. Some ten years ago, I did an interview with Bernd Trautmann (Bert, to English readers). He said one of the major problems in the modern game was that football people were losing all sense of perspective, and he didn't mean because of sky-rocketing wages.
Trautmann said the media had become so fond of going over the top that you'd have fantastic saves, marvellous shots and world-class moves in even the most mundane of games. Trautmann said he could understand why the media was beefing things up but that this was ultimately counter-productive. It would lead armchair fans to expect things bread-and-butter games cannot deliver and it would lead players to think of themselves as stars - when in nine out of ten cases they were only doing what a professional athlete must be expected to do.
And there's another problem with the profusion of superlatives. What do you do when something is really out of the ordinary?
To give you an example, on Friday the 11th, I was sitting at my desk in the office chatting with a fellow editor when suddenly our two computers alerted us to the fact a new message had arrived. We both checked our e-mail clients at the same time to see that the note was coming from Markus Hörwick, Bayern Munich's press officer. A few sparse lines informed us that Jürgen Klinsmann would take over from Ottmar Hitzfeld in the summer and that there would be a press conference a few hours later.
My colleague and I looked up from our screens. One of us knit his brows and said: 'What?' The other pursed his lips and said: 'Phew, that's a bit of a surprise.'
I'm sorry if these reactions come as a let down to you. I know we were supposed to jump into the air, land on our knees and yell 'Ohmahgawd, I don't believe this!' But that's my point. You have become so used to superlatives that anything less than 'unbelievably' or at the very least 'stunning' probably leaves you unimpressed.
So let me explain to you that our reactions were the rough equivalent of your average tv commentator fainting at the microphone. Yes, we are jaded, sometimes cynical veterans who aren't easily roused. And so our mild incredulity was actually quite a big thing.
See, the mind of a professional journalist works differently. As a fan, you might think: why did they choose Klinsmann and why did he choose them and what will this lead to? But for us, such considerations come later.
The first thought is: if they have a press conference, that means Klinsmann is already in town and everything is done and dusted, which in turn means they have been in talks for at least a few weeks - so why didn't we know anything about it?
The second thought is: there must be a lot of screaming at this very moment in the Munich offices of Bild (Germany's biggest tabloid) and you wouldn't want to be their guy who missed this story.
The third thought is: if Bild was left so completely in the dark, that means Franz Beckenbauer was very probably not privy to the negotiations.
And only then do you get to a normal person's considerations, meaning: a lot of people will be miffed, a lot of changes will be made ... wow, this is going to be very interesting. This is almost unbelievable!
In fact, this is so extraordinary that I have to severly disappoint you: I don't have the slightest idea what it'll all lead to. Last week, I got an e-mail from someone in China who wrote: 'I want to discuss something about Jürgen Klinsmann's future assistant. I will be very pleased if you can give me some suggestions and opinions on this topic. Who do you think will be "Bayern's Joachim Löw"?'
That was an excellent question, of course. I replied that it was very hard to answer because if Klinsmann's role with the national team was anything to go by he'd certainly need a number two man who is for all practical purposes a number one man. Meaning obvious choices like Jürgen Klopp or Ralf Rangnick would probably have to be ruled out, as they like to run the show themselves.
I was about to type that I wouldn't be surprised if Klinsmann was looking for someone from outside of Germany, given his propensity for wiping the slate clean before starting and given that Bayern were so fond of Giovanni Trapattoni but bemoaned the language problem. (Which wouldn't be a problem with Klinsmann as a foreigner's boss.) Then the colleague mentioned above told me that there was a report coming in about Osvaldo Ardiles as a potential assistant for Klinsmann. Now, this was a name that had not crossed my mind, but it immediately sounded good to my ears.
And so I guess there are interesting weeks and months ahead of us, because no matter what you think of Bayern's Klinsmann deal it will surely lead to new developments. Some of which might even be a tad unbelievable.
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