Why Journalists Should Never Attempt To Play Football Managers

by Kevin Singarayar on August 2, 2008

in Rants and Quibbles

Warn­ing: Per­sonal Rant Ahead

I don’t usu­ally do this.  Com­ment on arti­cles penned by sports jour­nal­ists.  Maybe, it’s because I under­stand where they’re com­ing from.  They often need to be awfully skewed in their assess­ments (I’m gen­er­al­iz­ing of course) to sell their papers.  Rile up emo­tions amongst sports fans and wham! — they’ve swirled a whirlpool of con­tro­ver­sies to start tongues wagging.

How­ever, when a foot­ball jour­nal­ist gets it so wrong about a club (Liv­er­pool) I’ve sup­ported as a kid, I feel obliged to respond.  The jour­nal­ist in ques­tion is Ken­neth Goh, a foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent whose col­umn appears in a local news­pa­per aptly called — Today.

The title of his piece — Rob­bie Keane’s No Tor­res.  Bril­liant.  At this point, he needn’t have con­tin­ued, because every Liv­er­pool fan knows that.

Fer­nando Tor­res is cur­rently the most fear­some striker in the game.  His goal, which won Spain the Euro 2008 con­firmed that.  So, why did Ken­neth even attempt to jux­ta­pose Keane’s cal­i­bre against Tor­res’?  To dis­credit him­self as a gen­uine foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent?  At least that was the impres­sion I got from the headline.

No mat­ter, I fig­ured the head­line was prob­a­bly a tongue-in-cheek attention-grabber for what would actu­ally be a mag­nan­i­mous eval­u­a­tion of Liverpool’s acqui­si­tion of Keane.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Kenneth’s maun­der about Liverpool’s momen­tous deci­sion to sign Keane was macabre to say the least:

…in Keane’s case, Ben­itez and Liv­er­pool may have erred by pay­ing too much…At the moment, he is just a flash Char­lie, and when the Reds open their cam­paign on Aug 16 at Sun­der­land, Keane will then know what real pres­sure is.”

- Ken­neth Goh

Picked your jaw off the floor yet?  3 points you might have noted from Kenneth’s parochially-glazed lenses:

  • Liv­er­pool paid too much
  • Keane is a flash Char­lie and
  • Keane doesn’t know what real pres­sure is

Imag­ine that, Keane being the cap­tain of Ire­land and all, and not know­ing what real pres­sure is.

Mind-blowing.

Ken­neth, are we talk­ing about the same Keane who is Ireland’s record goal-scorer, the same Keane who has played in the World Youth Cup, 2 World Cups, one of which was in 2002, where he was the only player to score against Ger­many until the final, and the same Keane that scored a last-minute equal­izer against Spain, and that too from a pressure-capped penalty?

Any foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent, I assume, should know bet­ter.  In many of your inter­views, you would have col­lated enough data to arrive at the con­clu­sion that any player who takes a penalty is faced with a mirage of unsur­mount­able pres­sure.  The weight of expec­ta­tions piled upon this player by fans are plain for all to see.

But, it’s the player who steps up to the plate and scores, who man­i­fests the qual­i­ties of a some­one who can man­age the pres­sure.  This is a player who pos­sesses the men­tal strength and char­ac­ter­is­tics of a war­rior going into bat­tle, know­ing that miss­ing a spot kick, is the equiv­a­lent of los­ing the battle.

Yet, he’s will­ing to risk fame and pop­u­lar­ity and face these con­se­quences.  Scor­ing from a penalty kick once, could be dis­missed as pure luck.  But to do it repet­i­tively, that’s down to the tech­ni­cal and men­tal strength of a player.

Rob­bie Keane has done it numer­ous times, both for club and coun­try, and to do it in the last minute of a game where miss­ing the penalty would have meant being elim­i­nated from a com­pe­ti­tion where mil­lions of view­ers are judg­ing your every move, is quite spectacular.

This is not evi­dence of a man who doesn’t know what real pres­sure is, Ken­neth.  Quite the oppo­site, actu­ally.  It’s evi­dence of a man who has the cojones to say, “Pres­sure? Bring it on!”  No doubt, Anfield is a caul­dron, but it’s a caul­dron that Keane is well famil­iar with.  He is a die-hard Liv­er­pool fan afterall.

And So What If Liv­er­pool Did Pay Too Much?

Has there already been reper­cus­sions to hav­ing pur­chased Keane apart from a thinner-looking cheque book?  The sea­son has yet to begin, and  already the fangs are out.  Unbe­liev­able.  I’m not sure what ora­cle has kid­napped your heart Ken­neth, but I sug­gest you ditch that for com­mon sense instead.

You’ve acknowl­edged Keane to be “just a flash Char­lie” when Niall Quinn describes Keane as the best striker he has ever played with.  That should say some­thing about Keane, con­sid­er­ing John Aldridge was one of Quinn’s for­mer teammates.

Quinn says about Keane:

Because he has so much trick­ery, Rob­bie can hurt defences from every­where.  He gets in behind, runs at defend­ers, or takes the ball with his back to goal.  He’s got so much abil­ity, it’s frightening.”

- Niall Quinn

I’m not quite sure about that Quinn, Ken­neth Goh said Keane’s “just a flash Char­lie.”  Oh, hang on Quinn, Ken­neth isn’t done yet.  He also said,

Keane isn’t crafty enough to pick out Tor­res with a sub­lime slide-rule pass or a per­fect cross from the wings…Liverpool’s chal­lenge is not for a 28-year-old nomad with a che­quered his­tory who only found his feet at White Hart Lane…The pres­sure will be great on Keane.   I doubt he will deliver.”

- Ken­neth Goh

Again, that just reeks of tales from a foot­ball neo­phyte.  The dev­as­tat­ing combo of Berbe­tov and Keane has obvi­ously evaded him.  Although, acknowl­edg­ing that Keane has “only found his feet at” Spurs, in the very same breath he pro­claims that Keane won’t deliver for Liverpool.

Frankly, I’d rather have a player at Liv­er­pool who has already found his feet, then some­one who’s still find­ing it, if you know what I mean, and by that very token, a player who has found his feet should by default, be able to deliver.

Whether it be in the form of goals, assists, passes, tack­ling, defend­ing, track­ing back, cross­ing, or balls-to-the-wall type of com­mit­ment to the game (ala Kuyt) — all of which Keane exe­cutes with aplomb (just ask the Spurs fans for con­fir­ma­tion) — it still means, deliv­er­ing the goods.

I’m going to quote a Wikipedia arti­cle to shed more light on Kenneth’s strange and neb­u­lous assess­ment of Keane:

Gio­vanni Tra­p­at­toni, who took over from Staunton, con­firmed his con­fi­dence in Keane’s lead­er­ship by hand­ing him the captain’s arm­band ahead of the Repub­lic of Ireland’s match against Ser­bia on 24 May 2008 which ended in a 1–1 draw.

Under the new man­age­ment of Tra­p­at­toni, Rob­bie Keane has been iden­ti­fied as the spear­head of the Repub­lic of Ire­land attack and Tra­p­at­toni com­pared Rob­bie Keane to Ital­ian goalscor­ing play­maker Francesco Totti due to his posi­tion behind the striker and his intel­li­gent link up play.  Keane is the Republic’s top goalscorer at inter­na­tional level; his 33 goals in 81 games sur­passes Niall Quinn’s record of 21.”1

Are we get­ting the sense that Ken­neth Goh is alone in his assess­ment?  I think so.  When Mar­tin Jol was asked about Keane’s trans­fer to Liv­er­pool, this is what he said:

I was very surprised…He was every­thing.  He sym­bol­ised Spurs.”

He was the most influ­en­tial player in the dress­ing room.  He was prob­a­bly the most con­sis­tent player with Led­ley King, before he got injured.”

- Mar­tin Jol

He was every­thing, sym­bol­ised Spurs, the most influ­en­tial player in the dress­ing room and prob­a­bly the most con­sis­tent player.  All that from the mouth of the ex–Tot­ten­ham man­ager.  But, Ken­neth Goh’s ora­cle says data doesn’t count for any­thing.  Myopic opin­ions do.

It’s Noth­ing Personal

Ken­neth, seri­ously man, I don’t have any­thing per­sonal against you.  You could be one hel­luva of a nice guy, and I like nice guys.  So my issue isn’t with you, but your piece on Keane and Liverpool.

Out of your 1000 words or more, all I could seri­ously agree with was your head­line -Rob­bie Keane’s No Tor­res and quite obvi­ously, he shouldn’t be.  Ben­itez wouldn’t have bought him if he was.

Rob­bie Keane is a player with his own strengths, qual­i­ties which will offer some­thing dif­fer­ent to Liverpool’s cur­rent setup.  Ben­itez knows this and that’s why he paid the money he paid for, for a 28-year old striker.

Robbie’s pas­sion for the game is his holy sacra­ment.  Give the lad a ball and you can be sure he won’t give it back until the final whis­tle goes.  Liv­er­pool fans know this.  And that’s why Keane, along with his team­mates, will deliver us our 19th Pre­mier­ship title come hell or high water.

Now, don’t doubt that.

Footnotes:
  1. Wikipedia on Rob­bie Keane []

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