How to be a Football Journalist

Or, the Art and Science of Lying for a Living

Transfer speculation is fun. It’s something to think about when there’s no meaningful football to enjoy. Recently, the Arseblogger tweeted that some people seem to enjoy transfer stories more than football itself. I agree, and it’s something of a problem for those of us hungry for actual reporting. But when it comes to reporting on the transfer market, the rules of journalism do not apply.
Here’s how to properly write a story about a potential transfer target:
  1. Pick a player
  2. Pick a team
  3. Suggest that the player you’ve identified is going to the team you’ve selected.
  4. Provide no quotes and no sources to support your speculation
  5. End the story by noting that the transfer might not happen for a variety of reasons.

That’s it. You’re now ready and prepared to be a professional journalist.

All kidding aside, it really is astounding how little actual reporting is done during this time of year. And while there’s sometimes fire accompanying a cloud of smoke, often it’s just a cloud of natural gas. The worst part about every specious link that’s made between us and some random player, is that I seem to find myself hoping for the rumors to be true even when logic suggests that it’s pure fiction.

The latest rumor you’ll find sweeping the journalistic landscape is that Arsenal will make an attempt to acquire Daniele Di Rossi. First reaction? “Wow, Di Rossi would be great for us. Just what we need! I can’t wait.” Second reaction? “Wow, this story sites no sources, and provides no quotes to support its thesis. And then it tells me all the reasons why it probably won’t happen. I guess we’re not getting Di Rossi.”

What’s funniest about the Di Rossi rumor is that it seemed to start with an internet error that listed Di Rossi as an Arsenal player. It’s unclear whether this error occurred on Arsenal’s official site, or on Wikipedia. Regardless, it just goes to show you that when a reporter is on a deadline for a transfer story, any wacky internet conspiracy theory will do. The worst part about this transfer mendacity…naturally I am hoping against hope that it somehow turns out to be true. But then again, I also believe that Nigerian prince from my email who needs my help getting his huge inheritance out of the country.

Enough of the Di Rossi story for now, but there is another, similarly outrageous transfer story percolating. Apparently Arsenal are prepared to sign Patrick Viera on a pay-for-play contract. If it weren’t for the bizarre signing of Mikael Silvestre at the end of last summer, this story would seem even more far fetched than the Di Rossi tripe. Let’s face it, Viera is a former player and Arsene has never brought back a former player. Viera is over 30 and we know Wenger’s proclivity for keeping, let alone signing, players over 30. And finally, the only basis for this story appears to be Ian Wright saying, “I’m hearing Vieira, pay-as-you-play, back at Arsenal. That’s what I’m hearing, and that’s what I’m hoping.”

Please understand that I’m not questioning Wright’s integrity. I’m also not suggesting that this signing couldn’t happen or that it doesn’t make some sense given our current crop of inexperienced, young players. But hearsay from an ex-Arsenal great does not qualify as substantiation for a news story…Unless, of course, that story is about a football transfer. In that case, it’s practically irrefutable corroboration.

Let’s face it, we’ve been through enough Obafemi Martins stories to know that not every transfer rumor pans out. (Thankfully.) And even when the rumors are true, that doesn’t mean that we’ll necessarily capture the player we’re targeting. What we know for certain, is that there’s not a top-flight team in Europe less likely to overpay for a player in the transfer market than Arsenal. And given the current state of the market, it could be a quiet summer.

Ideally I still think we need another striker and another defender. Everyone is on the midfielder bandwagon, but the fact remains that there are few top class defensive midfielders that seem to be available and given Song and Denilson’s development last season we must be careful about falling in love with a transfer target just because they’re different from what we already have. That doesn’t mean that they’ll be better.

The reason I think that we need a striker is that our current crop depends almost entirely on players that are either young, or have legitimate injury concerns. I’m not sure that Huntelaar or Chamakh are the answer, but a striker would help.

I’m more convinced that we need another defender. That need will be even greater if Eboue is sold. Say what you want about the dancing fool, but Eboue is great cover for Sagna and he’s probably the only other legitimate right back we have. At left back we have Clichy and Gibbs. (I refuse to mention Silvestre for that position. We’re trying to improve from last season, aren’t we?) But in the center of defense we’re essentially left with Gallas, Djourou and Vermaelen. That’s not exactly confidence inspiring. Gallas’ determination will need to be proved. Djourou looks like a bright talent but he’s relatively inexperienced. And Vermaelen has the steely glare of a great central defender, but this will be his first foray into the fast paced, ultra-physical world of the English Premier League. I’m just not convinced that this trio are enough to help us challenge for top honors.

The reason I’m less concerned about midfield is because everytime I think about our available midfield talent, I’m pretty impressed with what we have already. People complain that Cesc looked out of place last season because he lacked the “Flamini-type” player beside him. That might be true, but Cesc also didn’t play a lot last season, and early in the season he probably suffered from his participation in Euro 2008. Remember also that Nasri and Arshavin were new, Song and Denilson were developing and the new formation that Wenger implemented was still foreign to Cesc. All of that aside, we have real talent in the middle of the park. Not to tell you anything you don’t already know but Arshavin, Cesc, Theo, Nasri, Rosicky, Song, Denilson, Diaby, Ramsey, Wilshire and even Vela can all play in midfield. Some of that depends on our formation, but if we do play a 4-2-3-1, then a midfield of Song and Nasri behind, Arshavin, Cesc and Theo doesn’t sound half bad.

(It makes you wonder who would sit if Rosicky was ready to play. It also makes you wonder how Wenger will find time to get Bendtner and Eduardo on the pitch if RVP plays the lone striker. As I’ve said MANY times on this blog, I’m not a fan of the 4-2-3-1, but it seems like I’d better get used to it. We’ll know more after the Emirates cup this weekend.)

In his latest interview posted on the official Arsenal website, Arsene Wenger said that the side is “strong enough.” It’s a quote that’s being widely interpreted as meaning that Arsenal will not be signing any additional players this summer. But in the same interview, Wenger openly admits that the funds are there for signings and that he’s considering what the team needs. In the past, these kinds of quotes from Wenger might indeed indicate that we were done with the transfer market, but I think this summer is different. If you remember the end of last season, Wenger was openly critical of the team’s season and made it clear that the team would be strengthend. I don’t think Vermaelen is end of his transfer ambitions.

I believe instead that the “strong enough” quote was made in defense of the players he current has in the squad. Arsene has been careful to protect these players from scrutiny, going so far as to say last season that a midfield signing would “kill” players like Diaby, Song and Denilson. Yet he ultimately brought in Arshavin to play on the left side of midfield. So this statement that we’re strong enough might have been for the benefit of the players he has. Maybe he just wants them to know that they are highly regarded and that any signing should not be interpreted a criticism of their abilities. Maybe that’s a reach, but I don’t think Wenger would bother making the point that money is there to spend, only to brazenly disappoint the supporters by keeping it in the coffers. I suppose we’ll find out over the next month.

While we all prepare for the Emirates Cup, we should also get ready for two of the biggest games of our season. The Champions League “playoff” will be here soon and regardless of who we face, it’s a massive tie. Qualification for the group stage of the Champions League is a must. And this tie comes at a precarious time. Eduardo and Arshavin have games with their national teams just before the season starts. Nasri will be out injured. And any new signing we do make would probably need more time to train with the team. (Or they might even be cup tied.) I’m excited for meaningful football to return, but I would be just as happy to wait a little longer for Champions League play to resume.

So with that in mind, enjoy the return of football to the Emirates this weekend. It’ll be fun to watch, but also very telling. This will probably be our first look at some semblance of a first choice side. It will also give us a better idea of where we stand heading into the season. It may just be pre-season, but it’s starting feel more and more meaningful every day.

Enjoy your weekend.

About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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