Trading Places

We might as well get it out of the way early: I do love the footy. No I’m not talking stockings and high heels. This fetish deals with cleats, turf and low scoring athletic contests with no commercial breaks. Otherwise known as soccer.

You might wonder how I plan to reconcile my fandom with a blog intended to promote my preferred writing genres? The easy answer is that if you know anything about FIFA then there really is no conflict of interest. The politics of running the world’s game are rife with both science fiction and fantasy.
Moreover you write what you know and for that reason I started out writing about football. Journalism first then short story fiction.

This rant is about journalism though. The footy only comes into it in that it was the topic being covered. I’ve become very cynical towards the Fifth Estate. My feelings are largely down to the shift in priorities within the industry. Serious journalism is becoming very difficult to find as media outlets compete for viewers by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Sensationalism is the mantra of the day.

Over the weekend I had a laugh along with Louis van Gaal, the Dutch manager who took over a troubled Manchester United last year. For the uninitiated, troubled in this instance means that United fell to Earth with a distinct thud in the 2013-14 season. After a twenty-six year run which culminated in twenty-two seasons finishing third or better and winning the English Premier League thirteen times the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson retired only to watch from the stands as his hand-picked successor finish seventh and was given the sack four games before the season’s end.

Van Gaal was subsequently brought in to right the ship. With hundreds of millions of dollars resting on Champions League qualification fourth was his worst-case scenario despite being given a mandate to completely turn over the roster. The Dutchman has won everywhere he’s managed and has a reputation for thinking outside the box. He accomplished his assigned goal all the while being criticized by the British press for using his best player, Wayne Rooney, at almost every position but his traditional role as striker.

Van Gaal is also known for his quick wit and blunt approach in pressers. So after an offseason which has seen him offload two underperforming goalscorers while signing players in previously weak areas, he naturally had something to say when the media complained that he was putting too much responsibility on Rooney’s shoulders by shifting him from a now-crowded midfield back to his customary and preferred place as the club’s primary attacking threat.

“I don’t know anymore what you want,” he quipped.

A professional, he went on to explain that the club had a striker returning on loan, another young prospect who deserved a good look, and then, as an afterthought, he noted that there was still time in the transfer window for a “surprise” signing. When one listens to the interview it’s clear the manager is simply saying that the club is exploring all options and is not by any measure being coy.

Yet rather than have a laugh at the good-natured joke the press seized on that one, very SEO-friendly word.  And surprise! On Monday morning British papers and English-language footy websites were speculating on just who the club was secretly recruiting. There were articles identifying the five, seven, eight, and even ten most likely candidates, a ridiculous number to consider as qualified for one of the world’s top four clubs. Any knowledgeable fan would tell you there are three suitable players at best, and none of them are likely to come at a fair price. Regardless you can be sure that when they don’t sign anyone United will be criticized for failing to get the job done. Never mind that there probably wasn’t a job to be done in the first place. Objectivity has gone completely out the window.

This isn’t just a sporting issue, a British problem, or one limited to journalists. It’s just easier to laugh at on this level. It gets a bit more serious when the US Department of Justice, another agency charged with objectively unearthing the truth, quietly announces they’ve dropped their appeal of Barry Bond’s overturned perjury conviction for “dithering” under oath. After years of relentless pursuit from authorities, baseball’s all-time home-run king has been condemned in the court of public opinion solely on the strength of testimony from a convicted criminal. He may or may not be guilty, but any presumption of innocence was long ago trampled by the government’s ridiculously relentless, expensive, and ultimately vain pursuit, not of a vicious killer, sadistic pedophile, or brutal drug-runner, but of a hyper-competitive athlete. He’ll likely never be voted into the Hall of Fame, but more importantly to the DOJ’s agenda, he’s been out of the public eye since he retired in 2007. These days they’re getting far more mileage by indicting and extraditing corrupt soccer officials. Apparently justice is not only blind but trendy as well.

Fiction and journalism are both charged with exposing the human condition. Ironically, however, the two forms of entertainment have passed like ships in the night. Nowadays it’s fiction that feels the pressure to be accurate and realistic, while journalism has become a theatre of the absurd. Maybe journalists need to take a primer in world-building.

 

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