Anatomy / Rumour

Phil Parkinson is not joining Bolton Wanderers as manager and – and I say this as a seasoned watcher of rumours – it seems that he was never joining Bolton Wanderers as manager so why was so much mental energy wasted on thinking that he would?

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes – Mark Twain

On the surface Parkinson – a man born near Bolton but long since used to moving where his career dictates – is a decent fit for the remit of bringing a once Premier League club back to its former glories. Indeed that is the job he is doing now at Bradford City where one could argue he has hit something of a ceiling having had a few years in the same division. The logic is rough but from it one can get two and another two and sum something like five.

As a rumour it does not want for credibility. It seems like something that could happen regardless of if it will happen which is why somebody made it up.

And let us make no mistake, dear reader, rumours are not spontaneous. Someone somewhere makes them up and circulates them. Every manager move, every player suggestion, every report in the local paper, every whisper on a website is made up by somebody to serve some agenda.

Let us deal with the most easy first. Some people make up rumours and put them online for kicks. I’m going to do it now: City are signing Lionel Messi. You do not believe it because it has no credibility. For obvious reasons.

Change Messi to Bastian Schweinsteiger then credibility is still stretched but with the connection that he is German and Bradford City are owned by the German pair of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp then the credibility grows. Albeit by the most tiny increments.

Change Bastian Schweinsteiger to Nick Proschwitz and without having any reason to do it we have a real enough sounding rumour. If Simon Parker is short of useful work to do (Heaven forbid) then I’m sure he can make 400 words out of “Internet theorists talking crazy talk about these Proschwitz rumour” by the Thursday copy deadline.

Creditability

Outside of mischief making the rumour in football is a useful tool in negotiations and publicity. So useful that it seems that there are swathes of the football media for whom speculation has replaced reporting or investigation as a modus operandi. Repeating rumours has become what the back pages of newspaper are for.

Take, for example, the recent coup d’état at Manchester United where the appointment of Jose Mourinho when it happened was almost ignored whereas the rumours that it would happen – which came minutes after the end of the FA Cup final – were given blanket news coverage.

Those reports were not the same inspired piece of journalistic guesswork. They were rumours seeded by someone (or perhaps someone’s agent) in what seems to be a protracted negotiation around Old Trafford.

Almost all rumours that have any creditability are the same.

Obvious

If you read that Proschwitz is likely to sign for Bradford City then someone is behind the rumour (well, I am behind that one, and you just saw me make it up above) be it Proschwitz and his representatives trying to promote his name and try get him a move to any club, or perhaps trying to get him an improved deal at his current club by making him seem wanted.

Or it is nothing to do with Proschwitz and it is someone at Bradford City (again, it is not) trying to put pressure on Jamie Proctor to sign a new contract on the understanding that if he does not then someone else is waiting in the wings to take his deal.

Or it is Bradford City showing an obvious hand to Proschwitz to say to him that he is wanted, or testing the reaction to his signing, or to indicate to anyone interested that they are in the market for a striker, or to suggest that they are in the market to appease these fans, or it is the club releasing information that has happened in a way that best serves their aims.

A rumour could be any of those things but the one thing you can be certain of is that it will not be the result of investigative journalism uncovering information and sharing it with you.

Proposition

One could trace the rumour linking Phil Parkinson to Bolton Wanderers back to source if one wanted to. My guess would be that it originated from someone near to the appointment process for the next manager at The Trotters who was looking to put pressure on the other people being interviewed but that is only speculation on my part.

It could have easily been a show from Phil Parkinson’s side to underline the support he has amongst fans who expressed horror at the prospect of his moving over the Pennines.

Without knowing who is behind the rumour – which was, let me remind you, a fiction – it is impossible to say what purpose it was created to serve.

There is a story in football about the free transfer bound senior pro listed on the off chance on March deadline day and snapped up for £250,000 “and not a penny more”. The art of negotiation is in making the other party feel that the market more favours your side. The rumour in football is another way of achieving that.

The rumour (if it works) engages the emotion of supporters and so we are being used as a bargaining point in someone else’s negotiation whether it suits our ends or does not. The football media is a willing accomplice in this but let us not kid ourselves that it is not our clicks, eyes, and interest that make that viable. We like to think that enshrined as consumers of the football industry product we are King and Queens, and are always right as is the customer’s mantra.

As football supporters we need to demand that our media (including BfB) deal more in talking about facts (and what results from those facts) and less about fanciful propositions, reacting to what has not happened and repeating what someone else said.

Until we do that we will carry on being pawns.

How far with the lesson of Germany reach?

Self flagellation has always been popular in English football and when the national side returned home from a World Cup 4-1.5ing by Germany the press and players had already begun to whip itself in a freeze of internalised loathing showing the defining characteristic of the media approach to the game: That the game is played by England and other sides are the subject of that.

So when England play well – nine out of ten in qualifying – it is because of our abilities and when we lose it is the lack of those which is the problem and credit is never extended to the opposition. Watching Germany ram four past Argentina though could cause cause for a pause. However poor one might feel England were either Argentina (and Australia) were equal to that or – perhaps – there is something worth noticing going on in Joachim Löw’s side.

There has been a consensus that the Germans – who played a central five in the midfield with an average age of just under 23 years old – have stolen a march on the World because of that youth and freshness and there is much to be said for the way that they have blooded their younger players. 25 year old Schweinsteiger is on his second World Cup. So is Wayne Rooney, scratch that idea then.

Much is also made about the formation which Fabio Capello – and Diego Maradona – employed compared to Löw’s Germans and suddenly the word “fourfourtwo” is becoming something of a negative in the English game. One can almost hear now managers up and down the country being charged with the idea that they – like Capello – lack the imagination to play a more exotic tactic and one can expect three months of randomly thrown together formations up and down football.

Freakish results will mark the start of the season as teams who deploy something more “characterful” than the 442 which has fallen from fashion. As Clough said “There is a lot of rubbish talked about tactics by people who would not know how to win a game of Dominoes.”

Not that this will effect Peter Taylor who has signed the players and settled on a 433 at Valley Parade and City can make hay as League Two players are deployed in fanciful ways to little effect. Finding a way of playing and sticking to it is perhaps the most important thing.

On the fourfourtwo one can say that while it may have faults when playing three games every four years in the World Cup in the cut and thrust of two games a week for nine months the simplicity, adaptability and ease of the approach is the reason for its enduring popularity. Week to week football requires not a surgeon’s tool but a Swiss Army Knife, which is what fourfourtwo is.

The German’s 4231 – originally a formation played in Portugal because of the freedom it gives to the kind of attacking midfielder that that nation excels in producing such as Luis Figo, Joao Pinto and his brother Sergio – is nothing especially new.

The lesson of the Germans is not in tactics but in the deployment of players within those formations. The heart of the German side is Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira who play the deep set midfielder role in a revolutionary manner. Popular conception has it that the two in a 4231 should be holding midfielders and ball winners but Löw’s pairing are more box to box players capable of tackling and getting behind the ball for sure but also able to be used as a spring board for attacking play.

For Schweinsteiger and Khedira there is no need to look for a passer after taking the ball – the pair are equipped to play in the three more forward midfielder – increasing the speed of the counter attack and its accuracy. What they loose in not having a Claude Makelele they gain in rapidity of play creating a nod to total football ideology. As Schweinsteiger plays the ball forward so Mesut Özil or Lukas Podolski or Thomas Müller can drop back and tackle.

This is a stark contrast to the approach that many – myself included – have to for example the English midfield which agonises over the choice between attacking players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and ball winners like Gareth Barry. The roles are as split as centre forward and full back but not for Löw’s Germans.

There is a plan for sure and positions – this is not total football Dutch style – but the less rigid assignment of player roles gives a fluidity which England, Australia and Argentina have been incapable of living with. The jobs are done in that German engine room but – crucially – the players who do them have the ability and remit to do each other’s tasks.

Even Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano – as fine a pair of specialised players as one could see – looked old fashioned and stolid in comparison and as Schweinsteiger surged to the left touchline and set up a second goal it seemed obviously that if Germany could prevent Messi emulating that then Mascherano simply would not attempt it.

The granularity of positions – especially in the midfield – has become something of a mantra for modern football and one recalls Lee Crooks and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson but struggles to think of them both as “midfielders” rather one as a holder, the other as an attacker. The same could be said about Dean Furman and Nicky Law although perhaps not about Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock.

Indeed whatever lessons are emanating from the German side at the moment Peter Taylor seems to have adopted. His midfield trio next season are Flynn, Bullock and Tommy Doherty and none of them fit easily into the idea of being players only able to – or only ready to – performing a single role.

It remains to be seen what lessons the game as a whole take from World Cup 2010 and if those lessons create a path to success but City seem to be ahead of a curve that is coming and should that bring the same rewards for the Bantams as it has for the previously unfavoured Germans then next season could be a good year indeed.

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