The reverence with which Arsene Wenger is treated for achievements that are now a long time ago is inappropriate in a game which lives in the now, says John Nicholson...
Those footballers who are accustomed to playing the rarefied surroundings of Arsenal and Wembley are going to have a shock at Celtic Park. This could break them...
A friend went for job interview for library work at a university. In an exhaustive process for what was a not-very-well-paid job, he had to do various psychometric tests and exercises, at the end of which a panel of managers interviewed him. "What assets can only you bring to this company?" he was asked.
My mate thought this was daft. The job could have been done by any number of people and you certainly didn't need some sort of unique aptitude. But he had to say something so he pointed to his head. "I bring what's in here and what I can do with these," he said, holding up his hands. While obviously correct, it wasn't the right answer. What was desired was some expression of vision and commitment to the library's...err...fecking databases or whatever.
Essentially he was being required to make up some ludicrously over-inflated nonsense and express it in as silly, middle-managementy way as possible in order to get a low-paid job he could clearly have done with his eyes shut and a 12-pint hangover in his synapses. He was, in effect, required to lie. But he didn't lie, so they didn't like him and he didn't get the job for which he was obviously qualified. The man who got the job was less qualified, but crucially was the sort of man who would say, "I envisage my employment here working hand in hand with my personal growth strategy and achieving a symbiosis of attainment in an upward virtuous spiral, where the interconnectivity of one benefits the other."
In other words, he was a liar.
He was telling me about this and it seems that it is just the same in football, especially with new transfers. Players are required to lie to the public as soon as they arrive at a new club. They're expected to swear allegiance, say how honoured they are, how it's always been a dream, how the fans are the greatest. This is usually called 'saying all the right things' but let's not pretend this is anything other than outright lying.
Time and again players sign contracts that 'will keep him at the club for five years' as the headlines always read, but within a year or less he's gone, leaving naked the hollow words. It is all so unnecessary. Why is honesty outlawed when it comes to football? Can't we just be treated like adults?
No we can't. And why is that? I have a feeling that the PR teams at football clubs are dictated to by the small minority of fans who have lost perspective on what it really means to play football for the club and by the local media that feeds those people.
Only the criminally stupid and the emotionally immature would take what a footballer says at his unveiling press conference - or any other time - at face value. You can see them trying to come up with the 'right' answer when asked anything, not give any hostages to fortune and reiterate what media training they've had.
But if a new arrival said, "I'll do my best while I'm here and I hope to have a good time," would that be so bad? Why is anything else even required of them? Yet time and again a new man is introduced to the press and local media and he's grilled as though he's standing for election as the town's mayor.
Some players get criticised for not living in the town, or for not knowing the history of their new employers or for having never heard of some club legend from 40 years ago. If they're perceived as lukewarm in the confession of their love for the club, they're attacked from the start by some.
The truth of the situation is this: they're here to play football for money. Can we not just accept that? Do we need to dress that up in fancy clothes? I don't think so, but it is all too often the default PR position that a football club takes. They let everything be dictated by the hysterical reaction of a small number of fans.
Personally, I always loved it when my club Middlesbrough signed a player who was just honest enough to say he had never heard of Middlesbrough, certainly had no idea where in the world it was before he arrived and was surprised that the sky was a funny yellow colour and that the air smelled of ammonia.
We all know that there are minority of mentally under-nourished fans who see their football club as their family and seem to want to assess any new player as though they were a potential son-in-law for their daughter, but these people, let's say this unequivocally, are ridiculous and should not set the agenda nor the standard. The players are just men who play football for money. They come and they go. It's okay, it's good fun, but there's no need to pretend they're more important than that.
When you see grown men buying a club shirt and having the name of the new signing put onto the back of it, I can't understand what is going on. Okay if you're a kid maybe, but what does it say about an adult? You're hero-worshipping a man. That's weird for a start. But you're actually only hero-worshipping him because he's signed for the club you support. You didn't want his name on the back of any shirt before that. So it's not about him as a person, or as a talent, it's just because he's now employed by your lot. So, in effect, you're worshipping an employment contract! Are you mad! You're walking around the streets in a shirt bearing a man's surname because he earns money from a company that you give your money to or merely admire. What the hell is that about? What do you get out of that? The even more ridiculous element is that you have no idea if he's even going to be any good yet. So really, you're spending money on his name out of blind hope that it allies you with someone who proves to be good. And even if he does prove to be any good, why do you want to have his name on your back? Do you think it makes you as good as he is? Like it's actually your name? I think it does and that's why, when they don't play well or don't say the right thing, these people are so upset. They've invested far too much emotion in this bloke. These people are the ones who suck down all the lies and who the club's PR people are working to placate.
Most of us don't need a story spun for us. We see having the name of a footballer on a football shirt as a bit creepy. We don't need to be lied to, in fact we don't need to hear anything from a new player. We accept they will be at the club for a while and then will go away. All we hope is that they give us some entertainment while they're here. It's time clubs grew up and stopped thinking the vast majority of us are full kit w*nkers sitting there with a player on our back, worshipping at some makeshift shrine to a man we don't even know. We're not. So stop pandering to those who are.
Watch Johnny's promo video for his new rock 'n' roll thriller, 'The Girl Can't Help It'.