I know nothing about football and after watching the game for five decades and writing about it for two, I’ve decided that the thing I like the most about football is exactly that. I haven’t a clue what’s going on most of the time and just when I think I do, something happens to totally undermine my perceptions.
Football does this so well. Anyone who ever thinks, even for a moment, that they’ve got it all sussed out – and let’s face it, there are times when we all think we have – are, sooner or later, proved wrong.
I love how it undermines all of us, how it fools those who insist they’ve discovered a timeless truth, how it disproves theories that are foisted upon us as rights and wrongs.
The lesson this season has taught us is to never state anything about football as an unequivocal fact, because it will rip the pish out of you and then, like a disdainful mother, hold up your previous certainty in front of your eyes like an especially dirty pair of underpants, and then embarrass you by pointing with an accusatory index finger at the remains of your own disgraceful expulsions.
Anyone who has ever asserted a view as an ultimate truth about football has always been proved wrong eventually. No-one is immune. The fact is no-one knows almost anything. Football is chaos and those who don’t see it as such, or seek to tame it, are on a hiding to nothing.
Football is not for being reduxed. It will only surrender its past to cultural, tactical or statistical analysis, never its future. It might prove your new theory right today, but it won’t tomorrow. Like rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes we think it has become predictable, but that’s when it’s at its most dangerous. That’s when it evolves and changes and starts doing things that you never thought it would do.
Let me illustrate with some commonly held assumptions that many have and continue to hold but which this season has totally undermined.
Thought 4-4-2 was outmoded and no-one could be succesful playing it? Ooops.
Thought a league-winning side needed a ball-playing centre-half? Oh bollocks.
Thought you needed a progressive young manager who understands modern players? Ah…
Thought your club had to spend big on ‘world class’ players to win the title? Hmmm.
Thought you had to dominate possession to win the league? Oooh no.
Thought the one who spends the most money wins everything? Oooh, that hurts.
Thought you couldn’t win anything with players bought from lower leagues. Ermm…err.
Thought you had to rotate your team heavily to keep players fresh? Pfft. I’m so very sorry.
Certainty of opinion in football is mostly based on after-the-fact perception, but if you get tired of people shouting the odds, jabbing their finger at you like you’re stupid for not agreeing with them – and that’s a way of life when you write about football online – rest assured, football will always have the last laugh.
During this Premier League season, so many things which have been set in stone for what seems like an eternity, if only through mantra-like repetition, can finally be challenged by those of us who are not armed with the micro-detail of world football history, who can’t prove the limits of a five-man midfield by referencing the great Uruguayan side of 1934 or that the 2-2-6 system was popular in El Salvador’s 1970 World Cup qualifying campaign.
All we need to do is say two words, ‘Leicester’ and ‘City’, and then point to the league table to disprove all 21st century orthodoxies. And let me tell you this, if you think excusing your inability to know what was going to happen this season as a fluke, a blip or one-off factors, I can assure you, it wasn’t. This is the long-term nature of the sport we love.
2015-16 is football – as it always has done, from time to time – being ornery and deciding it wasn’t going to keep delivering the same old, same old. ad infinitum. In 2015-16 football decided it was going to start dating the dangerous, sexy leather pants-wearers, instead of the usual predictable braying rich people in tweed jackets and pink trousers.
Like when punk killed prog, like when new wave killed punk, like when grunge killed hair metal, 2015-16 has the thrill of the new, the stink of revolution and the certain notion that, whatever happens, it will never be like this again. Unless it is, of course.
Isn’t not knowing anything just brilliantly liberating? This season, we’re all clearly dumb and it’s only the stupid who don’t realise it.