The internet is good for a few things. Finding a reasonably-priced anorak, for example, or discovering that grown adult men and women still watch wrestling, or watching YouTube clips of people giving their dads dream presents that make them cry (p**s off – it’s dead emotional)
It’s also good for seeing, then laughing at, silly things that people say. Because people say loads of silly things on the internet. Sometimes they get paid for saying them. They say silly things about all manner of subjects, but since we’re on a website called Football365, we’d probably best just limit it to silly things that people say about football. Sometimes they’re in the comments section, sometimes in the Mailbox, sometimes (although obviously very, very rarely…) on the opinion pages, and sometimes from the mouths of those involved in football.
So it was chuckles all round when James Milner, currently on Liverpool’s surrealist yomp around the southern hemisphere, said the following about some MLS midfielder on Wednesday:
“I don’t think there’s someone on the planet who could replace Gerrard for what he did for Liverpool football club over the years, so as a team we need to replace his output…Even Messi would struggle to replace Stevie for what he’s done for Liverpool over the years.”
All most amusing, let’s take a moment to laugh at the silly thing the silly man said. But at the risk of spoiling everyone’s fun, it obviously shouldn’t be taken at face value. For a start, Milner clearly wasn’t saying Gerrard is a better player than Messi, but was considering the emotional connection the former captain had with the club and assorted other intangibles that couldn’t be replicated with mere skill.
Secondly, and more pertinently, he was attempting to take pressure off himself and Jordan Henderson, trying to protect themselves against the Big Narrative of this season at Liverpool as to how they will fill the loafers of their old No.8. It may be a vain attempt, and one open to misinterpretation to say the least, but an attempt nonetheless.
So, in summary, Milner probably didn’t mean what he said. Or if he did mean it, he was saying it with an alternate purpose in mind. And that’s absolutely fine; providing it’s something relatively harmless like this, footballers and managers are not obliged to tell the truth when a microphone is placed in front of them. They are not obliged to even talk to the press, aside from a few quite specific circumstances when UEFA or whoever give them a smacked bottom for not parading themselves in front of the cameras, and when they do they certainly don’t have to do so while hooked up to a polygraph machine.
Given the number of times those in football are thoroughly humped in the press with their words taken out of context, manipulated, misinterpreted or just plain invented, you can hardly blame them for trying to use the media for their own ends. And on this occasion, using it to try and give himself and his pal easier lives.
It happens all the time. A few years ago Gerrard was at it himself, saying when Joe Cole signed at Anfield: “Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better.” And, during the run-in of the 2013-14 season, Brendan Rodgers claimed that Gerrard was “arguably the best in European football in a controlling role at this moment in time.”
This isn’t to necessarily pick on Liverpool, for players and managers of all clubs say things that may appear absurd, but these are just two examples of statements that appear absurd to the wider public and are patently untrue, but have a specific purpose in mind. Gerrard was presumably trying to puff Cole up like the peacockiest of peacocks, and get the best of his clear (if not perhaps Messi-esque) talent, and while it didn’t work (Cole was sent off in his first game and it all went downhill from there) the intent was clear. Similarly, Rodgers wasn’t so much speaking into a microphone, but directly to his captain. The point is comments like these sound ridiculous to everyone except the person they’re directed at, so why would they care what everyone else thinks?
It also applies to just about every public statement Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho have ever made. Sure, we’re in the territory of the ever-tedious subject of ‘mind-games’ here, but the same theory holds true. They will accept a certain amount of ridicule if they believe their purposes are served.
This website is as guilty as choosing to believe the funniest version of anything that happens in football as anyone else, and it’s usually not a bad way to view the world. But as long as everyone is smart enough to recognise that, behind the lolz, there’s usually a purpose, everything will be OK.