Paul Merson is certain Mo Salah will definitely leave Liverpool, as long as you ignore the words he actually said, while Man United’s players are glum…
The closure of the transfer window in England and most top leagues at the end of last week is obviously bad news for any football outlets who use transfer stories to generate clicks.
As Mediawatch shuffles its feet awkwardly and glances around its own site, we and others are reminded that all is not lost. Because those mad big-spending Saudi lads have got until Thursday to do more madnesses and expose the emptiness of previously-held views and stances of professional footballers.
And there’s still another week after that for ‘tiny ramshackle national leagues’ that nevertheless contain ‘European giants’, like Turkey, to hoover up any Premier League leftovers, as is their wont.
But while the Saudi largesse is new, it doesn’t quite replace the easy hit of transfer tittle-tattle without a bit of effort on the part of brave journalists up and down the country.
Several such fine men and women are to be found at The Sun, and they have done sterling work this morning with some off-the-cuff, numbers-plucked-from-the-arse speculation from Soccer Saturday orator Mr Paul Merson. The headline is unequivocal.
Mo Salah ‘WILL leave Liverpool in £200m transfer’ as Saudi Arabian Pro League reveal when their transfer window shuts
We’ll move swiftly on from the ‘reveal’ being more ‘confirming it was when they said it was rather than FIFA’s inaccurate September 20’ because that’s not the big issue here.
We’ve got some of our favourite quotation marks here, so that means this must be something that somebody has said.
The intro doubles down, confirming this is a hard and fast statement of fact and ‘reveals’ that it comes from Merse.
‘MO SALAH will leave Liverpool to move to Saudi Arabia this week, according to pundit Paul Merson.’
This leaves very little room for doubt. Merson has spoken. Salah is leaving for £200m, fact. Bad luck, Liverpool fans. It’s happening.
You will all be shook to your very cores to discover that this is not, in fact, true. We’re even absolving Merson – something of a Mediawatch favourite – because it’s not really his fault that he’s the latest person to be asked on camera to talk about a transfer that isn’t happening, and nothing he says is actually unreasonable. Because obviously, he has not said that this will definitely happen and nor has he been shouting at anyone that it WILL. Here’s what he’s actually said.
‘With another week of their window to go, they might just come in and say £200m and then it’s a worry.
‘I would say £200m [would be too much to turn down]. I don’t see how you can turn that down for a 31-year-old. That would be irresistible.
‘You have to think of the lad and the wages being put around. That’s going to turn his head. He won’t be happy. It’s not a nice position to be in for Jurgen Klopp.’
Note how straight away, Merson is framing this as a hypothetical. They ‘might just come in’. And you know what? They might. The Saudi League’s spending power is a new phenomenon this year; we don’t know how far they might be willing to push things. We certainly can’t say ‘They won’t bid £200m, that’s insane’ because this is all new. What Merson has done is pluck a nice, round, world-record number out of the air and wondered aloud how you can turn that down. In the current climate, it’s all perfectly reasonable speculation when you frame it, as Merson specifically has, in that way.
Merson is not always the clearest of speakers, but he’s crystal here, and been thoroughly stitched up by a headline and intro that aren’t just selective but wilfully, disingenuously wrong and misleading. He simply did not say what they claim he did.
“Mo Salah might leave Liverpool this week if a Saudi club bids £200m, reckons beans-on-toast pundit Paul Merson” might not be as enticing or as click-friendly a headline, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask for headlines to be at least vaguely honest. Mediawatch is now once again looking at its feet and wondering why we continue to spaff 500 words a day on this kind of thing when we already know it is far too much to ask.
Mediawatch has a long-running campaign against the type of story that relies entirely and completely for its content on just finding four or five assorted Twitter (we’re not calling it X, we still have a tiny, final shred of dignity remaining thank you very much) randoms who’ve said something about a high-profile thing that lots of people are going to be tweeting about.
Arsenal v Manchester United is one such event, and there are a couple of textbook examples from The Sun. ‘Fans demand Arsenal are DOCKED POINTS for singing cheesy 90s hit vs Man Utd,’ because no joke is ever too obvious to be taken seriously for clicks or attention, and ‘Arsenal fans fear Havertz will get Arteta sacked as he misses sitter vs Man Utd’.
The second of these headlines is particularly grating, because even among the five Arsenal fans they’ve managed to find talking about Havertz only four are actually being critical and only one is suggesting – jokingly – that he might get Arteta sacked.
We will, though, give them the very smallest amount of credit for avoiding the even more irritating trend for giving these five-tweet stories headlines suggesting “Arsenal fans all say the same thing” and a great deal more credit for quite correctly reducing the Havertz opinions of their own columnist Piers Morgan to the same lowly status as any other random Twitter rage-troll.
Providing further proof that there is absolutely nothing a Premier League manager or player can do ‘just hours’ or ‘just days’ after a bad result without incurring tabloid attention comes news that a group of people stepping off a train at 10.40pm on a Sunday evening were ‘glum-looking’. This is fairly standard for anyone doing anything that involves trains or train stations in our experience.
But this is not standard, for these men are the players and manager of Manchester United and thus everything they do for the next 48 hours at least will occur in the context of a 3-1 defeat at Arsenal, and The Sun is on hand to note their gloomy dispositions.
The eight(!) pictures that accompany this hard-hitting piece of journalism show a load of young fellas in tracksuits looking neither overjoyed nor in the depths of despair. They look, funnily enough, exactly like a group of people who’ve just got off a train after a long day and would really just like to be at home now please.
There follows, though, the most absurdly thorough, po-faced description of the manager and players’ demeanours delivered with a sombre tone far more suited to describing the mourners at a state funeral than some footballers getting off a train after losing a match.
‘Aaron Wan-Bissaka wore headphones as he walked alongside Hannibal Mejbri.’
‘Jonny Evans solemnly walked along clutching a plastic bag following his second United debut.’
‘Loan signing Sergio Reguilon also looked far from upbeat.’
‘Ten Hag looked weary.’
There is a sort of kitchen-sink majesty to the idea of Jonny Evans walking solemnly while clutching a plastic bag. There’s a haunting quality to it that hits hard but we think they stumbled upon it accidentally. He basically walked off a train looking a bit bored while holding a plastic bag; it’s a description that could fit literally millions of commuters this or any other morning.
Best of all, though, is this next one. Remember, this is an observation it was felt impossible to exclude from national-media coverage of some men getting off a train.
‘Anthony Martial wore a neutral expression as he walked through the station.’
It’s a relief, really, that the players weren’t ‘all smiles’ because then the shit really would have hit the fan.
But it’s still worth noting that there really is literally nothing a player can do ‘just hours’ after losing a high-profile football match – up to and now including ‘getting off a train and walking quietly through the station looking neither happy nor sad’ – that won’t get them written up.
Trial and error
Coldest take and biggest reach of the Arsenal-United fallout, though, goes to the Daily Express for this headline.
Arsene Wenger could have helped Man Utd beat Arsenal but trials yet to take place
Obviously, Wenger + Arsenal + United is a potent combination, but there’s so much reaching here.
Wenger’s proposed new offside law whereby the attacker is onside if any part of their body is level has been around for a good while and has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in this game.
And if ‘trials yet to take place’ then it’s an enormous reach – one that would be offside even under Wenger’s rule – to even suggest it ‘could have helped’ United by allowing Garnacho’s late disallowed goal to stand.
Most obviously, though even if Wenger’s rule was in play, it would only have been any help to United here if attackers and defenders all continue to position themselves and play as if the current law is in place. Which they obviously won’t.
Apart from that, though…