Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Are You "Hot" or "Not"?

They're everywhere these days. You can't open a magazine without seeing them. No, not Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson, I mean those "What's hot/what's not" features. You know, where a tatty supplement tries to elevate itself to the status of a hip style magazine by telling you that those trousers you are wearing are an abomination and that horrific haircut you sported in school photos from the 1980s is now the must-have tonsorial styling for the happening urban sophisticate. Or how you can't go on living without visiting a cafe in Ranelagh where you can have wheatgrass intravenously injected into your eyeball. Or some catty jibe at poor ole Britney Spears.

People love them because people like to be told what to think, especially in these times when people are so frightened to admit to their real musical tastes that they instead call them "guilty pleasures", while sneering ironically.

Anyway, it seems to me that the world of football is far from immune this sort of thing, and indeed now that the game is vying with the beloved weather for shelf space in our conversational larders the need to have the latest hot opinion is paramount. Like, is Darren Fletcher good this week? What about Jermaine Jenas? A few weeks ago he was the biggest waste of space since the pundits couch on Football Focus... a few goals later and he's one of England's most exciting young midfielders again. 4-4-2 is the only way isn't- attack, attack, attack and all that? But Chelsea play a 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid and look at them. And sure look at Bolton, who practically invented the 4-5-1, look how they're doing!

Dearly departed Brian Kerr went from "hot" (meticulous, straight talking, real football man) to "not" (out of his depth, conservative, can't motivate players) with a single John O'Shea lurch against Israel at home, and a dink from Thierry Henry sealed his terminal uncoolness within Merrion Square.

Of course, the greatest embodiment of this idea of the vagaries of football fashion is the man whose celebrity reach ensconces him as comfortably in the frippery and flippancy of the glossies as in the sweat and grime of the back pages- David Beckham. Beckham, as one of the most talked about people of our times (to deploy the laziest gimmick of modern feature writing, his name elicits 4,400,000 hits on Google. Whoopdy-doo!) demands you to have an opinion about him.

In his (arguably more important) role as a celebrity, he has been "in"- cutesy teen mag dish, model father, style icon, bulwark for a new, more feminine, male identity (which apparently was seen as " a good thing") - but just as often "out"- attention seeking, publicity hungry bore (N.B. - always mentioned in conjunction with missus at this stage), deplorable womaniser, pretty boy woofter responsible for a generation of moisturising, sarong wearing sub-males.

Thing is, the same fashion mag ethos is seen with regard to his football. He's either "up": devastating crosser and striker of a dead ball, crucial part of Manchester United's legendary midfield, inspirational captain of his adoring nation, string-pulling galactico with the world's greatest club side- or "down": can't tackle, head or defend, delusions of being able to play central midfield completely unfounded on reality, headless chicken whose belief in his own importance affects superior players around him, typical of the showbiz, devoid of substance culture at Real which values merchandising over marking, demographics over defence. His time at Real has exacerbated all of this because he is that little bit out of sight. Is he doing well or is he struggling? Do the Spanish love him or hate him? Was Fergie right or wrong to get rid? What is my opinion supposed to be?!

It's all about perspective, you see. Like when Arsenal reached the latter stages of their 49 match unbeaten run, the nickname "The Invincibles" was coined, they were, apparently, the greatest club side in English football history and could go another season unbeaten. They were soooo "hot". One bruising clobbering by Manchester United later and they're in crisis. "Not!!!". Of course none of this was true. They were always an excellent, and at times mesmerising, football side playing at a time when the English Premiership contained probably it's poorest quality collection of teams. They always had a shallow squad which would inevitably creak at some stage. David Beckham has always been a very good footballer, never a great one. Brian Kerr was always an honest, diligent manager who believed in how he thought things should be done, but would always struggle to motivate senior players out of his frame of professional reference. Jermaine Jenas and Darren Fletcher are promising young players who may, or may not, go on to achieve at the highest level, but both clearly have a lot to learn. Formations come and go, and perhaps 4-4-2 will go the way of the old W-M formation, but in general successful teams and players thrive in fluid systems which are constantly in flux depending on the state of the play. But that's just my opinion....

Apparently, however, pointy toed boots are totally out this year.....


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