Revisionism in Football

England soccer manager Fabio Capello speaks to the media at the Grove Hotel near Watford August 9, 2010. England will play Hungary in a friendly soccer match at Wembley stadium on Wednesday. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Following on from an article on this very site which I respectfully disagreed with, it seems to me that Revisionism is prevalent in modern football. Whether it be a defence mechanism to cope with loss or the delusion that things can and will only get better it worries me that legacy’s can be lost in the haze.

Right off the bat I’ll put my feelings out there. The loss of Martin O’Neill will be a terrible blow to Aston Villa, particularly at this point in the season. Martin O’Neill has not left jobs before for pithy reasons he was regretfully dragged away from Celtic and his decision to leave Leicester was one of ambition. I wonder if some Leeds fans still think upon Ridsdale’s mistake in annoying O’Neill prior to him actually joining. Martin O’Neill has been nothing but good for each club he’s come to and left and unfortunately after he departs the teams often fall from his highly set standards. To call his time at Aston Villa as ‘solid’ is in my opinion revisionism of the highest nature.

Though this sort of sentiment is nothing new, in fact it is not the first such instance of this kind of thinking this summer. He still is a Liverpool player but many Liverpool fans feel that Javier Mascherano’s time at Anfield has come to an end. His transfer should be welcomed as ‘we’ are getting offered stupid money for a reducer. A job anyone can do, hell, we’ve even got Lucas to do it right now at no extra cost. I’ve already covered the importance of the Defensive Midfielder and this type of thinking is revisionism. If/When (delete as applicable) Mascherano leaves Liverpool people will talk of his replacement being able to do more than the diminutive Argentinean largely ignoring that he has moved to the champions of Europe and was courted by the previous champions a year ago. Speaking of which, just a year previous, Liverpool lost Xabi Alonso for 30m this was regarded by my Liverpool supporting friends as a bit of a coup, Alonso was coming off a good season sure but he had had injury problems and the midfield would not suffer without him. Come October and Xabi had turned from injury-prone good midfielder to the key to Liverpool’s system.

The feelings are not restricted to Clubs either, after England’s world cup debacle the media had to centre on someone to blame. In 98 it was ‘1 stupid boy’ and in 06 it was ‘the winker’ but it is disingenuous to pin the blame solely on one person on every occasion at some point it must come down to the team effort. Cue the World Cup in 2010. An unmitigated disaster, Fabio Capello’s choices are diminished by injury before the tournament but his decisions during it are often against popular opinion and backfire. However it was not only Capello in South Africa, John Terry had a torrid tournament as the defence received very little protection from Midfield and Wayne Rooney was obviously not fit. When they were eventually destroyed by Germany the blame had to be apportioned. Given the benefit of hindsight every tabloid latched upon the Authoritarian image of Capello. Despite their hugely successful qualifying campaign where Capello was hailed as the saviour and the only man fit to get the best out of the so-called ‘golden generation’, after the tournament he was an inept tactician, stubborn and a terrible man-manager. The hypocrisy was lost on the papers as they directed and reflected public opinion.

Following on from this, the papers indicated that Capello should be sacked, in my opinion I thought he should have left as the team needed to blood new players in the new campaign, like Germany. If Capello were to leave the papers indicated that it should be an English manager who takes over as they are the only ones who understand the football culture and personality of the players. Again, confidently brushing over Steve McClaren’s reign. The whirlwind of media attention that surrounds football this day always will focus on the negative as it is a better story. As such this view can permeate through to the reading public and colour opinions which are far beyond the reality of the situation. This is not to say that all the revisionist tendencies of football fans are negative, some people are held in high regard despite their obvious flaws.
Robbie Fowler is a prime example, whilst he was nothing short of prolific for Liverpool for a few seasons, football changed around Fowler as it became more about pace and pressure than the precision play he had used to enjoy. After 1997 his career took a precipitous drop the goals dried up and he fell behind in the pecking order to Emile Heskey, but he was still revered. As he left the football club for Leeds it was an unpopular decision, to quote Phil McNulty:

“There is also the not inconsiderable emotion – and in some cases anger – the deal will provoke among the Liverpool fans who have labelled Fowler “God”.”

However the deal proved to be for the best, Fowler had a decent season for Leeds but due to injuries and his controversial nature was never worth the 11 million they paid for him, however the mythos surrounding him has not left Anfield as he made his return after another unsuccessful period at Manchester City. The popular striker returned to much fanfare and left without any. If any ex-striker were to be revered it should have been Michael Owen, a prolific scorer at the club and national stage unlike Fowler he thrived in the modern game. So much so that he would win the Ballon D’or but his transfer out was received with much less remorse than that of Fowler and his reputation amongst Liverpool fans has now been (reasonably) diminished.

The problem with this revisionist nature is not the ill feeling that it is sometimes born from, it is that it can often impact on decisions that are about to be made. If Liverpool made it clear as they did for Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres they could try to keep one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. By selling him for a quite considerable fee and replacing him with the Poulsen Liverpool will have weakened their midfield but strengthened their bank balance. Much like some United fans believed Nani would replace Ronaldo easily and the loss of Martin O’Neill is seen as an inconvenience the rise of revisionism in football is one that can change expectations so much so that assumptions can be drawn in much the wrong way. This could breed contempt were it shouldn’t be as strong (Capello at England), reverence where it is not deserved (Fowler) and expectations that will never be met (Keegan’s return to Newcastle). Revisionism is football’s lead in the water-pipes, it drives the public crazy and serves to give a false account of the modern game and could lead to incorrect decisions being made.

8 thoughts on “Revisionism in Football”

  1. What do you mean by revisionism? Historical revisionism? Modernizing of the sport? This should be defined in the first paragraph. Other than that this article is fantastically articulated and I think you are the best writer on the site. I’d like to see more.

    1. Many, Many thanks. I did consider starting by describing Revisionism but I felt that that would be a bit condescending. My definition of Revisionism is that where you revise your view based on what has happened or is about to happen.

  2. Revisionism is a coping mechanism designed to make us feel better when bad things happen to us (or our favorite teams). When a manager or a player rejects the team (and thus rejects the supporters), it’s hard to be objective about what that person has meant to you in the past.

    It’s not a new thing and will continue to go on as long as team sports and transfers/free agency exist. Historically, you just hope that the bad feelings go away in time and people can look on the players and managers of the past with a fair and impartial eye.

  3. The media in England are such a big problem towards stuff like this, they have so much social control in this country its frightening really, too many people buy into what they say time and time again.

  4. I generally agree with the general hypothesis of this piece, however I have never thought that MON was anything more than “solid” in that his league performances were predicated on profligate spending

  5. the biggest mistake of rafa’s entire carrer was sellin xabs!!! xabi acc 2 me is the best midfielder in d wrld….. n rafa wantin 2 sell him ws jst d crappiest desision of all time!!xabi will always be in my heart n will b missed by d kopites!! bt liverpool can do it!! YNWA!!

  6. I’m not sure it’s always as self-serving as you’re suggesting.

    Isn’t another way of saying revisionism just “looking on the bright side of things”.

  7. “To call his time at Aston Villa as ‘solid’ is in my opinion revisionism of the highest nature.”

    The only reason Martin O’Neil was successful is b/c he got the club to spend beyond its means for a few years. When the owner tried to bring him back to reality he acted like a jerk and screwed over the entire club by quitting on the eve of the season opener.

    It’s just like Harry Redknapp with Portsmouth… his success was all an illusion based on the fake monopoly money he was spending to bring in all those players. As soon as he was brought back to fiscal reality it all came crashing down rather quickly.

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