A few days back, during the course of some random web surfing, I came across a quote by former US president John F. Kennedy. It took a few moments to sink in but since then I haven’t stopped admiring the wisdom captured in just a few words. Moreover, it’s extremely relevant in the context of Arsenal FC.
I guess many of you might have come across this one earlier but this was a new one for me.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
If we think about Arsenal, there are plenty of opinions around like “Arsenal lack a winning mentality”, “Arsenal goalkeepers are useless”, “Arsenal only lack two (pick your favourite number) world class players”, and so on.
These are not lies or to put it differently, there is a grain of truth in these and most other opinions. There are times when we can see Arsenal players are hesitant or nervous and lack confidence. The Goalkeepers have undoubtedly made some glaring mistakes. Buying world class players will improve any team.
Similarly, we can clearly see these are not absolute truths either. Many like to pretend that their opinion is gospel and will solve all problems the club faces but there is hardly any consensus and most often the doctrine changes based on the performances in the last couple of weeks.
To my mind, most of the “definitive opinions” that we hear about Arsenal fall under the ‘Myth’ category. They’re not completely wrong because most often they’re based on valid observations. No one can deny the mistakes made by the Goalkeepers or Clichy for instance. Wenger has acknowledged that at times Arsenal players look nervous or lack confidence. When the discussion is about buying players, Arsene never says that it won’t work. He just says that, “buying is not the only solution”.
It’s not difficult to see why these myths about Arsenal are persistent and persuasive. There are recurring patterns, mistakes that are repeated, and silverware that’s lacking.
Interestingly, that quote by JFK was followed by this line
Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
These lines are not directly relevant to Arsenal as this has nothing to do with forebears. But we could replace forebears with pundits and it would make sense.
The last line is a classic so I’ll repeat it, in bold. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. Too many pundits and media men write clichéd opinions about Arsenal with complete disregard for, and at times a sinister manipulation of, facts. Unfortunately, we can also add a number of bloggers and supposed Gooners to this list.
The end result is that many fans who don’t have the time to look at the details end up buying these myths. If so many are saying it, it must be true! The cycle repeats and gains more strength.
There are times when the facts are so strong they can overcome the myths. For instance, at the end of the summer transfer window, a large majority of the Gooner community was crying out for a new goalkeeper. The myth had gone from strength to strength over the course of last season and the summer. But some strong performances by Almunia initially, and then by Fabianski, aided by a much improved defence, have countered this myth.
I have no doubt there are many who are just waiting for the Keeper to make a mistake before they launch another scathing attack but they are no longer in a majority.
In other cases, the facts alone are not strong enough or they are difficult to identify. Myths involving complex issues are often difficult to bust once they get popular acceptance. For instance, what facts can we use to have an objective discussion about winning mentality?
Let’s look at it from the “discomfort of thought” point of view. It’s easy to say, “Arsenal lack a winning mentality”. But what is the solution? How can we even think of a solution to such a vague problem? That simple, comfortable opinion does not say whether this is a problem with one individual player, all the players, coaching staff, and/or the manager. That’s why it’s such a vague problem.
Can anyone say Wenger lacks a winning mentality? Or that Fabregas lacks a winning mentality? How many players lack a winning mentality? Will buying one leader solve the problem? If not, how many do Arsenal have to buy? Will of those players gel together or will Arsenal face a Cityesque situation? What if one of the new buys flops? What if one gets injured? What will the contingency plan be?
I could go on and on. Clearly, once you actually think about an issue it always turns out to be a lot more complex than simple cliché’s would have you believe. It’s not difficult to see why thought can be discomforting. The more answers you seek the more complex it gets. That is the reason, in a sport followed by billions around the world, we only have a handful of top class managers. In the world of Football Manager there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of winners but not in the real world.
I’m not saying that fans have no right to criticize or that any criticism, per se, is wrong. The point is, criticism that is devoid of respect, especially towards the complexities involved, just generates myths – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Sadly, too many seem to choose the comfort of opinion over the discomfort of thought.
N.B. The quotes are from JFK’s Commencement Address at Yale University.