Pages

Friday

1992-2012: The Premier League in Cliché


Football began in 1992, the purists sarcastically say, so here are ten clichés from the two-decade Premier League era.

1) The Foreign Influx.
We should start with our traditional point here - no-one uses the word influx anywhere else. The Foreign Influx has become almost as established a brand as the Premier League itself. Before Arsene Wenger (the man credited with inventing the concepts of nutrition and not drinking alcohol) arrived on these shores, we made do with exotic imports such as Andrea Silenzi, John Jensen and a certain Frenchman by the name of  Eric - whatever happened to him?!

These early pioneers have a mixed legacy. They are said to have brought lots of good things over with them but, on the other hand, are deemed to be responsible for all sorts of horrors that have crept into the English game - going to ground easily, waving the imaginary card and (despite always claiming to have "watched it on TV as a child") not understanding the significance of the dear old FA Cup.



Scouring the continent for new signings has been a hit-and-miss affair for Premier League clubs. For all the Thierry Henrys, Dennis Bergkamps and Gianfranco Zolas of this world, there are the pub-bore anecdote staples such as Marco Boogers, William Prunier and Ali Dia. 

2) Mind Games.
One of the lazier Premier League clichés, admittedly given credence by Kevin Keegan's infamous on-screen meltdown. Nowadays though, pretty much anything Alex Ferguson says from February onwards qualifies as mind games. The less potent cousin of mind games is kidology, a pseudo-science that usually involves a manager playing down his team's chances. Resistant as I am to welcoming new entries to the football lexicon, it appears that Ferguson's absurd notion of squeaky-bum time has embedded itself firmly in fans' consciousness.

3) Parking the Bus.
Here we have another cliché whose provenance is indisputable. Jose Mourinho, whose penchant for a war of words has led to this tedious Premier League dichotomy of having to love or hate people you have never met, coined the phrase after a Tottenham's rearguard action had frustrated his Chelsea side. It's a charming phrase, increasingly relevant as the haves continue to race away from the have-nots at English football's top table.

4) "Top, top player".
This particular phrase has experienced a meteoric rise over the last two or three seasons. The much-maligned Jamie Redknapp is responsible for its osmosis into common usage, seemingly deciding that one "top" just isn't enough for the elite players. Occasional sightings of a trio of "tops" have been reported, but only for players for whom pundits have run out of superlatives

The surface-skimming that passes for TV punditry relies on similarly vague criteria to judge players' performance. Co-commentators often trade in the currency of quality, either as an unenlightening noun or a rather clumsy adjective. "A player of his quality," they say, "should be doing better from there". Quality can also be conspicuous by its absence if a team is just lacking that little bit of quality in the final third - note the trademark, non-committal imprecision there - it's very important.

The concept of credit has become so commonplace that anyone new to football would be forgiven for thinking it was an official scoring system. All credit usually goes to the winning team, but some credit must go to plucky losers.


5) Potential Leg Breakers.
The array of gadgets available to Andy Gray and his able Sky Sports successor Gary Neville has enabled them to analyse flashpoints to the degree that it becomes almost self-defeating. There is usually a sensible pundit on hand to briefly and half-heartedly pipe up about the "referee not having the luxury" of a slow-motion replay and several camera angles, but this UTTERLY CRUCIAL POINT is quickly brushed aside. 

Goal-line decisions and offsides (despite claims to the contrary) are clear-cut laws, and are often easily cleared up in the studio. The latest bone of contention, however, is the potential leg-breaking tackle. With referees clamping down on excessively forceful challenges, in the hope that the traditional hatchet man will finally be consigned to the history books, going in with studs showing is now officially asking for trouble. No malice is ever intended, of course, while the list of names who are that sort of player remains empty. 


6) Statistics.
Stats aren't a new thing, obviously, but the no-stone-left-unturned approach has now reached saturation point. For years we only had to deal with the moderate suspense of the pause between the shots stat and, signalling the co-commentator's cue, the shots-on-target stat. Ignore what you've actually seen, because we need a number to tell us that a team haven't really troubled the goalkeeper. Then, Sky started bombarding us with Action Areas, a crude separation of the pitch into thirds - again, essentially a device to nudge the auto-pilot co-commentator into assembling a few words to confirm what we can see in front of us. "Just look at that", he instructs, as we finally cotton on to the concerted spell of pressure exerted by a team camped in the opposition half.

In 2012, it's all about passing. Attempted passes, key passes, pass completion. 10 minutes in, the early possession stats flash up. "No real surprise, that", our dutiful co-commentator assures us, like a doctor holding up an X-ray of an incredibly obvious bone break. Possession percentages pile up as teams become happy to let their opponents have it there, resulting in the lion's share of the ball (sometimes combated with tigerish - but usually dogged - defending.) 

But, ultimately, the only stat that matters is the one in the top left-hand corner of your screen.


7) Storms.
Premier League football is a pantomime. At the heroic end of the spectrum lie your Scott Parkers and the inexplicable awe-magnet Mario Balotelli (a "complex character", apparently, because he gets sent off a lot and acts like a child in his spare time), while the well-established villainous contingent is too strong to count.  In the middle somewhere is a rather lost-looking Gareth Barry.

Football games can also be quite boring, especially for people who don't really follow the sport. To make up for this, there is a nine-month conveyor belt of the following controversies:
  • Spat - Usually involving spitting, allowing the media to declare a spit spat
  • Fracas Fracases (pluralised here, but never in football-speak) take place only in the tunnel. Details usually remain vague, but angry words are usually exchanged. The only ever witness is the pusillanimous Sky weasel, Geoff Shreeves.
  • Bust-up - Clubs feeling the pressure are always susceptible to the training-ground bust-up. These usually occur when a player reacts angrily to a heavy challenge, coming to blows with his teammate. Thankfully, Dave Bassett will be on hand in the Sky Sports News studio to point out that this kind of thing happens at training grounds every week.
  • Storm - Once a wide-ranging term, storms are now confined to social media controversies. Each week, a teacup-sized Twitter storm is manufactured from very little, as the gutter press sift through the list of tweeting players for any trace of an opinion. Twitter has now become the main arena for the rather grand-sounding concept of the war of words.
  • Row - The slow-burner in this family of footballing controversies. Rows can tend to rumble on somewhat, especially if a certain issue deigns to rear its ugly head. Most are now familiar with the hallmark of a truly established row - the adding of the godfawful suffix "-gate", regardless of how unwieldy that makes the subsequent monster of a word. Like storms, rows can also give rise to a war of words, with managers using their press conferences to wade into debates such as the perpetually-raging club v country row.
8) The Sack Race
FootballClichés.com has analysed previously the Managerial Merry-Go-Round, but the ruthless Premier League prefers the less friendly-sounding (but equally thrilling) sack race to describe the perilous position of its managers. 



You know the drill: a team makes its worst start to a league season since the war and their manager is said to face the axe. Pressure (like credit, an unquantifiable thing that football media seems desperate to measure) continues to pile and mount, while the beleaguered boss must bat back questions about whether he has the backing of the board/owner. 

This backing used to be expressed in the form of the vote of confidence. This has now become the dreaded vote of confidence. Out goes the hapless manager, often by mutual consent, and he is invariably offered half-hearted "thanks for all his efforts" and "best wishes for the future". In comes the caretaker manager, a rabbit-in-the-headlights figure who tries desperately to say all the right things to steady the ship, whilst looking uncomfortable in his new suit, or just pathetic in a tracksuit with his initials on (WHY? WHY DO TRACKSUITS STILL HAVE COACHES' INITIALS ON?!). 

He will leave quietly in the summer, and the club will attempt to prise the latest coaching flavour of the month away from whichever club where he has worked wonders. Reports suggest the newly-installed boss will be handed a transfer warchest with which to rebuild the squad, while he has the safety net of the traditional honeymoon period (which later becomes a transitional period). 

But it won't be long until the cycle repeats...


9) The Best League In The World
Thanks largely to the aforementioned foreign influx, the Premier League carved out a reputation for being the best league in the world. No detailed rationale was ever supplied to back this claim up - it just is. Italian football is defensive and boring, you see. They can't defend for toffee in La Liga. Who even watches the Bundesliga? 

However, now Gray and Keys have taken their tub-thumping to the radio and ESPN/Sky have started covering all the major European leagues, a new breed of football hipster has emerged - one that emits a strange vowel sound of approval when "Barca" string a few passes together. You're nobody if you don't follow the caution-to-the-wind fortunes of Mazzarri's Napoli or the unique club culture of St. Pauli. You're supposed to know who has been dubbed the new Neymar before Neymar has even left Brazil. You've nominated yourself as your 5-a-side team's trequartista. You've bought a Deportivo Wanka away shirt off the internet for the bantz. You don't care about England's chances at Euro 2012 because you want to see RV-fucking-P fire the "Oranje" to glory.*

Still, the Premier League clings on to its lofty status, thanks to the odd pulsating 4-4 draw here and there. Anyone can beat anyone, apparently, even though they frequently don't. But what about the fabled Premier League tempo, which England are urged to employ at major tournaments? Those languid, ponderous continentals don't like it up 'em, etc.

*All of that is more than welcome, of course, apart from the Deportivo Wanka-inspired bantz.

10) Benefactors
With the financial state of many clubs officially classified as "parlous", all offers of investment are being considered. The floodgates opened with Roman Abramovich, henceforth referred to by his first name for no apparent reason, whose success with Chelsea suddenly made lots of people care very passionately indeed about the dubious acquisition of Russian oil companies. 




Then, various "fit and proper" chancers appeared at West Ham and Portsmouth, promising to bankroll missions for Champions League football, but actually getting closer to "doing a Leeds" - a quaint pre-Abramovich term that has happily stuck around. Chelsea, and now fellow billionaire's playthings Manchester City, face accusations of (attempting to) buy the title as they stockpile players. Despite their wealth, such clubs declare that they won't be held to ransom over signings before happily paying over the odds for players who subsequently struggle to pay back a huge chunk of their transfer fee. Usually, only one vital goal is required to complete this rather unfair transaction, although the actual monetary value of the chunk is never established.

Saturation point is nigh. Here's to the next twenty years.