Greetings. The last time I sang the praises of the poet – the deceased poet – Philippe Larkin. In 1970, I had discovered belatedly that he was passionate about jazz and that he had written a book on jazz (“All What Jazz”). Which I hastened to read, and was extremely impressed with his introduction in which he explained, in sparkling prose and crystal clear clarity, why the jazz he and I had loved had all but disappeared.
Larkin’s explanation suddenly opened up to him with a Ah! moment. He was reading up on ‘modern jazz’ when it hit him: ‘There was something that sounded oddly familiar. This development, this progress, this new language it was more difficult, more complex … that you I couldn’t expect to understand first, who should have technical knowledge to assess it … Of course! It was the language of criticism of modern painting, of modern poetry, of modern music. Sure!.”
Larkin lives right away. Modernism in the arts meant complexity. He didn’t care, “You have to work on it. After all, you don’t expect to understand something as important as art straight away, do you? It’s a pretty complex thing. “
He recalled the comment of jazz writer Benny Green in 1962: “After [Charlie] Parker, you had to be a bit of a musician to follow the best jazz of the day.
This is where I branch off. Larkin’s revelation almost immediately led to mine Ah! moment … evoked for me by another remark from the 1960s, uttered – out of desperation? – by one of the greatest footballers, Jimmy strikes. He had listened to what was then a relatively new voice in football – modern, educated coaches, guys with A licenses. He was half joking: “Football tactics quickly become as complicated as the formula for dividing the atom. . “
The same descent into stupid complexity that Larkin knew to have destroyed jazz, was starting to be felt in 1960s football. Perhaps Larkin isn’t the best guide at this point. I can instead turn to Tom wolfe, the sharpest social critic in this country, a man who knew and who nailed rubbish when he found it. In his book “The Painted Word” he wildly embraced modern art, stating categorically that it was the mystifying – and clever – theories that surrounded him that gave modern art its stamp.
This is surely true in football. Now there is a bewildering assortment of patterns, methods and training, not to mention the plethora of courses and degrees, speakers and caregivers committed to helping you understand what’s going on. Does this football complication improve the game, make it more entertaining, more interesting to watch? Is pro gaming more beneficial for the exorbitant prices now attached to season tickets? But that’s rude, isn’t it? How dare I introduce pelf into the art form of football?
Okay, okay, spitting, spitting – what was I thinking? But it’s worth noting that football’s modernists, those brain-packed guys who can’t wait to tell you (hey, and often sell you) about the miraculous advancements in the sport brought about by their semi-reversible, double-sided, quick transition 2 ( 4) -6 (3) -1 (3) -1 (0) under-overlap inside the rear layout (please don’t call it a formation, this is way too rigid a word ) – well, right Did you ever claim that it makes the game more entertaining, more exciting?
They don’t. Never. They are just intrigued to make the game more puzzling, so that only they are really smart enough to figure it out.
Those who think I am exaggerating are urged to check above and note Philip Larkin’s two 1970 references to “language.” They can then take a look at this – received from FIFA just three weeks ago:
And when they have read that, they can shut up.
* * * * * * * * * *
Think about it! Whoops ! A new football language! Designed by FIFA! Happiness indeed.
The man who told us everything was once the much respected Arsenal coach: Arsène Wenger. He is now responsible for the global football development of FIFA. Listen: “We have created the FIFA Football language, which will be our model for analyzing football in the future. “
Here we go. Now I’ll kindly simplify it for you by highlighting some of what I imagine must be keywords in Wenger’s outpouring: operational definitions, longitudinal analysis, how the game can be broken down and analyzed, football analysis, improved metrics. football intelligence, opposition line breaks, interesting new stats.
Maybe that doesn’t sound too good. But rest assured, the fan (and, presumably, the journalist) has not been forgotten. We are told that this new analysis will “support the spectator experience”, bring “a new understanding of the game” and “add context to what is happening on the field”. More excitement, more beautiful football? No, no mention of anything like that.
There has always been something masterful about Arsène Wenger, an almost irrepressible desire to teach, so everyone knows that things can always be done better, or at least differently. English football, so long inbred and isolated from world developments, was ripe for Wenger’s pedagogical approach. For most of his time at Arsenal, a healthy balance was found in which the excesses of Wenger’s academic mastery were held in check by strong English traditions.
Now the constraints are gone. This “new language” thing with all its confusing words is just rampant didacticism. When that happens, whether in literary criticism or jazz writing, or football theory, boredom looms.
One cannot say that the intellectualization of art forms, which Larkin detects – rightly, I believe – as the common thread of “modern” movements, improves everything it touches. What it invariably does is make it more difficult to understand.
I once tried, with great determination, to appreciate the classical composer Arnold schönberg. I did not appreciate its atonality at all. I dropped. I should have been careful with what my Music Dictionary said: “Schoenberg places heavy demands on the listener.
I can’t help but think that Wenger is following the same “high demand” path. Obviously, he needs help – he tells us that FIFA now has a team of performance analysts, data scientists and engineers.
Well, these guys, the “performance analyst” clique, have been around for quite a while. Probably all pro teams have at least one such specimen. I’ve been looking at “performance analysis” teams for years. And I still think Brazil 1970 was by far the best, most skillful, exciting and fun team I’ve ever seen.
I have the feeling that the criteria that I have just enumerated do not correspond too well to the analysts. How do you measure the excitement, anyway? Or entertainment?
Unlike the other art forms discussed, football is a team effort and it is competitive. Perhaps this is the way (the only one?) To measure the success or not of analysts?
In this case, we need to know a lot more about the analysts used by different teams and what intelligent systems and metrics they might be using. Boring, anyone?
To get your feet back on the ground and for a truly satisfying experience, see if you can get your hands on Philip Larkin’s “Introduction” to his book “All that jazz. “I told you the effect it had on me. But I have to admit I was amazed when I saw it described as ‘one of the most famous prose plays of the twentieth century’.
OK, that was part of the editor’s blurb. But give it a try. It’s better than trying to understand Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique. Or the FIFA Football language of Arsène Wenger.
• Part 1: Learn football – jazz and lyrics from a great poet