Jack Wilshere’s return on Saturday was great news for Arsenal, and his impact away from the pitch could be just as important as his impact on it. Wilshere is the golden boy of English football, and it’s on his shoulders that the hopes of the national team rest. Ever since the English national team was outclassed and outpassed by Italy this summer, the national media has been yearning for Wilshere’s return, like he’s the almighty saviour, the one player this country has who might actually get into the technically superior Spanish, German or Italy squads.
I couldn’t care less what Wilshere does or doesn’t do for England, it’s what he does for Arsenal that’s important. Yet the British media do care about Wilshere’s involvement with the national team, they’re invested in him, he’s their shining star, their white knight, and I can’t be alone in thinking Arsenal don’t get an easy ride in the British sports media.
The impact of the media on football in this country is immeasurable. The newspapers and broadcasters set the agenda, choosing which issues to highlight and focus on, and the FA then follow suit. It starts to affect clubs when the media make examples of certain players; and it seems there is one rule for English/British players, and one rule for the rest. For example, currently in vogue is the topic of diving. The media are only too happy to chastise Suarez, Drogba, Eduardo etc for diving, but how often do you hear of Ashley Young or Gareth Bale’s theatrical past. I’d love to hear just once a sporting commentator or journalist castigate Rooney for his dive against us in 2005 in the same way we’re forever reminded that Pires took a tumble against Portsmouth.
Look at the endless replays and attention Eduardo’s dive got on SkySports News. It was almost like there were no other stories to report, the Eduardo story was onscreen for the full duration of every hour long slot. Then of course Uefa came in and tried to give him a two game ban. In the three years since that match, there has never once been a retrospective ban handed out for diving. What a surprise it just so happened to be a foreigner playing for Arsenal.
I’m not trying to say there’s a conspiracy against Arsenal, but there’s definitely not a level playing ground. Gary Lineker’s mocking impression of Wenger on ‘Match of the Day last year was an embarrassment to this country’s flagship football show. Would ‘Match of the Day’ have done the same thing about Ferguson or Dalglish? Of course not.
Our sports media is xenophobic to the core. Need I remind anyone that the day after snapping Aaron Ramseys leg, Englishman Ryan Shawcross was portrayed by the media as the victim in the whole saga and also given his first ever call up to the England squad. Compare that to the vilification given out to Argentine Aldo Dusher, when his tackle broke David Beckham’s metatarsal a few months before a World Cup.
English players get an easier ride. The amount of times I’ve seen Howard Webb, Mike Dean and other referee’s smiling and joking with the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Hart makes me sick.
But how does Wilshere being English affect Arsenal? Well for a long time our team has been lacking a significant amount of British talent, we’ve been perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a team of foreigners with a largely French influence. This led to the media giving us a label of a team who ‘don’t like it up them’ and that we’re ‘physically and mentally inferior’. Our record at places like Bolton, Blackburn and Sunderland is far better than we’ve been led to believe.
In addition to Wilshere, we have Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Jenkinson, along with Ramsey who is Welsh. We haven’t had a core group of British players for quite some time, and the fact that they are all so young is encouraging. It’s encouraging because it’s in the British media’s interests to protect these players; to give them an easy ride.
Will the media still be calling us a ‘soft touch’ or lauding the robust approaches of West Ham or Stoke if said team puts Wilshere or Oxlade Chamberlain out of a major tournament. Of course not.
The press can also influence the players themselves; look at the pressure Giroud was under to score a goal. A striker playing in a new league who had made just two starts and two sub appearances hadn’t scored yet, and the media were making out like he was the flop signing of the summer. Things like this eventually become self-fulfilling; if some-one repeatedly tells you something you eventually start to believe them.
I agree with Wenger that one should look at players’ ability rather than their passports. It shouldn’t matter if a player is from Islington or India, what does matter is how they perform on a football pitch every weekend. It’s not in our media’s national interest to share this view, they’re so focused on the circus that is the England football team, so desperate to ‘bring football home’ that they feel a paternal need to promote and defend as many England players as possible.
If having Jack Wilshere at the heart of our team, and a few more English players in Arsenal colours wins us some extra decisions from referee’s and spares us from some agenda-driven tosh from selected hacks, then it can be no bad thing.
It should also be appreciated at just how marketable young, English players are. Look at the commercial sponsorship and exposure Rooney gets. Is Rooney in the top 10 players in the world? Not even close. But he’s young(ish) and English, and as such, his face adorns billboards from Tokyo to Timbuktu, and it helps sell Manchester United shirts worldwide.
It’s promising to see Oxlade-Chamberlain is already featuring on O2 adverts and Fifa2013 front covers, and I’m pretty certain Wilshere will play a prominent role in Nike’s advertising campaigns. Things like that attract new supporters, sell more shirts and give us more of a worldwide presence. We used to have that with the ‘Va Va Voom’ adverts, a concept that was meant to promote a car but then became synonomous with Henry’s name and our stylish football. Forgive me for using a ‘Gazidism’ but it promotes our ‘Brand’.
So whilst I don’t think it’s necessarily right, if having more English players in our team makes us more likeable to the powers that be, and subsequently wins us more decisions on the pitch, then I’m all for it. Wilshere, and hopefully Oxlade Chamberlain, will be the leading figures for club and country for the next ten years, and if that helps Arsenal not just on the pitch, but away from it too, then as a club we’ll be all the healthier for it.------------
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