Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City reveals football’s need for immediate conclusions

After a dramatic night of Champions League football, RealSport look at football’s growing trend towards reactiveness.

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(Photo credit: Дмитрий Голубович)

Are Manchester City really the best team to have graced English football? Is Pep Guardiola really that good? Is Ernesto Valverde too conservative? Has he discarded the Barcelona way in favour of a defensive, reactive approach?

All these questions were posed in the wake of Tuesday night’s Champions League games. There are countless others, too, after every football game of significance.

By now, it is unsurprising: There is a need to draw an immediate conclusion from almost every situation in football and it is pernicious and reductive.

Hot takes! Get your hot takes!

It is perhaps encouraged by the proliferation of media outlets covering the sport, by the relentless and ceaseless stream of content produced in reaction to a result. There are countless pages to fill in print and even more space online.

Often this space is filled with “5 things we learned pieces” – football writers are a studious type – or articles of a similar nature. 

The reason for this is simple: these are clickable articles with a simple premise. 

There is a need for authoritative, original opinions, but also for instant responses, for immediate conclusions. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but the football media is repeatedly guilty of exaggerations and overreactions.

Social media, too, plays a part in this endless cycle of reductionism. Hot takes are rife and, inevitably, attract more attention than balanced, thought out, considered analysis.

Constant flux

Football is a sport in a state of constant flux. 

Manchester City are perhaps the best example of this. Not much longer than a week ago, they were imperious, a seemingly inexorable force, on their way to success on all fronts.

Three defeats later – over two legs against Liverpool in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premier League – and the atmosphere has changed. The reaction was, in some sections, typically hysterical. The predictable criticisms of Pep Guardiola have returned.

“I’m really not sure he’s that good a manager,” read one comment in response to a Barney Ronay piece on Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. The comment has 98 recommendations. 

“He won La Liga and the CL with an unstoppable Barca team that he inherited: won the Bundesliga with Bayern (who wouldn’t, given that it’s a one-horse race) and has won the Premier League with an investment that most would die for.”

History condemned to repeat itself

It is as if some have not learned from last season when Guardiola was widely condemned for what some perceived as a hubristic approach to his first Premier League season.

A year on, that narrative has drastically changed: Manchester City, despite defeat against their rivals on Saturday, will win the league emphatically and perhaps with a record points total.

And that is the salient point here: everything in football is temporary. Definitive conclusions cannot be made in the immediate aftermath of a game because there is always the possibility that everything will have changed a few weeks or months down the line.

That does not prevent reflection and analysis that looks beyond the obvious and considers football’s variables and intangibles. At present, though, too much is reactionary, too much is based in extremism: everyone must have one opinion or another, everyone must agree or disagree.

Fine margins

It is often neglected, too, that football is regularly decided by fine margins. 

On Tuesday night, had Leroy Sane’s goal not been disallowed, Manchester City would have led 2-0 and the outcome of the tie might have been entirely different.

There is a rush to find meaning in every result of significance. It is easy, in the middle of the drama of an unexpected Champions League result or a narrative-shattering Premier League game, to draw permanent conclusions, to make hasty judgements.

But those commenting on the game, through whatever media, should make an effort to consider the bigger picture. Football’s inherent short-termism allows reactionism to thrive. It is crucial, though, that this does not become the dominant form of discourse.

Intelligent, reasoned debate and thought-provoking analysis is hindered by the need for constant conclusions.

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