Nuance is dead.
In 2020, only extreme opinions cut through the sludge of social media to ‘do numbers’ or be ‘ratioed’ or hang a fan base ‘on strings’.
Take Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham for example. No doubt there are plenty of fans – be they loyal to Spurs or impartial – who are unsure how the transfer will play out. Most are able to comprehend the balance between the Welshman’s positive attributes and the intervening factors that may limit his success. But who would retweet such moderation?
The algorithms prefer piping hot takes along the lines of: Spurs now have the best front three in Europe! Or alternatively: That washed-up, injury-prone golfer? This move will go down as one of the biggest flops in Premier League history!
Football mirrors life in that the truth invariably bisects the two ends of a spectrum. Not that the truth is a valuable trait in the sphere on digital fandom. Accurate reflections of players, clubs and managers would limit the opportunities available to the clout-obsessed retweet-farmers among us.
The perceived importance of online validation encourages reductionism. These days, it is common for players to be divided into two schools: overrated and underrated. By sheer definition there must be thousands of individuals who are suitably rated but again, such middling is too logical to spark engagement. People need to be seen raging against the norm, signalling their superior knowledge by declaring Tariq Lamptey ‘underrated’ on a night in which everyone watching the game is similarly impressed.
Another aspect of modern armchair analysis is the refusal to accept the complexities of football. For some, Romelu Lukaku’s occasionally heavy first touch means he is a useless player, one reduced to meme fodder. Never mind that his goal record puts him among Europe’s elite strikers. For some reason, the idea that a player’s weaknesses don’t always undermine their strengths is readily rejected by certain fans.
Here we circle back to Bale, whose current state of flux has accentuated the polarised reaction. At his best, he is one of the most effective players in the world but injuries and limited match sharpness mean reaching his best form may be difficult. Why can’t it be left at that? Why is there a need to nail our colours to a mast?
It’s okay to reserve opinion on Bale’s transfer until it’s played out. Many may find it interesting to discuss the possible outcomes and venture a prediction; that’s perfectly reasonable. But it’s the insistence of some to commit to wholeheartedly to a hollow perspective for likes, shares and retweets that has toxified the newest realm of football culture.
Real life is not a radio phone-in.