History informs us that little in this sporting life matters very much and that nothing very much matters. Of course, there are the high points of achievement and the low points of scandal, but many issues of the day are of little consequence on the morrow.
"What is news anyway?" is a question that draws almost as many answers as "What is truth?" A pragmatic response is that news is what newspaper editors and broadcasting producers decide it is. Their judgements are subject to whim, demands for circulation and ratings, passion for attention, and other events of the moment. News in itself is inexact. There is no one formula.
Sports stories fall into five categories: hard news, soft news, gossip and speculation, much of the latter unfounded. Then there is controversy, a staple of sports reporting, and no longer confined, as I remember things, to a slow news day.
For example, earlier this week a great deal of attention was given to the widespread suspicion that Harry Kewell fooled the referee to gain a penalty kick for Liverpool in the FA Cup third-round tie at Yeovil. Plenty had gone on in the Cup, but Kewell's "dive" as highlighted by the scrutiny of television immediately became the subject of heated debate both in newspapers and across the airwaves, with the public pitching in on one of those interminably boring programmes that ask for the opinions of viewers eager to be heard if not seen in living colour.
Since this is not the sort of show that normally occupies my interest I should point out that I came across it accidentally while flicking through the channels for an update on world affairs. It featured the former West Ham and Everton attacker Tony Cottee, who appeared to take the view that though "diving" is deplorable, and contrary to the traditions of English football, it is the outcome of influences related to the import of players from abroad.
That Michael Owen was encouraged to invite fouls in the past two World Cup finals (the ploy worked perfectly when he was brought down in the penalty area against Argentina in 2002) suggests otherwise. Nor were newspapers slow to recall that Francis Lee gained numerous penalties for Manchester City in the 1960s, craftily raising "diving" to an art form. It is anybody's guess how long this has been going on, but I think most of us would agree that the authorities should be much firmer in dealing with such unseemly antics.
Anyway, the Kewell issue passed, quickly to be replaced by another, that of Owen's future. According to Jon Holmes, the chairman and chief executive of SFX, the management group that presently handles Owen's affairs, there is no guarantee that he will extend his contract with Liverpool unless there is the prospect of regular involvement in the Champions' League. Even allowing for a bleak period of recurring injuries, shouldn't England's first-choice attacker have been doing something about this himself?
Normally a man of discreet virtue, and a cut above others in the agent fraternity, Holmes suddenly had his back to the wall, the implication being that SFX were keen to broker a deal on the continent before Owen's contract with them expired. Coming in the wake of a stormy annual general meeting at Anfield, when shareholders questioned the running of Liverpool Football Club, it was all their manager, Gérard Houllier, needed, although relief arrived with the reports that Owen's father, Terry, will take over his business affairs, improving the chances of him remaining on Merseyside. This was meaty stuff, and not only for the tabloids.
When footballers talk about pride, emotion and loyalty to the cause it begins to dawn on us that perhaps we are listening to people who are as confused as we are. This realisation may induce a state of melancholia but think of the dividends in expanded consciousness.
Having invested so much time, money, energy and faith in Owen's development as one of the most lethal attackers in world football, a fixture in the national team, Liverpool are understandably anxious to secure a long-term commitment well before the end of his contract in 16 months' time. Sadly, and perhaps eventually to the distress of Liverpool's supporters, the relationship between players and clubs is no longer simply one of mutual benefit. "Agents, there are always agents," Tottenham's caretaker manager, David Pleat, said wistfully a few weeks ago.
Agents supply most of the information that appears in newspapers, planting stories that may be of benefit to their clients. There is some faint hope that a process of learning is taking place. That the fan, bombarded with so much ephemeral controversy, is tuning out. Gradually, it may be filtering through the fog of phoney speculation that nobody knows exactly what's going on out there.
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