Many, many journalists are far better with words than with numbers, which is why you can often find such hacks making five, six or seven when they add together two and two.
Today’s example comes from The Sun, which says: “Benitez would jump at the chance to return to Merseyside”, where, as we all know, his family live.
The indisputable logic of Britain’s biggest-selling paper goes like this: Everton are preparing to sack Koeman, they have drawn up a shortlist of potential successors, our manager is high on that list, his home is near Goodison Park. As for evidence to back up any of the first three assumptions; well, c’mon, don’t sweat the small stuff. If it’s in the Currant Bun, it must be true!
Let’s wantonly ignore the factors that might militate against Benitez taking the (non-vacant) Everton position: he is doing a great job at Newcastle United, the players are giving him 100%, the fans likewise, he is a man who respects a contract.
Today’s kite-flying nonsense from what was once Fleet Street echoes the previous tosh from that discredited font of knowledge, such as: a manager as big as Benitez will never join Newcastle United (March 2016); he will walk if he is unable to achieve a miracle escape from the relegation zone (May 2016); he cannot cope with management in the second tier (summer 2016); he has fallen out with Ashley and is about to quit (ad nauseam).
Clearly, I will be eating humble pie for breakfast, lunch and tea if our manager jumps ship for Everton — as somebody once said, football’s a funny old game, so nothing is impossible — but from my perspective that story has no more legs than a wonky supermarket trolley.
What I did find disturbing in the extreme was another “story” from the media today, based on an interview given to BBC Radio by the one and only Big Fat Sham Allardyce. You know, the one who has never been in charge of a team when they were relegated. That’s a fact nobody who has followed football is ever likely to forget, because it is repeated by his pals in the press, radio and television as though it makes him ideally qualified to manage any club or nation looking to fill a vacancy.
Well, no it doesn’t. After a while, football fans tend to want more than survival. Ambition, hope, honesty, for example. Such qualities are difficult to PowerPoint, however adept Allardyce might be with his box of statistical tricks. We all recall his shortlived tenure as England manager (played one, won one, lost the job for being a little too greedy).
What you might be surprised to hear is that he dazzled an impressionable FA panel years before he was appointed last summer. I am told his interview was by far the most impressive of any candidate in 2008 but, for whatever reason, Fabio Capello got the gig. Perhaps the prospect of appointing a club manager with an even less impressive record than the Wally with the Brolly caused an alarm bell to ring at FA headquarters.
Or perhaps (and this really is a long shot) an FA chief had taken the trouble to watch Newcastle United play while Sam Allardyce was in charge and realised such dross would be unacceptable from an England team. Having said that, performances under Southgate have been less than thrilling.
Allardyce’s most recent job was at Crystal Palace, whom he rescued from relegation with a series of unlikely results last April. To our cost, he had done the same at Sunderland in 2015-16. The obvious conclusion is this: if your team is in or dangerously close to the relegation berths, call for Big Fat Sham. After all, he has never taken a team down. No, he hasn’t, not in the strict, literal sense. But metaphorically he brought a depression to Tyneside with his dreadful “style” of football that caused widespread despair. When the fans chanted: “We’re s… and we’re sick of it!” they were voicing a heartfelt verdict on his management.
So why am I worried today? Simply because Sam Allardyce, who walked away from Palace and indicated his 26 years in management were at an end, has changed his tune.
This is what he said on May 23:
“I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.”
Compare and contrast with what he said on Five Live today when asked if he would be interested in going back into management. “I don’t know. You’ve always got to have someone else to want you to get a job.
“At this moment in time I would be very picky and choosy about any potential managerial jobs if I was to go back in, so that makes it very difficult. You never know what might come up, but if it is something where I could bring a lot of success then I could be interested.”
Yes, you read that correctly; a job in which he “could bring a lot of success”.
My fear is that Ashley views success somewhat differently from the way it is viewed by the supporters. And that he and Allardyce view it rather too similarly. Our owner has rarely endeared himself to the supporters but he did so nearly 10 years ago by dismissing Big Fat Sham. In the infamously stage-managed interview with Sky Sports on the eve of this season, Ashley talked of regretting that decision.
“I probably rushed in too early. The first thing, letting Sam Allardyce go, I was probably too keen to get going and make a difference. And I was a bit naïve about how football worked.”
So now our owner knows how football works. A scary thought indeed. By implication, he said he was wrong to listen to the supporters in 2008. His subsequent actions offer a mountain of evidence to draw that conclusion.
The appointment of Benitez gave the fans a glimmer of hope. If the man from Madrid is succeeded by the man from Dudley, will the last person to leave please turn off the lights.