Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Circling Dog

This social media culture is wonderful. Twitter, for instance, brings friends closer, it's immediate, settles differences and it throws new people together. It can, writes Chris Lepkowski, be amazingly funny when people start to filter home from nights out. Yet, as the disgruntled football journalist from the Birmingham Mail points out, as far as the transfer circus and the media is concerned, they're not always the easiest of bedfellows.

He cites the example of Eiji Kawashima. The Japanese goalkeeper is a friend of his. Not in reality - but he does follow him on Twitter. Of course, this isn't the real Lierse goalkeeper, but a Twitter account set-up by someone to parody the real Kawashima, who for weeks has been telling everyone he will be joining West Brom. He was adamant that his signing was imminent. The Baggies, meanwhile, denied this when first put to them. Then they just laughed. These days it simply irritates them - especially when the real Kawashima issues an ultimatum telling the Baggies to decide whether they want him or not. Apparently, Eiji, they don't.

Such is the power of social media that a ridiculous story about Peter Odemwingie failing to agree terms with Arsenal - based on two 'friends' of his - was run by a Nigerian website. Not a usual news source, notes Lepkowski, just one which anyone of any age could set up in their bedroom and portray as a reputable provider of news. Trouble is that people get sucked in. They see the reports on NewsNow and assume it might, just might, be true. Such was the power of this report that again Albion moved to issue a statement denying it all. And who can blame them, not least when a UK-based agent is also repeating the false rumour on national radio to millions of listeners. As it happens Albion and Arsenal have had no discussions over Odemwingie, let alone got to a stage where he is quibbling over personal terms. Arsenal might yet want Odemwingie. But they've done little about it so far.

Herita Ilunga a £1.5m target for Greek champions Olympiakos? No, he isn't. Nor has he been. Julien Faubert about to move to Lazio? A club official reportedly met with the Frenchman's representative yesterday but that's as far as it goes. Which is what I told a contact in the print media this morning who emailed me asking for verification. That's not to say either story won't be true one day in the future, but for now that's guesswork. Which is where a lot of this fuels social media panic, be it on Twitter or on Facebook. A couple of websites report it in Italy and then it gets picked up and reported as news by the website branch of a national radio station.

The same has happened with the Samuel Inkoom rumour that broke a few hours ago. The Ghana rightback claims West Ham have asked about his availability, and is reported to have told MTNfootball: "Yes it's true Tottenham and West Ham and other English sides want to sign me, but at the moment I'm a player of Dnipro and will leave my agent to sort that out for me." The Dnipro defender insists he remains committed to his Ukrainian side, but in the same moment adds: "I will be going back to Ukraine and then I will decide what to do next." Whatever the truth of this story- and it has already started to be picked up by some of the major media outlets- the only thing that is clear is that the player is serving his own agenda in this instance.

Self-publicists and shop-windows, the trouble these days is that people are in such a rush to break stories that diligence no longer applies, moans Lepkowski. Nobody bothers checking with clubs to see if a story is true. They might check with an agent to see if it's true - and you can count on the fingers of one foot the number of agents you can truly trust - but even then they might not bother. Social media has not so much changed the way sports journalists work, it's shredded the rule book too. The growth of Internet and, more so, Twitter and Facebook leads to frenzied excitement and fevered panic. It's also fueled incorrect assumptions about the local beat writer's job. The implication being that many are out of the loop or manipulated because they are over reliant on getting stories from the club. That's completely wide-of-the-mark, states Lepkowski, lamenting the fact he doesn't get paid for such a relaxed lifestyle. The official websites of many, if not all, clubs churn out quotes from press conferences and interviews. Not always, but probably 90 per cent of the time, it's the journalists who drive the questions which will appear on your club's official website. Furthermore, if any journalist relied on club information as a sole source for their news then they wouldn't last 10 minutes in the job. They are simply more exposed now because others are willing to run stories without any checks.

In this climate of frenzied transfer activity - still a few day BEFORE the window officially opens - it's the local media who have to mop up the mess of others, all in the name of providing accurate news. The growth of social media, the expansion of websites who claim to carry the 'latest news' - it's immediate, people demand news. Let's not forget, says Lepkowski, that newspaper journalists are still working for print publications first and foremost. Some of them will sit on information for the sake of their newspaper deadlines - hoping that the story doesn't break elsewhere.

To get exclusives on every story would take some doing given the immediacy of news services who can report something (and then forget they ever reported it) - like the BBC did when claiming Martin O'Neill was to replace Avram Grant back in January- never to mention it again. Fast forward a few months and Sky Sports had Dave Jones installed in the same job. Never wrong for long, eh... Again, a few phone calls to the right people would have provided this answer, says Lepkowski. Again, it's about sorting out the truth from the non-truths, half-truths or the not-yet-truths.

Ultimately, all a football writer can do is run stories which he knows can be stood up, by several sources. If that means knocking down a rumour which isn't true, and he knows isn't true, then he will do so. Every day if necessary. Sometimes he can slip up, but it won't be through negligence. It's how the news business is supposed to work, when you're not in the market for 'Internet hits' or 'website traffic'. Others can fly the kites and get you excited or panicked about transfers which might or might not happen. These websites and social media networks have a place in society. And many fans love the speculation during the lull which is bandied around via various branches. But they can have a negative side too.

Take the example of Carlton Cole. The toblerone-booted striker doesn’t use Twitter any more and if you happened to come across some of the abuse which was directed towards him on the social network site, says Matt Diner, you would understand why. Accusations of laziness and not caring about the club were two of the less graphic statements directed at the 27-year-old, but while the likes of Manuel da Costa and Radoslav Kovac couldn’t wait to leave the club, Cole actually wants to stay. He understands he may have to be sold, but has no qualms about playing Championship football and helping the east Londoners get back into the top flight. Of course, this is no revelation for those truly in the know but it is still nice to have it confirmed.

West Ham were the club who gave Cole a chance, states Diner. He was never given a real opportunity to prove himself at Chelsea and after unsuccessful loan spells at Aston Villa, Charlton and Wolves it was at the Hammers who got the best out of him. There is no doubt that Cole is a confidence player and when the boss at the time Gianfranco Zola gave him that belief he repaid him. Twelve goals in the 2008-09 season and 10 the season after showed a rapid improvement from a player who had never been able to make double figures in his professional career, but it was ability in and around the penalty area which was so valuable. Super strong in the air he gave the side a focal point, while he was almost unstoppable running at goal. "Carlton is a humble boy and sometimes he’s too quiet. He just needed to realise how good he was," Zola said in September 2009. "He didn’t realise what he was capable of doing. We tried to stick with him and show him what he was doing and what he was good at, looking after him and every aspect of his game, including the mental approach. He’s realised he’s a good player and that’s made the difference."

Last season was a completely different story as Cole struggled to find any kind of form and although his power in the air could not be questioned his performances could. A lot of the blame for the Hammers’ poor scoring record was attributed to the striker, but playing him as a lone front man receiving little support was down to Avram Grant. His outburst after the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in November showed how much he cares for the club, argues Diner, while his claim that the team needed to 'change its attitude' showed his frustration at the manager’s tactics. It’s clear the Israeli failed to install the confidence in him that Zola could. Now, Sam Allardyce has a chance to do just that and if he manages to get near the production that Zola did, West Ham will not only have a player who would succeed in the Championship, but the Premier League as well.

It is clearly an opinion shared by Tony Pulis. According to this morning's Mail, Stoke City have made a £3million offer for much maligned United striker. The article states the former England forward is one of the club’s higher earners and the club are keen to offload him but want a fee closer to £7million. Besides, Cole, 27, may even struggle to pass a medical. A quick scan of Lepkowski's cultural circus reaction reveals most West Ham fans are sweating more than... well, Carlton in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The indignation of those Hammers supporters who have mercilessly harangued Cole for the last few months is equalled only by the indignation of those same fans who think the opening offer is insultingly lowball for a player of his 'ability'. Meanwhile, those Stoke City fans who had been teased into expecting a £10million move for Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan are threatening to stick their manager's cap 'where the sun don't shine'.

Of course, the line between social media and traditional print journalism gets ever more blurred when the likes of David Gold set up verified Twitter accounts and directly informs his followers he expects West Ham to announce some further signings shortly. The 74-year-old co-chairman said last night that despite no news on the transfer front since the confirmation of Kevin Nolan's arrival, hard work continues behind the scenes. "Many of you are asking about signings," he tweeted, "but please bear with us as we obviously can't reveal any details until a deal us virtually done. Negotiations for new signings are ongoing."

Since the end of last season West Ham have parted company with 13 first team squad members, with only two - Nolan and Abdoulaye Faye - coming the other way. No doubt Gold only intended to assuage the fears of those fans who have seen the squad descimated by a raft of departures; hardly surprising though that the real effect was to stoke up the already feverish speculation as to who might be arriving. By this morning, the Twitterati had convinced themselves a new signing would be announced by the end of today. Craig Mackail-Smith, it is suggested, is in discussions as I type, after West Ham and Peterborough agreed a £3million deal. I strongly advise someone do their diligence before running that particular story though.

It could also be Max Gradel, according to several of the Red Tops this morning. The club are reported to be leading the chase to sign Leeds' highly-rated rated winger. Gradel took the Championship by storm last season when he netted 18 goals and was voted the club's player of the season. The talented 23-year-old is out of contract with the Yorkshire club next summer and Leeds do not want to see him walk away as a free agent. Talksport state Sam Allardyce is looking to build a team that is good enough to bounce straight back into the top-flight and feels the Ivory Coast international would be a valuable addition to his squad. Swansea have also been strongly linked with a move for Gradel following their promotion into the Premier League, but according to the radio station, West Ham now look the favourites to clinch his signature. That may be the case, but I would think it unlikely that his signature would be imminent. As far as I know an offer has been made for the player but it was quickly rejected.

Finally, having used this platform to offer a post structural discourse on the friction between social media and the written press as it pertains to the transfer circus, by the medium of a cut and paste assimilation of an online critique of social media by a member of the written press, with the intention of circulating that discussion on said social media platforms to be reassimilated by said print journalists for further regurgitation, I'm off to find out what @jacquesderrida (he is real isn't he?) has been getting up to over in the not-so-real world before this particular circling dog finally catches its tail.

Oh and please feel free to follow me... @JLMDTrilby (beware of imitations)


LarryDavidisGod said...

Oustanding stuff Trilby- that post was so circular I feared you was going to end up in the same place as Pulis' cap!

Jimbob said...

I loved the little section on Carlton Cole. There's a massive hyprocrisy with Hammers fans that they can roundly slag the bloke off and yet at the same time expect Stoke to pay over the odds to take his useless arse off our hands. Either he's not as bad as people like to make out or Pulis has offered a fair market price for his services. We can't have it both ways. Considering Birmingham's Jerome is quoted at £5m plus and the likes of Mackail-Smith can fetch £3.5m, I tend to think Cole is probably better than both and West ham fans should appreciate him a little bit more than they do. Great article btw.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd prefer Gradel to CMS as we really need to add a bit of flair and SPEED to our team. Having said that, I'd happily take both.

Anonymous said...

It's Jay Bothroyd nailed on. We put an offer to him yesterday.

Tony Craven said...

Good article exposing the b/s thats floating around. Unfortunately 2 comments here show people would rather drool over rumour than recognize the truth.

Emlyn said...

really hope we don't sign bothroyd. I'm from Cardiff and know inside info (verified). he has the sort of attitude we don't need at the club. his attitude completley changed when he was picked for England. cms has turned down Norwich and QPR (unverified) which leads me to think he's looking at more established football teams (are we established) more than just cash rich. Gradel for me is a better buy, a player I'd generally consider exciting. Trilby, how about some digging on the Irish fella from Derry. I've seen two twitastic stories on him.

Emlyn (verified)

Ian Ayris said...

Great point about the dilligence in journalism these days, Trilby. Another fantastic piece of writing. And if the Hammers can get CMS, he'll play his heart out and smash in his fair share of goals. He was a legend at the Mighty Daggers, and a top quality gent.

Keep em coming, sir. Keep em coming.

Anonymous said...

First class piece, thank you. A cut above the drivel and a kick in the Lampards for those who hang on every new NewsNow feed and give credence to rubbish precisely for the reasons you lay out so well. Is O Hara another case in point? This morning I read he was signing for Bolton but by this evening he is considering us, seems unlikely and I might even consider banishing the "source" from my reading list... except that we have already scooped Nolan.
Thanks again.


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