This weekend, when John Terry doesn’t get to shake hands with Anton Ferdinand we will be reminded of the old adage:
To err is human; to act appallingly but never see that you’ve done any wrong at all because you aren’t capable of stepping even half an inch outside of your own perspective is Premier League. They don’t put it on stamps.
Lost in the nuance of what Jay Tee meant (or didn’t mean or said he didn’t mean) in Chelsea’s defeat to QPR last October is what caused the argument between him and Ferdinand: a penalty decision. It was typical Terrance to be so sure of his own opinion on the matter that he felt fine offering abuse for anyone unhappy with The World According to JT. Unfortunately, the same approach is also typical of everyone who is involved in, associated with or has ever cared about a game of Premier League football: none of them has ever heard of self-doubt.
Unfortunate, because self-doubt is the thing that made me re-write that opening paragraph, at the latest count, five times: not always fun, but probably healthy. Not being sure about yourself and what you’re doing quite often means letting yourself check with other people what they think. And that, in turn, gives you the chance to moderate yourself against those opinions and come out with something you’re willing to stand by. It might not be useful if you’re an artist looking to work outside the box, but if you’re a footballer trying not to be charged with racial abuse, it’s pretty decent.
Place the question, “Am I sure I’m right about this?” into Jay Tee’s mind before he says anything to Ferdinand about that penalty decision and it’s difficult for him to say anything particularly strong. If you don’t believe in what you’re shouting into someone’s face all the way, you probably don’t commit to it with the same vigour and, semantically, it comes out kind of diluted. “Aaargh, in my opinion you’re probably not right, Anton, but I can’t be sure at all, so best leave it” is what a less certain man might have said, and that kind of thing, as a bonus, doesn’t make the newspapers or the courtrooms.
Now, obviously elite sport requires a certain level of confidence. It’s no coincidence that the type of people who become involved in it are exclusively self-portrait-owning, early-memoir-publishing loudmouths and it would be silly to say that that way of thinking isn’t useful a lot of the time. How else could they convince themselves to go out in front of 50,000 people screaming their heads off? Or get up and try to score again after months without a goal? Or take their job seriously, despite it quite obviously being a ludicrous way of making a living? Et cetera, et cetera until the world ends.
But it’s not overly optimistic to believe that that position is reconcilable with a tinge of self-doubt, connected to things like: empathy, logic, awareness of consequences—is it?
Even if it didn’t work really well, it’d mix things up. The branding with doubt mixed in would be ace: “The Premier League: Maybe the best league in the world, but it’d be pretty presumptuous to say either way. We like it, but, I mean, we’re obviously biased. Try all the leagues for yourself and then decide. Take your time as well.”
Or: “Join us for Super Sunday! Oh, we can’t guarantee that it’ll be super because that’s obviously a subjective measure, never mind that quite often a lot of the games shown on Super Sunday are nobody’s idea of ‘super.’ We’ll try our best with it, that’s what we can guarantee. Or if not our best best, at least the best we feel we can offer at the time.”
And seeing players playing without the usual level of self assurance might make for an improvement too. The Nani who doesn’t believe that he always does the right thing might realise that some extra minutes working on beating the first man with corners would make him a better player. Michael Owen might see that he should retire and never be seen again. There are quite a few intriguing possibilities with this. Admittedly The Fernando Torres Experiment, an early forerunner in the battle to bring doubt into the Premier League, didn’t go well in any recognisable footballing sense of the word, but nobody could deny that it was funny to see him miss all of those chances for at least the first six months.
It won’t happen, but it would be nice to see the Premier League be less sure of itself. Now back to re-writing that opening paragraph…