On David Beckham’s retirement, many words have been spoken – a large amount of these have achieved the important mark of being equally as bland as the man himself. But professional opinion-giver Chris Waddle managed the best opinion on Beckham. “You can go down a list of footballers since the Premier League and I don’t think David Beckham would probably be in the first 1000,” was what Chrissy said to the world so that everyone could hear. And he really did say that. I’m not lying. I’ve not taken him out of context here, stripping away valuable, clever thinking to make a sensible man sound silly. That’s what he said and meant.
What I think has happened here is that “Former England midfielder Chris Waddle has trashed the retiring David Beckham” essentially by mistake. Not that he didn’t mean what he was saying; but that he didn’t realise exactly what he meant. Something which regularly afflicts former football players. When Chris formed his opinion-which like all his opinions do have to be formed to happen at some point, they don’t appear from nowhere, despite all the evidence which suggests they do-he didn’t realise quite the implications of that opinion. He didn’t realise that he was essentially calling David Beckham a mid-table player.
You see, it comes down to maths. One thousand better Premier League players in the last 21 seasons: let’s try this out. Say that Top Four Player means Good Player. About 8 players start every single week for Top Four teams; that’s 32 Good Players per season. Multiply that by 21 seasons and you get 672 Good Players, except that number is meaningless because a lot of the Good Players in one season will be the same Good Players in the next season and the 672 figure counts them twice. My guess from this, anyway, is it leaves around four hundred Good Players in the Premier League era. Now, Chris Waddle has not only said Beckham wouldn’t fit into this 400 Top Four players, but he wouldn’t have him in the next 400 either. Or the next 200 after that.
I don’t want to say it, but I feel the question must at least be asked: has Chris Waddle, professional opinion-giver, got his numbers wrong? Because it feels like for someone to say that Beckham – however good exactly you think he is – is not in the best 1000 footballers to play in the Premier League requires one of two things: either 1. An extremely unusual interpretation of what the word ‘best’ means, or 2. A miscalculation, involving a large overestimation of the number of people to have actually played in the Premier League.
Now, far be for me to guess at what precisely Chris Waddle is thinking at any one time, but I think the second option is the most likely – the miscalculation. And if it is yet more Number Two from Chris Waddle, I think it might be, maybe, a little bit, good reason to question why exactly the people with camera lenses, tape-recorders and media jobs to fill keep going to ex-players for their opinions on the football. These are people who don’t realise what their own opinions are. Chris Waddle thinks David Beckham is outside of the top 1000 players to play in the Premier League. I’ve tried to contact him to ask just how many players he believes have played in the Premier League but heard nothing back, so have taken his answer to be “one squillion billion”. Chris Waddle has accidental opinions.
Okay, doubtless People Like Chris have some use. Laughing at them at fun fairs wouldn’t do, so sticking one of them on a panel as one of a few opinion-givers, with a very specific job talking about the ball-kicking bit in football, maybe, might be fine. But the deference to People Like Chris in football coverage should surely stop. Do I want to know how a dressing room works? A group of men coming together to do a job: I think I can guess. Is it interesting to hear an ex-pro’s opinion on how it must have felt so good to score that goal? I do not.
Where is this deference coming from? It’s got to be intellectual laziness from producers, because in terms of ex-player’s opinions, it goes two ways. Either it’s an insight which only they could give, on the dressing room or fame or how to kick a football, in which case we don’t have the exact insight but we have enough information to guess for ourselves or, in fact, it’s just not that interesting. Or it’s an insight which anyone could give, as is the case with Waddle on Beckham – because in terms of Beckham, Waddle is an outsider, just like anyone else. In both cases, we really shouldn’t value Chris Waddle’s.
Yet the people with money to spend on football coverage do. They choose to spend their cash on people who have opinions by mistake. David Beckham outside of the top 1000 Premier League players indeed, Chris. Well, you’re 1001 then, you idiot.