It’s been a fairly interesting week or so with a fair few opinions flying around. Fans. Players. Pundits. Managers. They are all at it.
More recently however Hector Bellerin has given an interview with the Oxford Union where he was asked various questions about his life both in and out of football. He spoke very well and came across as a really intelligent young man. Then came the controversial question. It was always going to come in some form, whether it be about social media as a whole, fan abuse, being a model pro or the like. It came in the form of a “what do you make of Arsenal Fan TV. Are there any players that watch it?” question. His response was fairly balanced in that he said sometimes his friends might say “have you seen what x, y & z is saying about you?” but then on a more pressing and poignant front he said “I think it’s so wrong for someone that claims to be a fan and their success is fed off of failure, so how can they be a fan? I think that there is people hustling trying to make money that way and they are entitled to.” He later went onto say that he would pay attention to what coaches said rather than externals, which makes sense but the fall out from this interview has been nothing short of hilarious. The head honcho of AFTV has come out to say that how can a platform base its success on failure, when the team has lost only 45 games out of the last 217 league games (since AFTV has come into existence), which is the basis for the whole argument from Robbie to suggest that “how can such a platform exist if only made off of failures”. The statement well and truly misses the point and I’ll tell you why.
On googling AFTV or searching for them on YouTube the top hits are interviews that surround controversy or defeat in the main; Bellerin & Gary Neville interviews in the top 2 view wise. Followed by KSI is a gooner, DT having some advice for Xhaka and then a post match ‘rant’ after a defeat vs Bayern. There’s also a podcast featuring the well known ‘characters’ of the channel followed by a couple more rants after defeats. Just on looking at the viewing numbers alone you can see that the more negative stuff has the most hits. Whether it’s people hoping for a cathartic experience or whether it’s fans of other teams (from my very thorough desk research at my place of work this seems to be the majority!) laughing at Arsenal, it’s pretty clear that the negative stuff gets more clicks. The clicks equal ad revenue, the ad revenue equals potential partnerships (ie Ladbrokes) and all of the above equals money. Now considering I work in the media industry and know how much ad revenue can be made from such numbers I can tell you it’s a fair buck. Chuck in sponsorship and you’re doing well for sure. Now whilst AFTV may argue that this is due to the success of the platform itself anyone else can argue that the platform has only gained success from the points of failure and therefore deem it unsavoury in their mind. Neither is right or wrong here and that’s the actual point here. The platform itself is about people having opinions and when on occasions where people in high profile places have had an opinion on the platform itself a huge fuss has been made of it, creating more views and more money as it turns, but again that misses the point.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion and for the people that ‘provide opinions’ as it were, it seems a little rich (pun most definitely intended) to be upset with it. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. The bigger issue here is whether it affects the club and whether a player should or shouldn’t be making such comments. In terms of whether he should or shouldn’t, I think we are now in a world where we’re past the point of players having to behave in the ‘traditional’ model pro way. The model pro of today has evolved into something new and one where it includes behaving a certain way on social media as well as off the pitch in the public eye. We’ve also got to consider context in every situation; Bellerin was asked a direct question about his thoughts on AFTV and he simply gave his honest take on it. If players give stock answers that they may have briefed by the club to say then we’d bemoan their lack of connection with the fans and their honesty. Whether it’s damaging to the club itself is another issue. Fans these days of more than just our great club want to become a voice that matters more and more in the ever increasing culture of ‘look at me’ on the social media sphere. Following the Bellerin fall out, there’s been a further audio clip released looking to slander the player through a supposed conversation he’s had stating he wanted to leave the club etc etc. Rumour and suspicion suggests it’s been created by AFTV. AFTV regulars coincidentally come out with the ‘I told you so’ commentary. And therein lies the danger. We’ve already seen the likes of Henry having to refute claims made by Alexis Sanchez and now I’m sure we’ll see Bellerin having to come out and say the same sort of thing about the second clip that’s been released. All of this just has to have an impact on how the players play on the pitch. It must play on their minds. Gone are the days where a newspaper can just be left to the side. Notification after notification is sent directly to the players’ phones and the addiction to these devices basically give the players no opportunity to truly switch off from it all.
The conclusion here is that if we as fans and the players themselves truly want to achieve Victory Through Harmony then a responsibility lays at both the players and the fans to try and provide the platform to go ahead and do so. In a world where mental health issues are on the rise and the fragility of us all is being pressed upon by the magnifying glass that is social media, the players are no different. They have the same struggles as we do and no amount of money can fix those ills. The reality is that no such Utopian harmony is likely to exist and therefore keeping to a more boring and vanilla approach of club briefed answers is the way forward. A response such as “I don’t watch it and neither do the other players really” is probably the best way to avoid swathes of abuse from ‘fans’ that can only have a negative impact on the players’ minds.
It’s not fun discussion to be having in the week leading up to a Cup Final, however we are where we are and that is the state of footballdom today. Fans and players alike will need to be signing from the same hymn sheet on the weekend against an outstanding Manchester City side.
Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.