Soccer / media
A Philosophical Journey through Spygate's Moral Maze
In years to come this week will be remembered, not for "spygate" or even Bielsa's audacious balls out press briefing but rather as the watershed moment when English football developed a moral conscience. I can only assume this to be the case as like the twitterati to a sanctimonious virtue signalling hashtag everyone from the press to pundits to Bielsa's own employers were falling over themselves in the rush to denounce the presumably legal act of standing on a public pavement and looking in a certain direction as heinously immoral. Why such consternation? Well, it turns out that it is such unremarkable, everyday behaviour, rather than swilling martinis with Ursula Andress, that constitutes spying these days. Worse still "spying" on training sessions isn't merely frowned upon it's actually as morally objectionable as a Spice Girls charity t-shirt; unless, as I discovered, it's a Champions League game in which case it is to be expected. Thus enlightened I was able to conclude that while spying on a Champions League side is akin to stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family, spying on Derby County is the equivalent of Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. Still, something seemed awry, so I turned to punditry's most renowned philosophical thinker, Martin Keown, to elucidate the metaphysical intersection between football's contextualism and spying. I was not to be disappointed. Keown astutely structured his argument as a Foucault-ian reflection on the nexus between truth and morality in order to explain how Bielsa's "dishonesty" was inherently immoral. Moreover, as an extra bonus, the subtextual space underpinning Keown's identification of a "winning at all costs" mentality as the root of Bielsa's delinquency served to delineate the boundary line distinguishing morality from immorality - by implication (and some creative license) anything worse than assaulting Ruud van Nistelrooy is considered depraved. Clarity at last, or so I thought, for I failed to anticipate a Bourdieu-ian refutation of Keown's seemingly watertight reasoning. It transpires that the George Graham academy of philosophical thought, of which Keown is a graduate, actually borrowed some of its key tenets from the neighbouring Watford school. Consequently, Keown's piercing insight into spying had, irony of ironies, actually been partially informed by spying. As you can imagine I was left reeling by the revelation that there was no absolute Keown-ian truth knitting together the moral fabric of football. To make matters worse, my distress soon turned into a cerebral dizziness as I contemplated the spinning fate of football's moral compass now that it's ethical pole had been removed. The S*n, as ever displaying all the integrity of a leaky septic tank, was quick in its attempt to capitalise on the moral uncertainty of the post Keown-ian world. Sadly, as could be expected they contrived to clog the vacuum with nothing but bilious nonsense. Their claim that Bielsa was the most "madcap" spy since Mike Myers donned a purple velvet suit and retreated into fiction immediately prompted me to consult the Complete History of Spying, a weighty tome, which, had become required reading over the course of the week. Handily, notable spying events are listed in chronological order, and as such I was able to determine that if one strictly adhered to The S*n's line of reasoning then Bielsa's actions must be considered as more "madcap" than The News of the World's propensity for phone hacking. How, at that moment, I missed the admittedly imperfect certainties of the Keown-ian age - a nostalgia that was only to deepen when I was confronted by the blue and white of the Argentinian flag on The S*n's back page. Why? Just, why? Afraid of being sucked into a jingoistic vortex - I fled and sought sanctuary in the broadsheets. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, in my rush for refuge I blindly barrelled into a confusing Henry Winter article. The piece insisted that while on one hand the FA should punish the Leeds boss, on the other they should invite him to lecture trainee coaches at St George's Park. If one accepts the premise that a degree of insight can be gleaned from observing training sessions it surely follows that such insights would themselves accumulate over time to eventually constitute part of a given coach's overall acumen. Consequently, I was puzzled by Winter's argument that while some of Bielsa's methods are unpalatable and deserve to be sanctioned, they should also form part of the backbone of a reworked coaching curriculum. My illiterate grappling with Winter's dissonant notions prompted me to question whether his underlying suggestion was a little like nominating an entrepreneur who had secured seed funding through online fraud for the role of lecturing on wealth creation. The moral waters became murkier still when I chanced upon a BT panel discussing "spygate" on YouTube. None of the panel were convulsing in epileptic fits of splenetic rage or decrying Bielsa as the epitome of modern football's unravelling morals, which I found somewhat surprising, as given the prevailing journalistic mood I had assumed that the entire nation was gripped in a Bielsa induced moral panic. Indeed, in place of the moral hand-wringing, I had grown accustomed to, was a consensus that the kernel of a news story had been puffed up into popcorn journalism - that there had been a gross overreaction in other words. More shocking still, further burrowing through the internet revealed that a similar sentiment was echoed by a cohort of Bielsa's so-called victims. I was bemused, but regathered my wits just in time to listen as the essence of the emerging counterpoint was neatly encapsulated in Chris Sutton's (I know ok) assertion that diving represented a far more corrosive threat to the integrity of the modern game than did "spygate". By this point the emerging picture of "spygate's" morality resembled a patchwork of leftover ethical rags stitched together to form an abominable Frankenstein's monster. Seen through this degenerate moral lens "spygate" was more objectionable than assaulting Ruud van Nistelrooy, more noxious than phone hacking, yet somehow less harrowing than diving (Are you listening Mo Salah?). This emergent profile, that of a schizophrenically erratic morality, was disjointed to the point of fracturing from within. Frustrated, I decided that I must have missed something. And so it was that I came to retrace my steps. At first this was a joyous experience as I allowed myself to enjoy, as if for the first time, Bielsa's glorious impersonation of a KGB agent revealing the United State's nuclear codes. But thereafter the process became progressively more laborious as I slogged through hours of tedious reportage with all the disgruntlement of a farmer who'd just lost a wellie traversing a cesspool. My endeavours, hampered somewhat by a migraine of mental fatigue, growing apathy, and reading The Daily Mail, ultimately failed to satisfactorily disambiguate a plastic morality, which was by degrees all-consuming, entirely invisible, or both. It was then, at my lowest ebb, that it struck me that perhaps "spygate's" morality was never meant to be clarified or its granular structure magnified. Perhaps morality was in fact just a rhetorical hub around which opinion could initially congregate before entering a cycle of division and consolidation as a rolling meme of tribal expression. Myself, I'm beginning to think that perhaps "spygate" never happened at all.