Posted on: March 9, 2024 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Ahmad bin Tahir

Raheem Sterling’s legacy has been tarred. Robert Lewandowski is no longer a memorable figure for football fans. Does anyone even remember Lukaku’s heroics for Inter Milan before his move to Chelsea? Football suffers from the epidemic of recency bias.

Football is a dynamic game. It changes roughly every 3 years with respect to its tactics, playstyle, and marketing strategies. While FC Barcelona’s tiki-taka might have been the peak of sporting tactics in 2011, Dortmund’s gegenpressing in 2013 overshadowed its influence on the sport. By extension, player archetypes changed very rapidly as well, with Didier Drogba’s false-9 quickly being replaced by Louis Suarez’s poaching skills.

As the whirlwind of managerial dynamism transforms football, players sometimes cannot keep up. After all, a human being is limited by his physique, and a football player can be molded only so much into differing tactical systems. So, when football decided to use full-backs as attacking weapons, defensive units like Aaron Wan-Bissaka failed to keep up, while a new generation of winger-esque wing-backs developed through the likes of Alexander Arnold and Alphonso Davies.

The streets tend to forget very easily.

Football fans, by virtue of their humanity, cannot conduct time-series analysis for players over the years. Most watch football as entertainment, as an escape from the crunching routine of our daily lives. After the match ends, they return to their lives, away from the exciting bubble of the game. Fans, therefore, do not have the need or the desire to account for their recency bias while scrutinizing their team’s performance in a pub after the game. So, as players fail to adjust to newer systems, fans reject them, forgetting the dazzle of their prime. The Sakas of the modern world are compared to the Kakas of the ancient, and a recency bias is exposed by the binaries of good and bad that these players are categorized into.

Football fans have long been compared with mobs, partially due to their rowdy and even violent nature, but also because of the influence they hold over decision-making bodies. Clubs make most of the money through matchday revenue, broadcasting rights, and merchandise sales. All of these are fan-centered areas of revenue generation, which gives said fans exclusive power over how they want their clubs to behave. Fans have historically impacted major decisions within their clubs, with one of the most important recent examples being the gathering of several thousand Chelsea fans outside of Stamford Bridge in protest of the rumors that Chelsea would be joining the bid for the Super League. The demonstration forced Chelsea legend and Technical Director Petr Cech, to come out and negotiate with the fans. Consequently, Chelsea became the first club to publicly reject the Super League proposal.

However, fan influence is not limited to only major sporting decisions like the Super League. Their sentiment can drive policies about who gets to play for their team, and whether a manager should be sacked. Anti-Solskjær sentiment was a driving factor for his sacking from United, while fan dislike towards Benzema significantly stunted his French National Team career.

A powerful, decision-altering mob, plagued with the untreatable disease of recency bias, runs the biggest sport in the world. A tragic contagion for the careers of many bright players, the antidote for entire coaching philosophies, and the catalyst for billion-dollar splurges by team owners, this phenomenon extends a frantic approach for the footballing world. One driven by relentless, cruel competition for who can ride the recency train the best.

Success in football requires patience. And fans do not have any to give.

Pitchforks are summoned for players after a single poor season. Time, therefore, becomes a rare commodity for footballers trying to adjust to new leagues, teams, or coaching tactics. Jadon Sancho, Timo Werner, James Rodriguez. Players with sparkling talent who broke under the unrelenting pressure of the masses.

Success in football requires patience. And fans must find more of it to give.

There is empirical evidence supporting the argument that not giving into impatience due to recency bias yields wildly better results than making decisions on a whim. So-called ‘Project managers’, managers who approach their teams with longer-term development projects rather than short-term silverware goals, have started penetrating the bigger leagues. The most undeniable success is that of Mikel Arteta, Arsenal’s project manager who took over an underperforming team in 2019. Despite poor performances in the earlier years of his project, Arteta has converted Arsenal into a team challenging the behemoths of Liverpool and Manchester City towards the Premier League title, while being strong contenders for the UCL.

A contrasting image would be that of Manchester United. Fan-led resentment against successive managers resulted in quick ousters from the club, and so coaches with strong tactical identities failed to make a lasting mark on the United team, including Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

The same argument can be extended towards players as well, where fan patience allowed Connor Gallagher to become one of the best counter-pressing midfielders in the Premier League, while the same set of fans decided to resent, and oust, Joao Felix from the team.

Football lies exclusively in the hands of football fans. With the powers they wield, they owe a wider responsibility to the game: an oath to be pragmatic, patient, and considerate about the shifting paradigms of the sport.

May the streets remember, and remember well.