As a sports fan, you live in hope. Hope that your team can compete, hope that your team can win, and hope that you have a lot of fun along the way, and that the highs outnumber the lows. Sports is just entertainment, after all, and being entertained is fun.
Over the years, of course, sports has calcified into Serious Damn Business for a lot of people, and along with that calcification, it has developed its own language, its own script, and its own way of having things play out that doesn’t necessarily correlate with how people act and react in the real world.
One of the most evergreen/safe/boring questions anybody can ask of any athlete is “what do you think of your team’s chances this year, Athlete Person?” To which Athlete Person generally responds “I think we can do well” if they’re on a good team, or some variation of “it’ll be tough but I think we’ll be OK” if they’re on a not-so-good team.
The latest iteration of that little dance played out today when, after the Burnley game, someone asked Petr Cech about Arsenal’s season so far and their chances. Cue the script:
“You have to play game by game, not think too much about what’s going on around you because if you win your game then you give yourself a chance,” he said.
Which is 100% true. As long as you take care of your business, and win your games, you control your own destiny. He went on to say:
“Let’s win our game and see how the others are doing. If the other teams at this moment above us keep going, keep winning, then you can’t catch them, but first you need to win your games and keep putting pressure on them.
Also true! Again, Arsenal can only control what they control, which is the way they play. And while Cech never once says “I think Arsenal can win the title”, he dances around it a bit:
“It’s only 13 games in, that’s the most important thing and there’s so many points to be won. You need to carry on for 38 games and show consistency. There can be plenty of twists in the table and you see yourselves climb after two wins then have a draw and fall out of the top four pretty quick.
Cech’s final thought on the game was:
we got a big win here and now hopefully we’ve turned the corner in terms of the away games and we need to carry on with our home form and if we can get as many away points as well then we will climb up the table.”
So Cech is following the Modern Sports Player Speaks script pretty well - saying things without saying them, giving no guarantees, laying out the available options in a way that sounds very positive. Those quotes above were almost the entirety of what Cech had to say, and what he said was...fine. Uncontroversial, kinda uninteresting, basically verbal mayonnaise. So the Guardian decided to throw some sriracha in that mayo with its headline, which read:
Petr Cech hopes Arsenal have ‘turned the corner’ and can fight for title
Read the piece for yourself. Cech never says Arsenal can “fight for the title”. He said what you see above - that Arsenal can play better, are starting to play better, and if they keep doing that, they’ll climb up the table. He said nothing about a title challenge, at all. The first half of that headline is supported by the contents of the piece; the second, not at all.
I generally like the Guardian, but that headline...oof. This piece was going to be about the willful participation of athletes in propagating narrative in these interviews, and I think now it’s more about how headline writers are either really good at their job, which is getting people to click, or are cynical, jaded people who just know how a narrative is supposed to sound and will fit any sound bite into said narrative. Or maybe it’s both.