Dictionary of Received Ideas
A guide to what pundits really mean when they use certain terms
From The Dictionary of Received Ideas, Football Pundits' Edition
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ARSENAL Admirable but misguided. Think they can pass the ball into the net. Bemoan their naivety: "You can be as attacking as you like, but it's all for nothing if you don't win." Remind your listeners that the perfect goal is the one that goes in.
ASIA A source of "untapped markets".
BACK To praise lukewarmly in a press conference. Writers: Should only be used in headlines; otherwise reformulate as "a ringing statement of support".
BARCELONA The team of the decade. Mention tiki-taka.
BIG MAN Call him "old-fashioned", or else point out that he has good feet.
BRAZIL Home of samba, Pelé, carnival, 'The Girl from Ipanema,' and kidnapping, not necessarily in that order.
BRAZILIAN FOOTBALL Never bring up without saying "the beautiful game". Elaborate: "dancing and prancing up the pitch to the beat of their own inimitable drummer". Alternately: point out that they know the value of set pieces.
BUMS Always squeaky at the end of a close match/season.
BUS Inferior teams park them; no team yet fielded has ever attempted to drive one.
CATENACCIO Apply to any 1-0 game.
CRISTIANO RONALDO On his personality, be diplomatic: "He tends to divide opinion." Otherwise, alternate between "imperious" and "in his pomp".
DIVING Joke that it was caused by the wind. Of English players: "Did he dive, or did he just lose his balance?"
FIERY Admiring way of saying "alcoholic".
FIGHT Blame the referee: "He's lost control of the match." In a derby, treat as evidence that the two teams dislike each other. Downplay: "We're having a bit of handbags just now." In America, call them "extracurricular activities."
FOOTBALL It's a game of two halves. The English invented it. When something happens: "It's a funny old game." Declare it "the winner" after any high-scoring match.
FOREIGNERS Outnumber Englishmen in the Premier League. Technically proficient but don't much like it up 'em, so to speak. Divers (be careful how you phrase this). Have an inexplicable tendency to get homesick.
FORM It's temporary; class is permanent.
FORMATIONS Overrated: the game is about the players.
FOULS (HARD) "There's no excuse for that kind of thing." Alternately: "It's a man's game." "He just let him know he was there."
GARETH BALE The fans will crucify you if you slip up and call him English, since they can't remember either.
GERMANY They always win in the end. Excellent at penalties. You should allude to the war where possible.
GOAL It only takes one to change the game. You're most vulnerable after you've scored one. If ugly: "They'll take it." "They all count."
GOAL OF THE SEASON Any goal you've just witnessed is surely a contender.
GOALSCORER If it's his birthday, point out that he's given himself a present.
HANDSHAKES Refusing one is a declaration of war. Point out that "the media will have a field day with this."
HELENIO HERRERA You don't need to know who he is.
HITLER It's a myth that he was a Schalke fan. If you have to bring him up, identify him: "the German chancellor during World War II."
HOOLIGANS Sophisticated: They're usually middle-class professionals. Ultra-sophisticated: Blame Margaret Thatcher. Everyone else: Publicly deplore them, then turn to YouTube in secret.
IBRAHIMOVIĆ Sneer at his inconsistency: "Give me 10 Frank Lampards any day." He never comes through in England.
INJURY Probably just needs to be walked off. While reviewing the slow-motion replays: "Doesn't look like too much there." After the stretcher comes out, point out that it could be career-threatening.
IRISH A mysterious and seldom-heard-from people whose only known qualities are luck and smiling eyes.
ITALY Home of organised defending, pasta, corruption, Roberto Baggio and nudity, not necessarily in that order.
JOHN TERRY (Updated, 2012 edition) Refer to his "strong personality" and "bravery".
LA MASIA The incubator of Spain's golden age. Point out that it means "the farmhouse".
LEADS 2-0 is the most dangerous.
LEFT FOOT The only human extremity capable of becoming "cultured".
LIVERPOOL The greatest team in the history of English football. Should be out of the title race by October.
MLS They call it "soccer" in America. Will never succeed until it cultivates homegrown stars. Offer measured praise: it's as good as the Championship. You don't need to watch any matches.
MANCHESTER CITY If they score a beautiful goal: "All the money in the world can't buy a goal like that." You may find it easier to pretend they were founded in 2008.
MANCHESTER UNITED You can never count them out. Always have a trick or two up their sleeve. It's their belief that makes them invincible. Everything begins with the manager.
MARADONA Better than Pelé. See PELÉ.
MATT LE TISSIER Never mention him. Why? Who knows?
MESSI May be the greatest of all time; it's too soon to say. Could burnish his credentials by winning the World Cup. Would struggle against lesser English opposition on inclement weeknights. See STOKE.
METATARSAL A part of the body that was discovered shortly before the 2006 World Cup. A mark of weakness: "They didn't have those when I was playing."
MINDGAMES Alex Ferguson is their acknowledged master. Talk about them as though it's obvious why they would work, even though it isn't.
MISSED SHOTS Worthy of contempt: "He really needs to be testing the keeper from that distance." Or else praise: "If anything, he almost struck it too well."
MOURINHO Filter all commentary through the word "special". After an important final: "It's the special-est of victories for the Special One." After a tough loss: "José Mourinho won't be feeling too special after that." If saying this once feels like overkill, say it twice.
NEYMAR The new Neymar.
OFFSIDE LAW (Obsolete) Women never understand it. When confused, state angrily that the attacking player should be given the benefit of the doubt.
PENALTY DECISION Declare that you've seen them given for less. Or else say, "for me, that's not a penalty," as though you were judging wine.
PENALTY SHOOTOUT A lottery. Note that you can't practise for them. England will lose through one in the quarterfinals.
PELÉ Better than Maradona. See MARADONA.
PRAWN SANDWICH BRIGADE Ruining football. No idea how to support a team. Careful; they're also your listeners.
QUALITY Measured in bags. Often a little bit lacking in the final third. You can have all the quality in the world, but you still have to get it done when it counts.
REAL MADRID Their two unforgivable crimes are fascism and galácticos.
RINUS MICHELS Said "football is war."
SACKINGS The list of managers most likely to be sacked: point out that this is not a list you want to appear at the top of.
SCOTLAND Apart from the horrific sectarian violence, home of the nicest fans in the world.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON "The fiery Scot." Also: wily, experienced, magisterial, single-minded, resolute, etc. Mention his hair dryer: the players are afraid of it. After a win, point out that he nearly retired in 2002.
SPAIN Some people find them boring. Explain that Messi is Argentinian.
STOKE Wet Wednesday nights there are a test of manhood. A zone where technique does not operate.
SWASHBUCKLING Any fullback beyond the centre circle.
TACTICS See FORMATIONS
TENSION An invisible substance that conducts electricity and can also be cut with a knife.
TOTALFOOTBALL Bring up when any Dutch side scores three goals. Always a "breathtaking display".
TRANSFER BUDGET Stored in war-chests the location of which is known only to the club board. Their spiraling growth is ruining modern football. Question why Wenger won't spend his.
TRANSFER RUMOURS A nuisance: "if you believe the talk out of Portugal." Spread them at all costs.
UNITED STATES Praise the strides football has made there since Beckham went over.
UNSETTLED Conscious of needing money.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE Always "dreaded". When given to a manager, usually precedes his sudden recommitment to the idea of spending time with his family.
WAGs During international matches, bemoan "distractions". Best not to get too specific.
ZONAL MARKING Excessively complicated. "At its heart this game is simple." Ruining football.
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