Modern football, fans too fast to judge
There was solace for Alberto Moreno, if only he knew where to find it. His debut for Liverpool had not gone as well as, at one point, it seemed it might.
After a relatively comfortable 40 minutes against Manchester City on Monday night, the 22-year-old had 60 seconds to forget. First, he came within a whisker of conceding a penalty, narrowly failing to scythe down Pablo Zabaleta. Then, he paused, and Stevan Jovetic didn't. The Premier League champions took the lead and never really looked like throwing it away. Even his manager, Brendan Rodgers, seemed to suggest after the game that Moreno's would be a steep learning curve.
English football's famous pace -- the same pace that was widely attributed as being Moreno's undoing -- is nothing compared to the speed with which it rushes to judgment. First impressions count in the Premier League; first impressions also last.
A positive first encounter with the harsh glare of public opinion can set a player in good stead for months, if not years, disguising many and varied forms of ineptitude. A negative one and, at times, it seems as though you may as well pack up and go home. Moreno is not a bad player. He did not even play especially badly in what was an extraordinarily exacting first day in his new job. But that may not matter. There is no time. Not anymore.
It is an ugly tendency but one, that is entirely fitting with the league's zeitgeist. The scrutiny on the Premier League makes it a goldfish bowl; the money injected into it seems to have turned everyone involved in it into goldfish, too.
There was a time when "short-termism," like rabies and eating pastries for breakfast, was a Continental disease. English football -- to afford a variant of a game a collective consciousness it probably does not possess -- used to look at the mania which engulfed its cousins in Italy and Spain with a mixture of derision and despair.
All the club presidents sacking managers after three games, all the newspapers declaring one team or another to be in "crisis" after one draw, all the fans demanding revolutionary change because their side had finished second and not first: these were at odds with those values seen as being traditionally British. Patience, perseverance and an understanding that success did not come overnight: when English football self-defined against the foreign game, these were the virtues it claimed.
That has been eroded over the last two decades to the point where panic has become the norm. Harry Redknapp has not had a great first two games back in the Premier League with Queens Park Rangers; there are now suggestions that he may be sacked if he cannot "stop the rot."
By his own admission, Louis van Gaal has been both the "king" and the "devil" of Manchester United since taking over; he has only been in the job for six weeks. Chelsea won the title when they beat Burnley, only to have it taken off them when City swatted aside Liverpool. It is not yet September. What is interesting is not that any of these things are correct or incorrect, or whether they are inventions or mere exaggerations. What is interesting is how they are accepted as the norm.
If football is a soap opera, then there was a time when, broadly, it was The Archers. Now, it is Hollyoaks. Those of you in Britain will know what that means. For those of you not blessed with the BBC or Channel 4, the former is a radio show set in a bucolic, country idyll where storylines develop over months, if at all; the latter is a genuine telenovela of explosions, robberies and murders, all of which happen on one street in one town where the police seem blissfully unconcerned.
Where once we waited, now we anoint and we crucify on a daily basis. There are times when we forget everything as soon as we wake. There are times when we allow our snap judgments to endure, despite all of the mounting evidence to the contrary. It is not so long since newspapers and television stations in this country did not so much as display the league table before three games had been played, judging -- rightly -- that it was all but meaningless. Now, it is shown, and it is interpreted.
This addiction to immediacy, this rush to rule, is not a desperately healthy way to live. It tends to mean decisions are made poorly: on whether to keep a manager or to sack him, on whether to appoint this man or that, on whether to go out and spend yet more money in the transfer market. And yet it is actively encouraged by supporters.
That should be no surprise: combine the late-1990s rise of 24-hour news channels to the mid-2000s influx of social media, and what you have is a society that expects life to unfold like an expertly scripted, fast-paced cop show.
There always have to be developments, no matter how incremental. Our attention spans accept nothing else than constant, accelerating motion. The only difference is that whereas the news channels encouraged us to think that something happened every hour, social media hoodwinks us into believing that something happens every second. We live our lives waiting for the update, the instalment, the twist.
And so back to Moreno. It is entirely possible -- if not probable -- that his first season in England will be determined by that first meeting, by that microsecond of a pause that allowed Jovetic to strike. If that seems counter-intuitive to a knee-jerk culture, it is not: After all, it is the nature of short attention spans that focus will shift almost immediately. There will be another storyline along in a minute. No matter how competent Moreno is from now on, the judgment has been made. That one is down. On to the next.
This is where Moreno might find solace, though, on that pitch at the Etihad. Jovetic, for a start, is finally managing to change his role in the drama. He was described, in at least one newspaper, as a flop at the start of the season, presumably because he was a bit-part player last year. Never mind that he was injured, or returning from injury, and trying to displace Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko at City as they chased a narrowly won title. He was not an immediate success, so he was a flop. There is no room for a slow-burner these days.
An even better example, though, comes in the form of Martin Demichelis. Did you notice Demichelis on Monday? No? That's probably because he was entirely flawless. He has been entirely flawless, in fact, ever since he rescued Man City at Hull last season after Vincent Kompany had been stupidly sent off. He had been impressive for two months before that, too, other than his sending off against Barcelona, and he was impressive for Argentina in the World Cup this summer. They made the final. Before Mario Gotze's strike in extra time, they had not conceded a goal in any knockout game.
Demichelis is, in other words, a really rather gifted defender. But because he had a poor couple of games when he first arrived -- and because he had a very questionable haircut -- he was dismissed as a liability, a weak point, a bizarre blind spot in the otherwise eminently reasonable Manuel Pellegrini. It is only now, really, that that first impression is starting to fade. Even then, one mistake and it will creep out of the woodwork: Attention spans are short, remember. We will forget when it is convenient for us to do so.
That is the solace for Moreno. He may be seen now as a weakness, an accident waiting to happen. There will be those who want to write him off for one mistake. Give it a year, though, and a World Cup final, and the goldfish will forget all about it.
Rory Smith is a columnist for ESPN FC and The Times. Follow him on Twitter @RorySmithTimes.