The idea of working as a soccer writer might sound like the perfect way for a sports fanatic to make a living. But it can be a job that leaves even the biggest experts a little red-faced. Sports pundits are not just expected to talk expertly about what has happened, they also have to take on the role of fortune tellers and predict what is going to occur next. It’s an inexact science, and sometimes the biggest stories are the ones they get completely wrong.
Leicester to be relegated in 2016
When the Foxes appointed Claudio Ranieri as boss in July 2015, there was heavy criticism. The BBC’s Chief Football Writer Phil McNulty predicted certain relegation and to be fair, all the best UK bookmakers agreed. When the season got underway, Leicester were an incredible 5,000 to one for the title. The rest, of course, is history, and McNulty’s embarrassment was nothing compared to the impact on those bookmakers. These days, you never see such astronomically long odds and even bigger improbabilities than that Leicester team of 2005 winning the Premier League are seldom much longer than 200 to one. However, the pundits continue to make predictions with the same levels of certainty.
Roy Hodgson, Liverpool’s savior
The same journalists who criticized Ranieri’s appointment in 2015 had expressed the opposite view when Liverpool gave the top job to Roy Hodgson five years earlier. Headlines screamed that he was “perfect for the job” having gained experience at the highest level with Inter Milan, before going to lowly Fulham where he got them to the Europa League final. What actually happened was that he never got to grips with the role, Liverpool were bundled out of the Carling Cup by Northampton Town and Hodgson was fired after six months, with the team dangerously close to the relegation zone.
We’ve got our Arsenal back
That’s what the Gunners faithful were singing from the terraces in December 2018 as their team dominated local rivals Tottenham under the leadership of new boss Unai Emery. The press got caught up in the hype, predicting a return to the days of The Invincibles. Just a year later, Emery was out of the door and Arsenal were in disarray.
A formality for PSG
Last year’s Champions League encounter between PSG and Manchester United at Old Trafford looked like men versus boys. United were all at sea and were fortunate only to lose 2-0. The football media described the encounter as “the outcome of years of mismanagement” and feared far greater humiliation in the second leg, which would be “a completion of formalities” for PSG. As it was, United played their best game of the season, and Rashford’s late goal meant they were through to the quarter finals.
Surely this one is a safe prediction? The only catch is that it was made ten years too early. At the start of the 2009/10 season, an effusive Phil McNulty told readers this was going to be Liverpool’s season, and closed the article with the above two words. In fact, the team didn’t win a single trophy, finished seventh in the table and fired their manager, a certain Rafa Benitez, at the end of the season.