The season draws in, the evenings draw out. Garth Crooks, half drunk on Martinis and sprawled out on an emerald chaise lounge, presumably, draws once again on the great well of footballing knowledge that sits deep within his mind. Team of the Week’s 30, 31, 32 etc. pick themselves. Child’s-play for an old maestro. You don’t get the top gig at the BBC if you can’t drop a 3-1-1-5 with Kurt Zouma manning the midfield solo once in a while. The main event beckons.
As football prepares to kick off its boots, crumple its sweaty socks into a ball, and slip into an ill-suiting Tux, so too must the legions of journalists and armchair journalists that populate the land, divert their eyes from the crux of the action and towards more ceremonial matters. Sun streams in through the venetian blinds, Garth lifts himself up with an appropriate sense of duty and prepares once again to lead the nation into the futile national pastime of divvying out imaginary gongs to eleven footballers at the end of a season.
Team of the Season selections. The annual festival of inviting mass-fury upon your own doorstep. Nobody will agree with your choices and your choices won’t mean anything at all. But you’ll make them nonetheless. So batten down the hatches, run a hot bath and embrace the Crooksian state of mind. Here’s how to choose an XI that would make the king proud.
Casuals abound in this game, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that selecting a Team of the Season is some kind of fun activity to be conducted over a pint. Something anyone could pull off without a second thought, rather than a serious business that requires years of talent honing and soul searching. The rampant ‘it’s only a game’ mindset sets in deep across the drinking holes and living room’s of this land, resulting in lazy 4-3-3’s populated by the first names that come to mind. “Aguero, is he still good? He’ll do.”
Then come the ultras. Not flare-wielding loons from Buenos Aires nor muscle-bound man tanks from Putin’s hooli-breeding Salvic petri dish, the ultras of the TOTY realm are actually massive nerds. Whether it’s constructing line-ups in accordance with the latest data-modelling or insisting that the team, though fictitious, must be appropriately balanced and functional as if it were to actually compete, these types are every bit as common and dangerous as the half-arsers. You can’t just pick the best 11 players – it doesn’t work like that.
The thing about stats, though, is this: The WhoScored European Team of the Season 2020 included James Tarkowski, fatally undermining the AI takeover theory and suggesting that, when Mars or whatever elsewhere planet do finally send their computerised cyborg footballing XI to face our humble earthlings, they might not actually be all that. And besides, what computer could ever out-think the analytical mind of our Garth.
One might naturally assume there’s a fine line to be towed by pundit’s and journalists between these polar extremes – taking your job seriously but not appearing like a person who takes themselves far too seriously in the process. Deploy a 433, not a 344, but maybe slip Jack Grealish or Heung-Min Son into the left hand-side of your midfield trio just to prove that you’re not a stuffy Maths Grad from the School of Gegenpressing with xG tattooed onto your forearm.
The message being – you can fiddle with the exterior, but please don’t touch the mechanism. Turn up to school in a pair of black trainers that resemble school shoes if you must, but always fasten up your tie. The spirit of the individual, creative license, that’s all very nice, but systems populate this world for good reason, so accept them, embrace them, and stop this silly five man attack nonsense, Garth. You’re 63 for Christ sake.
Not Mr Crooks.
Garth Crooks is a man whose idiosyncratic artistic vision defies such regressive categorisation. He exists in a world where functional 4-2-3-1’s are tantamount to an assault on civil liberty. The job of the artist is not to present the world as it is, if you want verisimilitude then stick your head out a window. The job of the artist is to conceive a landscape of aspiration. A vision of the society free of corruption and evil, where the lid on Pandora’s Box stays fastened shut and Marcus Rashford slots in as an overlapping centre-back in a futuristic visual depiction of the enlightened mind.
So thank you, Garth Crooks, for seeing a blank canvas where others see eleven x’s scratched onto a sheet of A4. Thank you for taking a baseball bat to the hive mind and using the stolen honey to paint that canvas with Alexis Sanchez and Marko Arnautovic as wing backs in a majestic 5-1-1-3. Thank you for reminding the weary souls of this earth that a game is never only a game and that in the most unlikely places can be found the most beautiful art.