Vanya talks to his children, today about…
Judging by results
The family sat together again in familiar company. The children had long since grown fond of this part of the school supplement. Even if there were so many partly shocking reports about the conditions on earth and especially about football there: it exerted a certain fascination. Especially since everyone knew at some point that they owed their existence here solely to this back story. And you simply felt good here, where you were. Whereby it always remained a small task to always appreciate what one is used to on a daily basis and to remain grateful. Lasting happiness – as their father had taught them well and made them understand – is just as worthless as lasting unhappiness, unless you can compare this or that with an alternative state. That means: inevitably, there must also be lows in everyone’s life, if only to be able to perceive the highs that follow. Nevertheless, everyone agreed: life is good here on Putoia. What would it have been like on earth? In this case, too, there was no comparison. But under no circumstances would anyone here have been prepared to swap. They loved life and especially football here – and there was a close connection between the two.
“We were not the only ones to deal with the coverage, and not for the first time. It is important to note that this was mainly a German problem. We had already discussed why this was so. The lost wars, too many titles in a row, a little too much luck, the transfigured view of it, the justification of every result, because otherwise one would have had to question one’s own successes, the certain arrogance of the speakers, coming from the country of the world champion and for that reason alone knowing everything and everything better, actually having to know, because otherwise the many titles would also be in question. We are world champions because we are, each and every one of us, experts and better than the rest of the world, that must come through in every comment and remain recognisable. There is no need to praise an action. Only a layman says ‘well done’. The expert recognises: ‘yes, if you give him so much space, then of course he can… the opponent has to go for it more, really go for it’ or something like that.
Even if this problem was mainly a German one, there was still a lot of pressure of expectations abroad and, as a result, dismissals of coaches or fans who got upset, questioned or even attacked the kickers because they could not meet the expectations. Again, an unpleasant consequence of this, from mostly false and media-generated exaggerated expectations that could not be met either way for all teams. The minimum goal was to stay in the league – and not all teams were able to achieve that. The questions about a good game, an entertaining evening, a lot of fun, excitement and drama, the question about fair play, the thanks to both teams for a good game, in which only one team can win, all these questions did not come up and were lost in the ‘pure results sport of football’. That was also the case abroad.”
Once Wanja got going, there was no stopping him. Of course, he also knew that he should stop now and then, ask a question, pause for thought, wait for a reaction, but as long as everyone was listening, this was not absolutely necessary and every now and then one could let oneself go in this way. A lot had accumulated on earth over the decades. It was time to let off some steam.
“Ok, but today I wanted to talk to you about a principle that the commentators used more and more and which a) made their job so much easier, which b) gave them a high reputation, an expert status, the aforementioned expert points, which they secretly accumulated, and which c) were nevertheless absolutely superficial and mostly wrong, which d) were mostly wrong in the result and which finally e) spoiled the fun of football, the joy of the matter, the actually desired entertainment value of the reportage. This principle is called ‘judging by results’.”
“Yes, I know that,” said the middle one, “it always annoys me too, when someone says ‘watch out’ after I’ve dropped something. After all, I know that now too and the advice comes too late – besides, it’s not advice at all. He only formulated it as such after the result was obvious. He could have saved himself the trouble.”
“Yes, a good example. But the reaction actually a bit human. The person giving the advice thinks, partly to himself, ‘if only I’d warned you beforehand, maybe this could have been avoided’. It’s a kind of reflex, you could even say. Now and then it even happens that you catch the moment when a warning is helpful. So you see something wobbling, realise that it’s about to fall, and even rush to help with the words ‘watch out, be careful’ and can even avert the disaster. So from that point of view, I understand your excitement. It is an everyday situation, but you can still understand people and sometimes even make sense of it. Nevertheless, of course: it’s gratifying when you make such observations and can classify them, just like I did back then, and draw your conclusions from them.”
A short pause here and there, as usual, could never hurt and often arose inevitably. One simply reflected. Vanya picked up the thread again.
“However, this, if used permanently, can very soon become a smart-ass. Especially when the possibility of an objection is not available to one. We would have to continue to fill points a to e with life, but I would now like to explain the simple life of commentators, which unfortunately developed more and more in the aforementioned direction, by way of example.
A goal-scoring opportunity arises. The attacking team has a few options at its disposal. The most popular of these are to try to score or to pass to a better-positioned team-mate. But all this happens in a fraction of a second. Apart from the fact that the defence, with its reactions, has a lot to say in the matter. The simple life of the reporter is now dominated by the following: the player shoots, no goal is scored. Comment: ‘he should have passed the ball’. The alternative is that he passes and it is not a goal either. The comment then: ‘he should have tried it on his own’. This AND that comment are derived solely from the result.”
Yes, it was easy to understand. The children were silent and thought about it. One hesitantly raised objection was: “But isn’t it true from time to time? I see it in the game, now and then when we play ourselves, now and then when we watch. You say that yourself sometimes, don’t you?”
Vanya had to think back for a moment and let the words sink in. Of course his son was right. But he too had his point.
“Very well observed. Every now and then it can be seen which is the option that gives the higher probability of scoring. If I were to say it – which does indeed happen here and there — I would firstly derive it from the situation, secondly say it with a regret for the missed chance and not with any kind of lecture and thirdly, you surely know that I am only in favour of football and full of admiration for what the players – like yourselves – are capable of. From that point of view, it is not comparable. Apart from that, you could very well say that from time to time I would have the realisation, even if it becomes a goal, that it wasn’t the best possible decision or, conversely, if it doesn’t become a goal, very well say that I think it’s right that way. So all facets of differentiation are fulfilled in me, which support my credibility and reliability in the statement.”
Now the children could only acknowledge that their father had observed and summarised this well. Wanja took the opportunity to continue. They were on his side, so to speak.
“The difference with the sports commentators is obvious, I think, and they also used this stylistic device to a growing extent as they developed. That is to say: when I was a child, you could very well recognise this distinction here and there too, a kind of regret when an action went wrong. It’s a pity for football, we would all have liked to see a nice goal. Except – always with this small caveat – the vastly outnumbered fans of the team conceding the goal. Basically, every spectator would like to see successful action. It’s a bit like the circus. There, the main thing is the joy of success, not failure at all.
The defenders are the ones who could stand in the way of success. They try to position themselves optimally to prevent the goal from being scored. Yet they remain the destroyers, the ones who might spoil the game for the general spectator. ‘Another defensive leg in the way’ he might think. They are the ones who prevent football. Nevertheless, one can admire or enjoy their successful actions here and there. Good saves by a goalkeeper – which in themselves can contribute to the spectacle -, a successful fair tackle, a defender sprinting in between and running off the ball with fair use of his body are worthy of mention. Nevertheless, the world is less likely to enjoy these actions. Their purpose is to prevent goals, whereby they contribute to the fact that one can only really rejoice afterwards about a defence that has been overcome with the final goal. In other words, if it were always all too easy, this joy would be greatly diminished. So you have to have the feeling that it’s difficult so that you can be happy about a goal.”
Now Wanja was on a roll again. That didn’t mean that the story was boring, but he always liked to ramble. However, he always took the view that one could calmly make the connections clear at all points in order to understand them properly.
“Ok, I lost sight of judging by results, judging by results, a little bit. However, what I wanted to emphasise is this: if any of that sage advice was given, ‘there he must play off’ or ‘there he must try it himself’, then the speaker apparently forgets at that moment that the defence objected and did everything in their power to prevent the goal. Perhaps they were simply successful in their defensive action at that moment. So: the speaker could even turn the tables first in theory and always look at everything from the positive side. So if the direct shot does not result in a goal, then the defence would only have offered the shooter this worse option, thus positively covering the dangerously lurking teammate in the middle in time or, if the clearance was made and it does not become a goal, the opponent would have successfully blocked the more favourable direct path to the goal and thus provoked the less goal-directed clearance, which thus had to be defended again. But they always chose the negative side. There he had to do this, there he would have been better to do that. Depending on the outcome of the situation.”
The children continued to listen. As much as their father kept talking around it: somehow the circle closed in the end.
“Because surely you know what happened when the goal was scored after all?”
“You can easily hear that out: if the ball found its way into the net, then the attacker had by no means, as one would now have to assume, decided on the better option, having already done it wrong four times before.”
“But…?” Wanja inquired.
“… the entire defence had suddenly been in a deep sleep, the opponent had let him go, had only given him friendly escort, apparently word hadn’t yet got around how goal-dangerous the man would be if you let him have the space, no one had prevented the pass beforehand in midfield by intervening energetically, the goalkeeper should have gone out to meet him or, if he had, he should have stayed on the line, and in general everyone in the whole team would have contributed to the goal being conceded: 1. “
“That means in total?”
“No matter how an action ended: the speaker always knew who had done what wrong, was always in the right, since he now knew the outcome of the action, collected lots of expert points – at least in his own opinion, because he was so infinitely clever – and at the same time spoiled any enjoyment of the events for the spectator. Who wants to be informed of the constant mistakes throughout? How could anyone think that this is supposed to be good football, that this is fun to watch? Do you just want to wait for the next action – only to be told again what was wrong with this one? Because remember: no goal – the attacking team did something wrong, missed something. But a goal – the back line has done something wrong, whereby here the distinction is justified: if it is not a goal, the attacking party has only made A FEW SMALL ERRORS. If it does turn out to be a goal, the defending party has made ALL THE WRONG. Small mistakes – then just no goal is scored. Big mistakes – but the rare event of a goal. This is how primitive football has been taught to us over time. No wonder people migrated in droves – to Putoia.”
Vanya, however, was far from done with this topic.
“The principle can be applied anywhere and it is equally superficial, erroneous and fun and joy spoiling everywhere. A single action is judged by its outcome. However, the outcome of that action is to be viewed positively or negatively, depending on one’s perspective. If it had been done in an international match, a German team against a foreign one, then a permanent perspective could be accepted to some extent. So: the German team does NOT score a goal, something should have been done differently, they concede one, they could have defended better. Even if this is still wrong and superficial and only oriented towards the outcome: one could take it as sympathising.
But if you comment on any Bundesliga match, you would be obliged to neutrality. If you always emphasise the negative part, then a lot of things are wrong. Goal conceded – they did something wrong. No goal scored – the others did something wrong. Always the view from the negative perspective.”
This was also understandable. Why did it happen that way? It was obvious: the commentator wanted to be the wise guy.
“The extension of the principle was to whole match outcomes or table standings, to whole seasons or, even thinking further, to years. So if – as in 2019 – both European Cup finals were contested exclusively by English teams, we were told this was due to club takeovers by foreign investors, which were not permitted in Germany. At the same time, they would have tough games week in week out in the league due to the huge competition, while Bayern Munich were never really challenged in Germany and therefore could no longer compete at the very top.
If the English teams went empty-handed for years before that, they were laughed at – one way or another – but at the same time told that this was no wonder, because they had such a long season and at the same time all the cup competitions, but also otherwise, were simply not good enough. Should we believe this or should we declare them clever or, on the contrary, should we just laugh at them? The really annoying thing about these connections, which were constantly served up and which actually got stuck in the heads of the less reflective, was not so much that it was not somehow human and understandable, even natural, to look for them? Surely there was a grain of truth in it here or there? No, it was much more annoying because any explanation was supposed to be sold as the last word in wisdom, as the pinnacle of knowledge, as irrefutable truth – not realising that a week, a month, a year ago it was explained exactly the other way round, but not a bit less convinced. The motto of each of these experts would have been: ‘that’s exactly how it is’. To the question ‘how do you know that’, the only correct answer would have been ‘well, I can see that from the result’. Each of these insights is just as empty as Kurt Tucholsky once said about essayists: ‘Banalities strung together, inflated like a child’s balloon, a prick in it with the needle of reason – and nothing remains but a wrinkled heap of bad grammar’.
“Let me give you another example. In the 1970 World Cup, Germany was paired against England in the quarter-finals. Since it was also a repeat of the 1966 final, and since the duel between these two great football nations was particularly explosive anyway, this match was hyped up even more into a gigantic spectacle, as revenge for the final match of four years earlier, which Germany had supposedly lost so unhappily, due to the world-famous Wembley goal, which probably wasn’t one. England was already leading 2-0 in that game in the sweltering heat at midday in summery Mexico. Germany made up the two goals and won 3-2 after extra time. The revenge was successful in every respect, so to speak, because England had also won four years earlier, but then 4-2 but also after extra time, and the famous Wembley goal was precisely the game-deciding 3-2.”
“And, how does that have anything to do with ‘judging by results’?”
“I’d like to explain that. England were two goals up and midway through the second half they substituted two important players. Then Germany scored the two goals to make it 2-2.”
“Ah, I see. Now a connection of meaning was made between those two goals and the substitutions?”
“Exactly so. For the first time it was allowed to substitute up to two players. So basically no one had any real experience with that. In addition – and I readily admit this – it was often the case that there was a difference between the first eleven and the substitutes. Quite different from later, when there were often 22 players of equal value available and it would hardly have been fixed on such a substitution. At the time, however, that connection was made and the game will go down in the history books, so to speak, as the one in which two faulty substitutions cost England victory. It’s like an established fact, it’s become a historic event under those auspices.”
“But, surely you will be able to explain to us better how it really was?”
“The best I can do is explain it with the help of probabilities. But I would like to add that the substitution of two central players contributed to it and that, namely, it was thus assumed that the coach thought the victory here was already in the bag, a kind of arrogance was assumed that he had written off Germany, that he wanted to spare the important players for the upcoming semi-final.
All these are probably erroneous assumptions. Because: firstly, the important players are often offensive forces that could decide games. Maybe not as much today as in the past, but still. Replacing offensive players who had already done their job with defensive players later became the rule anyway. You rock the boat. Apart from that, these offensive players were already a bit older and the heat might have affected them a bit more. The decision of coach