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, a bad result from this, from mostly false and media-generated 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 nice game, about an entertaining evening, about 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 did not arise and were completely 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.
“It was remarkable that in Germany the players were not treated with any respect. They had to perform and then people were satisfied with them or had reason to scold them. Admiration for the class that every spectator should have dreamed of being able to receive the ball so quickly, to be so sure of the ball, to have such a brilliant overview, to play such a pass, over 35 metres exactly into the run, so that the teammate didn’t even have to accept but the timing was exactly right, to fire such a shot, to hit such a precise cross out of trouble. But all this was also missing. Expectations fulfilled or not fulfilled. The player had these two options. And woe betide him if he failed to meet expectations, if his team lost, if his team was too far down the table, if a pass was not received, if a duel was lost. Then the spectator, whose expectations had been set too high by the media, had every reason to take the rotten eggs and rotten tomatoes out of his pocket and fire them straight at the kicker.
This was nevertheless somewhat different abroad. Even if the players also got their fat when things didn’t go so well: the admiration and recognition, the respect, all this was much more palpable. They knew that they were dealing with an exceptional player who earned millions, but there was a reason for that.
In Germany, respect was increasingly diminished and players became fair game that could be, was allowed to be and was hunted down at will.
There was a Swabian saying that summed it up quite well. Net gschimpft ist globt genug’. So you either scolded or you didn’t. If you didn’t scold, you had already given enough praise, hadn’t you? The really great and difficult pass came: I say nothing. Why don’t you say anything? That was really great, wasn’t it?’ ‘If I don’t say anything, then I just didn’t have anything to complain about, as usual. So?
If Germany wins the title: everything’s OK. If they get knocked out in the semi-finals? Well, maybe not necessarily an uproar, but just a shrug of the shoulders, well, ok, you can come back too. An exit in the quarter-finals? That’s really not possible. Let alone before. Like in 2018, for example. Best not to go home at all, apply directly for alternative citizenship. The performance itself didn’t matter. Only the result mattered.”
The children guessed that Wanja was now gradually moving on to the topic of the day?
“That almost brings us to the topic. Only the result counts. We already knew that, but you can still be more specific about what the main problem was with it. Who’s going to explain that in principle?”
Wanja had recollected his actually well-developed pedagogical streak.
“In sport,” the middle boy took the floor, “it’s not always the best that wins. But that’s also partly what makes watching fun for us, what creates the tension, what keeps us interested. If you always knew the outcome beforehand, then watching would definitely not be fun. So: to a certain extent, one lurks or even hopes for the surprise. The occurrence of such a surprise depends on probabilities, which vary from case to case, and which are consequently perceived as increasingly spectacular depending on the dwindling size of the chance. There are also surprises or even sensations depending on the score, the remaining time of the game and the teams’ circumstances, which then only become such through their development. So if a favourite is 0:3 down and still wins 5:3 – like Portugal against North Korea at the 1966 World Cup in England – the surprise is not that Portugal won, but that they made up the 0:3. If one remembers such an event to this day, then this is an expression of the sensation felt. So here a very small probability occurred, which however only became so small in the development of the game, not was so in advance.”
“You’ve explained that superbly. Only I’m still missing the direct reference to the question?”
“After all, I’m your son, so you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m also going far out on a limb in order to gradually get to the point. Wait a moment.
The better man does not always win. Here, too, it’s worth making a distinction: is the better player the one who was considered the favourite before the match, the one who is further ahead in the standings or the world rankings, the one who is quoted lower by the bookmakers? Or is it the team that performed better in the match? If the team previously rated higher actually offers the better performance on the pitch, if the supposedly weaker team offers the better performance: in both cases, the appropriate match outcome would still not be guaranteed. Nevertheless, a distinction would have to be made. Further, in many games – of which football is one – there are three match outcomes, at least after 90 minutes in the game. So sometimes the better wins, sometimes the worse wins, with the certain limitations made, sometimes the game ends in a draw.”
“Very interesting, your comments, but are you sure this belongs here?”
“No, maybe not, but as you said: interesting it remains. I just wanted to make it clear that not every game ends the way the circumstances, before the game or during the game, correctly reflect. One would actually have to ask at what level of superiority a victory would actually be considered deserved? But I’m sure: Dad has an answer to that?”
Wanja gladly took over: “Yes, I actually made it measurable and evaluated the match statistics so precisely that you could make a comparison of the extent to which this or that team fulfilled their expectations purely in terms of play or not and to what extent the final result was appropriate to these circumstances. I can show you that sometime. Do you want to?”
Of course they did.
“Here are the results of the 25th matchday of the Bundesliga, 2018/2019 season. First there is the pairing, then the result. Under ‘home exp’ and ‘away exp’ it says what the goal expectations were for the games. These were calculated from the match statistics, which were created match by match and which were officially stated. Of course, there is more to it than that, but perhaps more about that elsewhere. First of all, there were goal expectations that could be calculated logically, although hardly anyone except me did this.
The only thing that is important here is that these are expectations that were calculated on the basis of the performance of the two teams. Behind that, under ‘home should’ and ‘away should’, you find how the games actually went. In other words, to what extent the teams fulfilled or underfulfilled their expectations. In the last column you can see which of the two teams stayed above the target below. However, this is merely a comparison of expectations with performance. It does not take the result into account one bit.”
The children tried to interpret the available statistics on their own, with the help of the explanations provided.
“So that means that Werder played 0.08 goals better than expected.”
“They were already favourites beforehand?”
“You could expect them to win by 1.77:1.08, but they played 2.25:1.48?”
“That’s the way it looks, yes.”
“On balance, I would say a deserved win. Do you agree with that?”
“Yes. The victory was deserved. Although the performance was only 2.25 – 1.48 = 0.77 goals better than that of Schalke. But that’s more than half a goal, so a victory with a goal difference would have been even closer. But deserved it remains, either way.”
You went through game after game in your mind. It was interesting in itself.
“Hertha were the better team, but lost. At the same time, they were 0.46 goals better than expected. So even a victory for them would have been deserved?”
“Yes, you could put it that way. But it depends here and there on the course of the game and the sequence of goals. You can’t tell here. But it would be possible that Freiburg was even two goals ahead and then switched back a whole and Hertha took command, but only made up one goal. Then it might be more accurate if the game had ended in a draw? Just an example. But overall it’s true: Hertha was better, they shouldn’t have lost.”
“Gladbach was lucky.”
True. The game was quite even, even with slight advantages for Mainz. A lucky victory.”
“Leipzig was clearly superior, the game ended 0-0, so the question of the goal order doesn’t arise. Just this obviously: Augsburg were happy with the result from start to finish. So their offensive performance was never really challenged. That means: if Leipzig had scored the 1:0 at some point – also possible early in the game – which would certainly have been deserved, then Augsburg might also have had to show more offensively, risk more. Whether they would then have a) statistically caught up there or b) perhaps managed the equaliser and whether this c) would have been deserved? We can’t judge that because it didn’t happen. So the conclusion remains: Leipzig was overwhelmingly superior and should have won. As is typical of football on earth, the later the 1:0, the smaller the chance of catching up. However, the earlier it was scored, the greater the chance for Leipzig to extend the lead, which would have been conceivable in view of the clear situation in the game and the strength of the players.
All in all, not an overly spectacular match day. But at least there were a few goals to be seen now and then, it seemed? 31 goals in 9 games are 3.44 per game. That was decent. There was no talk of “boredom”. But that didn’t irritate Wanja and the children at that moment. Interesting? Always.
“What I was getting at was the heading ‘judging by results’. What does that mean and what does it imply?”
“‘Judging by results’ iust easy to translate,” the youngest said. “Judging by results. Surely the media you love so much did this and nothing else?”
“You’ve got me all figured out. Yes. As you can see, I laid out THREE criteria by which I intended to judge the games. It was the expectations before the game, it was the performance in the game and it was, last but not least, the result, which of course played some role. If you remove one of these three criteria, then you are already on the wrong track one way or another. But only as long as nobody points it out. In other words: if EVERYONE ONLY knows the result and nothing else, then this would be the only clue to judge.”
“But that wasn’t the case, you mean?”
“Right. In the times when the statistics were recorded, these were the very values with the help of which one could have actually come closer to the matter even as a sports commentator, at least by using them as an additional criterion. But they did not do so in the slightest. In the earlier days, however, something could have been done.”
“And that would have been what?”
“This, of course, above all: look. One can see who was better, can’t one? In those days, they might have counted goal chances, for example, cut out those in a summary, for the entertainment of the spectators, because they wanted to see goals or goal chances, goal scenes. This extract would already have given sufficient clues. In later times more precise by seeing the exact values, before that only intuitively. Either way, however, there was the possibility to determine who was better.”
“You could say: they could have done it earlier like they did here, with us? It is not at all the case that the person who says ‘that was a lucky victory’ loses competence, rather the opposite. He recognises that and is not afraid to say so. Above all, he can say it because it can be distinguished in his case. One victory was happy, the other was deserved. That’s just the way it is.”
“Quite right. But judging by the result became more and more prevalent. Soon no one dared to refer to unfortunate circumstances. Even if they were obvious to everyone. But if one had done so, one would have known exactly what to expect. The media only lurked for such signs of alleged ‘weakness’. So if you thought a defeat was unfortunate, you had supposedly lost sight of reality, tried to gloss over defeats, put yourself in front of the team instead of reading them the riot act. In short, they had no idea about football. The media then easily understood how to make everyone understand this. So if a coach had done it, one could draw the conclusion: that was his penultimate game. One more defeat and he’s gone. How did it happen? It doesn’t matter.”
“But one could also ask: to what extent would the spectator have accepted it? Would he have accepted it, perhaps enjoyed learning about it, been even more annoyed? How do you see that?”
“Yes, that’s a good question. In my view, it is like this: an objective assessment cannot be of harm, on the contrary, it must be beneficial, it must be advantageous. What is ‘objective’ in this? Of course, not such a simple vocabulary. A naïve spectator might have said: ‘What is he trying to tell me here, they were good but unlucky? They weren’t good, otherwise they would have won, right?’ In other words, the spectator would have had to be gradually re-educated to recognise this distinction. But I am sure that this would have been achieved after a short time. The understanding spectator, former players, the coaches, all true experts would have understood this one way or another and represented it themselves. One makes the distinction. Lucky or deserved. This is still something to be honed – as you can see from the recorded examples. I have many more of these, of course.”
“I think it’s human to use the outcome of an event as a criterion. It’s not only human, it’s even in the nature of all life,” the elder spoke up.
“Now what makes you think that?” asked one of the brothers.
“I have already thought about it. There are unpleasant experiences that any creature can have. We can take very simple examples: two ducks cross a road, one of them is run over. The other one avoids this road from then on. Is that wise, sensible, right, does the species benefit from it, does its own offspring benefit from it? Possible, but by no means certain. It is conceivable that the alternative route it takes from now on is actually the more dangerous one. But she has been lucky on that route so far, she has not had any bad experiences. It stays that way, she sticks to it. Objectively perhaps a mistake, but at the time right and understandable.”
“Ok, that sounds plausible, but I can’t quite put it together yet. Please elaborate.”
“Good, I’ll even go one step further. The whole of evolution is built on this principle. Every creature on earth tries, as best it can, to use its own experiences as well as observations according to this principle. Avoid the things that turned out unfavourably, repeat what brought success. An error would indeed not be excluded, on the contrary, it would have to be taken into account, but the calculation – which can only be carried out by man with his intellect, i.e. much later, but nevertheless proving this quasi in retrospect – would be structured like this: in three out of four cases the behaviour derived from experience was the right one, in perhaps one out of four cases it was wrong. Nevertheless, the bottom line is: it is better to keep it and not to resist it. For the preservation of the species or, in the very long term, for the further development of the species. The bottom line is: even the person who derives a judgement from it is not in fact making a mistake. He has basically acted according to the basic rule of nature. What do you say to this now, Papa?”
“I marvel and agree with you. Unreservedly.” “Where’s the ‘but’?”
“Well, if you want one badly enough, here it is. Man would have the chance to use his mind, obviously acquired by this principle – as no one who believes in evolution can deny – to advantage afterwards. He can work out which behaviour gives him the better chance despite an exemplary failure, or he can recognise a behaviour leading to a good result afterwards as fortuitously favourable and advise against repeating it – which the duck would do.”
“That too sounds convincing, now again I agree with you.”
“Let’s return to football and commentators for fun. It’s not just that a good result can come about by luck,