The truth about a football match
If you want to know how a game is really to be assessed, then you should listen carefully and only when one of the two coaches is speaking. For in spite of their always given partiality, their assessment is far superior to that of the journalist, who is actually obliged to be balanced and objective. Thus, it will hardly ever be possible for a coach to achieve special success who is not objective. In recent times, a further trend has developed in which these coaches, in addition to their already existing coaching talents, are also able to make excellent use of their intellect to verbalise logical connections. Certainly, many of them (is it even made a prerequisite?) have taken, if not rhetoric seminars, then at least language exercises. One appears often enough in public, is asked to speak, why not be able to express oneself skilfully? In any case, the basic prerequisite is a good dose of intelligence – which, as things stand, can hardly be “imputed” to the reporters. But here and there they do have a good command of language, although this is only reflected in negative expressions. An example: “compressed uneventfulness”. Great wordplay. Sure. Only: who would choose the channel on which to hear this comment?
Back to the coaches:
So there are a number of special sayings by these very special people, on the basis of which the chance opens up to get a little closer to the truth. There have been excellent coaches at all times, a few of whose bon mots are used. So if you are interested in the truth about a football match, you should really look to the coaches first, as an alternative to journalists, who in themselves have a different professional training anyway, apart from the other shortcomings pointed out throughout.
1) “The football you want to see doesn’t exist.”
Otto Rehhagel once said this sentence. It was the answer, the reaction, to a question as to why top matches so often do not deliver what they promise and why what we have just seen is supposedly of inferior quality.
Here, these words are to be interpreted a little further and the esteemed Mr. Rehhagel may be indulgent towards misinterpretations: The question was raised after Bayern Munich had played 1-1 at home against Rehhagel’s then Werder Bremen and the assembled crowd of journalists determined that “it was a weak game” (yes, that was already the case in the 80s). The Bremen coach was understandably furious, as he had taken some pride in earning a point in the lion’s den of Bayern, who dominated the entire Bundesliga – not (only) this year or in those years when Werder seriously rivalled them, but in general. Sure, one might be vanity, the other the usual advocacy of “results football”, which was also demanded by the media in the past.
The decisive aspect, however, to which Rehhagel referred at the time – in a free interpretation – is that a top team is not only composed of good attackers but also of good defenders. If the better attackers now meet the better defenders – well, where on earth are the actions shown supposed to differ from the match between VfL Bochum and Eintracht Frankfurt, which was played at the same time? “What kind of football do you want to see?” You want them all to buy only good attackers, if possible, to play without a defence, so that a goal is scored in every attack – and as a result “disastrous defensive blunders, on both sides” are made out, as well as eighteen coaches being sacked every week?
The better attackers were “neutralised” in this game – successfully – by the well-selected, by him, Bremen defenders, and nowhere does this phrase fit better than here. A duel at eye level ensures absolutely no higher drama or more successful scenes, if that had been expected. A coach is required to successfully destroy the game, because woe betide him if he fails to do so. Then the bad defensive blunders, the disarray in the defence, the chicken coop principle, the kindly granted escort are “worked out” and pilloried and the shaky defence or the wrong tactics are blamed until all the coach’s chair legs are sawn off.
Incidentally, the small matter of another effect actually comes into play in top matches: when it is a matter of positional battles — so neither on the first nor presumably on the last match day, unless … — then the players become a little more cautious, more inhibited, purely intuitively because of the actual “six-point game”. They would very, very much like to avoid defeat in this particular duel – however often the opinion “there are no six-point games” has suddenly been expressed again recently; Peter Neururer? – because this deficit is truly difficult(er) to iron out. Incidentally, the players also include the referee, who is even more likely to squirm when it comes to important decisions — and to stop the possible goal action.
So if you were talking about an expectation and it was disappointed, it was simply the wrong one. Top games in the middle of the season by no means stand for more goal scenes, more spectacle or more beautiful football. The assembled crowd of journalists should understand that – and Rehhagel unsuccessfully tried his hand at being an “eye opener”.
2) “Shall I explain the training plan for next week?”
So if you’re looking for truths, it’s best to ask coaches. Or rather: You wait until they’ve been asked enough stupid questions, their collars burst and they spout some real footballing wisdom.
When Hans Meyer, then in the service of the Nuremberg team that was in danger of relegation, perhaps even temporarily in 18th place, was asked some stupid questions regarding the effectiveness of his measures to improve the shaky defence that would repeatedly concede stupid goals – note: the questioner knew both the last result and the overall table – he reacted like this: “Shall I explain our training plan for next week? But that’s no use, because you wouldn’t understand it anyway.”
But the snot-nosed kid didn’t stop puffing himself up and showing off about knowing everything, but really everything, about football – which in his little world is the table sorting criteria – and regretfully didn’t realise that he was being publicly paraded. Well, above a certain level of ignorance and stupidity, you really do become pain-free….
The truth is this: The defensive worries — or whatever they may be — do not exist. The problems of “missing or faulty allocation”, the “catastrophic positional errors” and the “collective deep sleep”, which were already trumpeted during the game and considered to be state of the art by the spokesperson, are infinitely far removed from reality. What the coach actually observes and considers in need of improvement has almost nothing in common with what the reporters imagine they understand or know – and unfortunately consider worthy of dissemination.
For the consequences are not only that they are mildly smiled at by experts – sometimes, see above, also a little less mildly — but that this dangerous quarterly knowledge burns itself into amateurish young coaches’ heads, among other things due to its permanent and loud dissemination, and that they then spread nothing more than a bad mood and the unwillingness to continue with football by means of picked-up but nonsensical pitch ranting. Learning effects are guaranteed not to result from this for the young players, not even for those who are not easily frightened away completely. And this can even be detrimental to the nation in terms of sporting success.
3) “Football is a game of a few centimetres and fractions of a second”.
This rather simple, but no less valuable, insight also comes from the mouth of Otto Rehhagel. Once again, he may be forgiven for a misinterpretation, but one at all will hardly be able to avoid because of the concern about it. What he probably meant was that in very many situations it is only a matter of that one millimetre, and not only when the ball hits the inside post and spins out instead of in (or vice versa) but already the millimetre at which the person taking the shot can cause it to slip by that (much less than) “margin”, that the ball goes into the clouds – and thus the shooter is derided as a “ticket chaser” – or instead rushes into the net, which should earn him a place in the next national team squad right away – at least if you take the reaction of those commenting on the scene into account. The same applies to the quoted fractions of a second. Whether the defender gets to the ball first by a millisecond, wins it and initiates the decisive counterattack or the attacker wins the duel and can actually put it in the box is so close in every single scene that it is not worth drawing conclusions from a single game, a single result, let alone one or even several scenes.
If one also takes into account that the decisive millimetre or tenth of a second depends on external variables that cannot be directly controlled by the players – be it the wind or the condition of the pitch, even a minimal tug of the jersey that is barely perceptible but decisive for the outcome of the action –, then it becomes clear quite quickly that every single football result, quite contrary to the opinion of those responsible for its dissemination, is in itself a fairly purely random experiment and in no way follows a inevitability which is subsequently advocated with even greater fervour when the result is known.
There are differences. Of course there are differences (for more on this, see the section on “The predictability of football”, which explains the extent to which one can settle on a favourite and how high the favourite position can be). In the final table, the favourites are usually placed at the top and the outsiders at the bottom. However, in individual matches, it is not only the above-mentioned small details, including luck factors, as well as pure daily sensitivities, which can even crystallise by chance in the course of a match and result in a particular harmony – or discord – that are responsible. Above all, it is not possible to read from a game and its course who would have to win this game.
Otto Rehhagel only wanted to draw attention to these coincidences. As a coach, you sit on the sidelines and you know, you feel, you see that every action is only a matter of a tiny amount of time or distance that makes it succeed or fail. For a goal to be scored – for or against one’s own team – quite a few things always have to fit – or go wrong on the other side. That is the truth. To speak unilaterally of defensive chains of faults or, alternatively, striker failures – which are just as close to each other – is the famous black-and-white painting, with which one would definitely not get very far, if one wanted to use it educationally. But it is also unsuitable for enlightening the interested football watcher.
Not everything is coincidence. But even less does everything happen inevitably, as we are supposed to believe. That is the truth.
4) “We defend the bigger space”.
Bayern coach Louis van Gaal explained this to a questioning reporter after the 2010 Champions League final, in which Bayern lost 2-0 to Inter Milan. When the reporter asked another question about the open defence in an interview a while later, Louis van Gaal repeated: “I have already told you that. We defend the bigger space. Do you want me to explain it again?” As pointless as this endeavour would have been to explain anything at all to this “man with a huge question mark on his face but who nevertheless continues to ask stupidly knowing the result”, it was self-evident that the latter did not answer it in the affirmative.
Now, what is being attempted once again – in boundless presumption towards this great coach – is to explain what is meant. And here we are already moving relatively clearly into the field of philosophy on the subject of football, although this attribute is already being used, in that it is often precisely football teachers who are claimed to have “their own philosophy” of football.
The philosophy about football – irrespective of individual coaches who try to represent this or that – is that the very big question is how to actually open the fighting. This question arises very specifically in a sport in which the draw is one of the most important of all sports – the one exception will be used immediately to illustrate this. Because: the football match starts at 0:0. The score is a draw. And this result has a countable consequence. You have not lost, you are credited with a point, in ko games you are facing either extra time or the second leg, so the decision has not yet been made, so you have still not missed a clear goal. You start at 0-0 and practice shows that it is not a completely unreasonable approach to perhaps even hold that result until the final whistle.
The problem is to what extent there is a healthy balance between risk and reward. As soon as you include defenders in the attack, the problem inevitably arises that this defender could be missing from the defence in the event of a counter-attack and thus be responsible for conceding a goal. On the other hand, however, it becomes almost insurmountably difficult to bring a defence to its knees with shorthanded attacks. The complexity added, in purely mathematical terms, by the three-point rule is discussed in detail elsewhere. All the philosophies that coaches try to implement are somewhere between Johann Cruyff, the advocate of total football, who simply said: “Our goal is to score one goal more than the opponent.” and Huub Stevens, who simply said: “The zero must stand.”
Now here, to make good on the analogy promise, let us briefly consider the other example of a sport, the game of chess. At the highest level, among grandmasters, there has been a discussion for a good 80 years about whether chess will die a drawing death with further development, or whether there are enough possibilities to break the balance in one’s own favour without decisively increasing the risk of losing. Now it is a common saying that everything has its price, including playing to win, which of course cannot be any different in both games, chess and football. In order to break the equilibrium in chess, an asymmetry must be created somewhere, a superiority must be created on some side of the board – even if it is the centre -, or in the material ratio – in other words: a sacrifice must be made – which, however, must inevitably also give the opponent chances. It cannot be that in such a fair game with absolutely identical conditions – excluding the move advantage, against which one simply cannot do anything – advantages can be forced somewhere that do not allow the opponent any counter possibilities. If that were the case, the game would be over in no time. That simply does not work.
In any case, a trend has recently emerged in chess that is anything but pointing in the direction of draw death. Among the young, up-and-coming grandmasters, quite a few take very great risks, veritable tightrope acts, in the so positive endeavour to create entanglements from which the individual trusts himself to emerge victorious. One may well note – the analogy can later be applied in reverse to football – that the organisers of grandmaster tournaments are not only particularly careful in their selection of players to get the combative natures on the board, but also often enough offer special prizes for the most winning games. For the 2010 World Championship match between Anand and Topalov, a rule was introduced that has never existed in this form before, but which may well be copied more than once: The so-called Sofia rule, which simply prohibits the protagonists from verbally offering the draw to their opponent. In this respect, in terms of chess, the age-old discussions and the greatest concerns are now off the table for the time being.
In football, this discussion does not exist with the same intensity, but at least a certain danger was recognised and the three-point rule was introduced to counteract the observed phenomenon. This should make the risk more worthwhile and – see above, on the subject of chess – attract spectators to the stadiums. Whether, in the long run, the risks are actually worth it is an open question.
However, there are exactly two overriding questions that would have to be clarified first. The first is the question of mentality, the second the obligation towards the spectators. As far as mentality is concerned – a short digression to the individual sport of chess: there are simply individual players who are more willing to take risks, no, can’t help but take the initiative, play forward, and others who are more defensively inclined – it has to be said that in the collective there is of course not such a direct question, apart from the fact that a coach is, after all, assigned precisely to implement strategy and tactics (yes, the difference exists and is known?!). Nevertheless, there is often enough – partly simply triggered by the audience – a kind of momentum according to which the players almost inevitably orient themselves forwards. The spectators drive the team forward, usually it is simply the home team. In addition, there are certain traditions that are associated with club colours.
This already partially answers the second question: The question of the spectator. However, they not only have the influence of possibly pushing their own team forward, but also the requirement of being well entertained. In this respect, there is a second aspect: one would prefer to entertain the spectator well AND be successful. Now, here again there is the distinction between neutral spectators and fans of the team: Generally, the spectator wants to see spectacle, the fan rather success. Well, in any case, it is quite possible that the spectator entertainment aspect is given higher priority than the hunger for success. It would be right and cheap – as explained in more detail elsewhere – in any case. After all, it is the viewers who finance it all.
It was in this context that Otto Rehhagel once again preached the concept of the “controlled offensive”. Aware that you can’t attack without opening up the defence a bit, but still with the intention of entertaining the spectator AND at the same time the striving for success have given rise to this concept, which lies pretty much between Stevens and Cruyff. It is reasonable in any case – and Otto Rehhagel’s well-rehearsed successes are probably more than sufficient proof that he has created more than just empty words. Especially when you look at the results lists of Bremen – no, his Bremen – you are amazed at how many goals Werder scored in those years with this concept.
Back to van Gaal and Bayern: all the adjacent questions have at least been touched on, if not hopefully clarified: Bayern, possibly seeing themselves as bound by an old tradition, perhaps embodied the confidence to bring opponents to their knees with positive as opposed to wait-and-see football, if they didn’t just say to themselves: “Gee, we’re in the Champions League final here, the whole world is watching. Let’s just play football. The goal is to score one goal (more than the opponent?!)”, or, even simpler: “If we play for results here, we have no chance, they can do it better. If we want to achieve something, we have to go forward.” It is even possible that van Gaal, of all people, saw the strengths in the offensive with the line-up with which Bayern dominated the league and which caused one or two tongue-snaps from numerous (also foreign) observers in the Champions League, and wanted to use them by playing forward.
Inter Milan has its own traditions, founded in the 1960s by the legendary Helenio Herreira with the famous Cattenaccio. Apart from that, the Italian thinks rather defensively anyway (surprising, as hot-blooded is rather associated with offensive striving, but football has its own tradition and development there), insofar Mourinho definitely did not feel obliged to play direct attacking football.
Accordingly, the game is approached forward by Bayern – calculated risk or whatever – and from the very beginning they have the greater space to defend. If possible, the opponent is pushed into his own half, the initiative is taken. But if they break free – which, of course, the absolutely exceptional players in Inter’s ranks are capable of doing – it can happen in a flash and the space to defend becomes huge, especially if there is a sudden loss of the ball in the collective forward movement.
After the 0:1 had fallen, no other coach would have thought of anything better than playing forward. This inevitably opened up the spaces, according to the score.
The truth is this: Bayern went forward on the basis of an assessment by the coach – and would even have been disgraceful (? this only applied to the insubordinate reporter) if spectator interests worldwide had been taken into account. Van Gaal is aware at this moment that the game can be lost with this offensive tactic. It carries the known risks. But he is also aware that his team can lose with any other tactic. Which tactic has the best chance of winning the title was the one, his, consideration, which he possibly answered in this way: offensively. That is the greatest strength of this team of his.
The questions he would have had to hear if Bayern had behaved passively, defensively, and still lost – “Yes, surely they had to know where your team’s strengths lie? Surely you should have at least tried to play forward?” – can be counted on less than three fingers…
By the way, back to chess and the analogy for a moment: the German national team showed with their performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that optimistic, fast-forwarding, always goal-oriented football – analogous to the young chess grandmasters – shows that it can be done. You can combine attractiveness with success – perhaps even optimally?! In any case, the start of the 2010/2011 season in the Bundesliga has confirmed this trend.
5) “Referees are no longer match officials, they are increasingly becoming match deciders”.
Christoph Daum said this after Cologne had lost a home game 1-2 in the 1st division and a completely regular equaliser was disallowed, for reasons that were not invented even later, as the situation could have nothing to do with offside.
Of course, he was right at that moment, as it was quite clear that the game was decided by this mistake – which, as I said, had no discernible basis. The action was relatively close to the end. In general, he is also quite right, since such situations not only happen all the time AND the games are usually close or go out, but also and above all in the sense that especially in the case of disallowed goals — which, from a purely mathematical point of view, are just as decisive for the game as recognised goals, although the disallowed ones, unlike the recognised ones, are not reflected in the result — the referees are not given any further credit apart from a minor error. The whistle-blower from this game also did not have to reckon with any consequences – apart from perhaps a limited good mark in the short term.
Christoph Daum’s statement was more than ridiculed. Not only did it constitute an attack on the referees — an attack that numerous coaches now save themselves from experiencing the media reaction, which doesn’t leave a good hair on anyone who does — but on top of that it was presented as the lazy excuse of an angry loser who simply didn’t want to recognise his team’s true weaknesses.
The truth is that almost no match is played without critical decisions that, if made at the right time and in the right direction, could have a decisive influence on the final result, even in matches that later produce a fairly clear result. This leads directly to another piece of wisdom by Christoph Daum…
6) “Goals are very important for the course of the game”.
This very saying was also laughed at, either because of its banality or its lack of content – which, by the way, the smilers, typically media representatives, could not even make clear; it was only quoted as “silly” or in the direction of ridiculing him for it, without justification — but is therefore not a bit less true, provided you know a little bit about football.
Because: nowadays it’s so close in practically all competitions that even a clear favourite nowadays – which was certainly far from being the case in the 60s and 70s – uses a lead equally and, realising that even one goal is enough to win, usually retreats noticeably. The opponent is then supposed to come and you want to use the space that has become available as a result – see also Louis van Gaal’s statement and analysis on this. This may only happen to a greater or lesser extent, but it is clear that you only take an increased risk if you are behind. In recognising this real banality, the wisdom of the proposition has already been discovered.
So when a match analysis emphasises the deservedness of a match outcome, it very often refers to the entire match – which is of course not only legitimate but obligatory. Only: If a team has taken an early lead – it is sufficient at some point in the first half – and either, in the less pleasing and more stressful case, this goal has been demonstrably wrongly recognised, or the other team has been denied a goal, be it only an offside decision that was wrongly indicated but prevented a huge goal-scoring opportunity, then the course of the game in the second half is to be gladly included in the game analysis, but the possibly later justification, superiority has only come about because of this wrong decision. So if the opponent had taken the lead, the course of the game would have been completely different, apart from the fact that conceding a goal is quite a hurdle on the way to victory.
In short, the truth is that goals have a decisive influence on the course of the game. As little as such a thing is possible, you would have to watch the game again without that goal or with the goal conceded to the others. See how the game would have gone then. The often clear-cut results that come about because a team chases an (unjustified) deficit and in doing so exposes its own defence, thus giving the opponent huge counter-attacking opportunities, which are then exploited from time to time, would never have come about in this way.
7) “If you don’t have the ball, you have to ask yourself why you don’t have it”.
Giovanni Trappatoni, legendary creator of this sentence, at the time in the service of FC Bayern. Well, here, too, you are free to interpret it as you wish. However, the sentence had not yet faded away when the laughter began. And this has not died away to this day, without asking about the content. The chance would have been there, unfortunately missed, Lord and Master Question Expert! “Aha,” it was said, “Giovanni Trappatoni tries his hand at being a philosopher.”
Well, the question is anything but nonsensical, anyway. The fact that Italians are fundamentally more tactically advanced is actually less the question and already alluded to above. It is a tradition in Italy. Defensive thinking, too, which has a lot to do with the discipline that is often attributed to the Germans. In any case, people in Italy are satisfied when a game ends 0:0 – it really does — because you can assume that there were no too many omissions on either side.
Trappatoni as an Italian has certainly learned a lot – not only on the pitch himself in the highest leagues but also during later training and above all practice. The saying is most wise and somewhat embodies the further development of a perfectionist thought. If you don’t have the ball, it must have been lost somewhere. If the opponent has to take a kick-off – except the one at the beginning of the half – everyone would surely gladly accept having lost the ball. Because: it was lost to him exactly when he left his foot (or head), was intentionally in no man’s land for a moment before it crossed the opponent’s goal line – and thus passed into his possession. This kind of “ball loss” can be described as optimal.
If, for example, you lose it through a goal kick that reaches the goal but is stopped there, surely no coach will grumble yet – unless the shot was from a very favourable position or, even worse, if he overlooked a better-positioned teammate. You had a shot on goal and thus a goal-scoring opportunity. If you try it more often, it will eventually hit the target. Let’s put it this way: If possible, an attack should be concluded with a shot on goal. Primary goal. If it lands next to the goal, the effect is similar, but in this case different laws apply: if you don’t hit the goal, you can’t score. Nevertheless, here too: The goal was there, partial goal achieved.
If you lose it in the build-up, there are already more questions: Did the teammates offer themselves well or were they too far away? Did the opponent perhaps play a kind of forechecking, exerting pressure and thus provoking the mistake? In this case, the sceptre of action could even pass to the coach – there has been no talk of this yet – and he would have to try to adjust his players to this (unexpected) tactic, even from the sidelines. Either they should play more long balls, thus increasing the risk of misplaced passes, but on the other hand possibly take away a lot of space from the opponent in order to create a favourable situation further forward, or, alternatively, create more play-off stations in midfield, which would be equivalent to a retreat of the strikers.
If the ball is simply passed wrongly, concentration can be called for – incidentally, this can also be forced by the speed of today’s football – or more support can be demanded from the team-mates for the ball leader. Every ball loss has its causes. Why not go after them? Especially as a coach.
The truth is that if you start to seriously look at why you don’t have the ball, it will unearth a lot of useful insights that can help the coach in his daily work, and thus, thinking further, of course the players, thus the team and the club. Trappatoni, the philosopher, has provided a very brief insight into actual coaching activities. And a very instructive one that deserved everything but laughter.
8) “You always play as well as your opponent allows you to”.
Well, all well and good, anyone can quote this saying, including every sports reporter. Only it is quoted, then smiled at a little, if not smiled at, then the agreed 5 euros are paid into the phrase bank, and everyone had their fun.
But how valuable these insights from the legendary Sepp Herberger are to this day, how often they could be applied, how much they should always be included in every game analysis, how philosophically reassuring these wisdoms are, yes, that can only be roughly compared to the “Christian” behaviour still enshrined in the governing party by name, but long since no longer taken to heart. That no longer exists either, only the name – and with it the idea — may be carried on.
It is the truth, the pure truth and nothing but the truth. If a team presents an attack but it is stopped by skilful tactical defensive holding, for example, then it would be easy to blame the attackers for that, but you simply don’t hit the truth with that. It’s a bit like the common but equally false statement, “He didn’t aim well there.” After a missed shot: “Yes, I did aim very well, I just didn’t hit it.” Exactly. You always imagine it so beautifully, every midfielder who plays the ingenious through pass always plays it – but only in his imagination. “Yeah, I thought, you run right there and I hit the ball exactly the way I wanted to hit it and it lands there too, you’re off and you bang it in.” Yeah, nice idea. Only there’s someone who objects. Either the pass is blocked, or the attacker is only put under enough pressure so that the timing and precision is lacking, or the attacker running in can’t escape his alert defender. It always has something to do with the opposition.
Everyone knows the saying. It has not lost any of its meaning. Take it to heart again. Also in reporting.
9) “We have to think from game to game”.
A phrase that has been heard a lot in Germany lately, just as ridiculed as the previous ones, supposedly because of its banality and lack of content, which the reporters, who themselves only throw around empty phrases, classify as a “flat phrase” without even considering the statement it contains. Their view: “That’s just what they say.”
As soon as you look into it and think about it, the truth comes to light. The managers, coaches and players who make such statements – and one can confidently call those who have been in the business a little longer the originators – have very much thought about something. You are welcome to take a closer look at today’s football.
All games – even those between top favourites and underdogs – are usually on the line for a long time. Some games are won easily and some are won by large margins. Such things happen. However, in many cases it does not have much to do with the existing differences in playing strength, but simply something to do with an individual course of play. One team takes an early, but rather accidental, lead. The other tries to hit back quite soon, opens the game. They concede the 0:2, and this can also happen without the opening. Now the realisation that 2 goals are almost impossible to make up contributes to attacking “desperately”, so to speak. Why not? You concede one or two more goals. A clear victory, on paper. But suppose you had a great chance to make it 1:1 before the 0:2?
The normal case remains the same: the intermediate result is close, the final result is close. The outcome of a victory depends on a chain of small coincidences – which does not mean the complete “smoothing out” of differences – which sometimes go in this favour, sometimes in that favour.
Football today is generally played at a very high level, but also at a very uniform level. The outcome of a single result depends on minor coincidences. The question that gets – and deserves – the answer: “We think from game to game” is usually the one about the overall goals of the season.
This question can only be answered in one way, whatever the last result(s) were, whatever the league position is, whatever the fans or the media should expect: the best possible overall result is achieved by getting the maximum out of every single game. So what would be the point of the full-bodied promise of a breakthrough if you concede defeat the next weekend? On the other hand, didn’t Felix Magath, admired by everyone, bring the championship title to Wolfsburg by permanently stagnating, even acknowledging the first question about the championship with a spontaneous and therefore absolutely credible smile?
And hadn’t perhaps the greatest of all legends of German coaches, Sepp Herberger himself, already realised that “the next opponent is always the hardest”? How right he was about that…
There’s even a colloquial equivalent for this: why hand out the bear’s skin before it’s been killed?
Concentrate on the next game, the next scene, the next action. The better you do, the better the team result at the end of the season. That is the truth.
The ridiculous question about the season’s goals merely serves the media to provide otherwise headlines for them — due to the paucity of events observed by them on the pitch — off the pitch. People ask about the goals, hope that they will be optimistically formulated — and then always have at least a few chairs to saw off, a few others to give the final blow. After all, what team, for example, would state relegation as its goal for the season? Nevertheless, you will probably find three (well, depending on the rules) teams in the relegation places after each matchday, especially at the end of the season. But should the goals be formulated pessimistically, then of course you have something to pick on. “Well, if you don’t even dare to state the title as a goal, you don’t have to be surprised if…” This leads directly to the next headline, whereby this wisdom is one created by the media, and is thus in no way equal in QUality to the statements of the coaches. Rather the opposite…
10) “When Bayern are already weakening, the others are too stupid to take advantage of it.”
This kind of weekend analysis in retrospect is often heard when Bayern have not won, but at the same time their direct rivals, who could have overtaken or drawn level with them with a win, have not won either. “Well, if you have the chance, you have to take it” and nonsense like that is what you hear.
But there is also a truth to this. It looks something like this, although the many facets can by no means be completely covered here. So: all game outcomes follow certain laws of probability and considerations. Depending on one’s own abilities, the severity of the opponent and the venue — home games represent a very long-term demonstrable advantage, no question about that — every team in every game has a percentage of winning the game, drawing it or losing it. This applies to Bayern Munich as well as every other team in the league. Bayern are usually the favourites, almost in every single game. Sure. The chasers have their percentages, which are at least lower on average, although they can be higher in individual cases (especially, of course, in the round we’re talking about right now, where they’re simply accused of “stupidity”).
Statistically speaking, it happens more often that they have to accept a loss of points, even if it comes as a “surprise” according to common opinion, which, translated intuition, means that they started as quite clear favourites for this game. Viewed over the whole season – and especially here the last matchday played plays a completely subordinate role – you can expect to get roughly the points you are entitled to. Now, right here, at “statistically seen” lies a small form of a hook. Because statistics, in their own way, simply “allow” certain outliers – both downwards for one and upwards for the other.
Exactly this “outlier result”, which supposedly does not come about this time because of the diagnosed stupidity, exists in the “real statistics” with the appropriate frequency. Bayern are the constant, as they almost always start the season as favourites. Now, if you look at the Bundesliga history since Bayern’s affiliation (promotion in 1965, for the third season ever), the statement virtually applies: “Either Bayern make it, or Bayern don’t make it.” They have achieved 21 league titles in 45 years. Just under 50%. The prediction, which even the computer confirms, is again for the 2010/2011 season: “Bayern or anyone else?” 50% Bayern, 50% the rest. That’s the life of a favourite, only, if you take it all together, not bad at all.
After all, the somewhat less predictable nature of the German Bundesliga tends to generate envy abroad, where the favourites often pull away earlier and more clearly, as you can see, by the way, from the final point yields.
So it is precisely the tension that is good for the league, that should be good for the journalists and that makes the fans run to the stadiums week after week with such passion or even wait for the new results. So what is the point of the “analysis” about the “stupidity”, which is nothing but defeatism and has so absolutely nothing to do with reality, if anything only spreads its own stupidity, but robs the excitement of it?
Another of these excavations reads like this:
11) “Has the level of the league dropped because no one can really break away?”
Such an analysis has also been heard or spread more often. As a question raised, it is only intended to provide a basis for discussion, but in a certain sense it does indicate a tendency, since the “deplorable state of affairs” is supposed to be revealed when all the top teams drop points at the same time, i.e. when no one at the top of the table can be seen to be pulling away.
Well, if one wanted to draw a conclusion at all from narrow table pictures, it could under no circumstances be that the level is lower. Logically speaking, there is not the slightest clue without a single external comparison (this would be the case if, for example, Real Madrid had to play in the league – as an external constant – and could only prevail with difficulty in one season, i.e. had to accept plenty of losing points, but much less in the following season. This, in turn, would not be reflected at all in the standings of the other teams, but exclusively in the points yield of the external team Real Madrid, which is assumed to be constant.
Since one could in no way conclude that the level has dropped due to the observed phenomenon of a (presumably temporary) balance in the standings, the only question that remains is whether the circumstance possibly allows the opposite statement. “Has the level risen because no one can break away?”
There is no direct proof of this, but intuitively there are a few plausible considerations: If a team makes a breakthrough, then it is impossible to conclude that the level of the league has risen. How should it be possible? If one is very brave, one could possibly predict good chances for this team in an international comparison due to its domestic dominance. Even for that, there are two clear refutations: a) there are enough small countries where individual teams march through, which does not help them at all for European appearances, and b) the team marching through lacks a bit of competition practice at a high level, which is not at all conducive to the tasks to be expected at that level.
All right, so a team’s marching through is not only unpleasant for reasons of tension, but rather meaningless for the level of the league, if at all only detrimental to it, because of the points made. If there are a few teams that dominate the league, i.e. that do not let any other teams get close to them and decide the title among themselves, then logically the level of the entire league is not responsible for this, as above. The only thing that could be said here is that the teams in front have to make an effort in all matches to take the full points, so that the competition does not slip away, and even have the few duels among themselves to get the required competitive practice at the highest level. So one would approach the encounters against lower teams with concentration – but usually win.
A league, however, that promises matches in all rounds for every team in which there is anything but even approximate certainty about the outcome can therefore mean an increase in the same as the only point of reference for a level comparison – which can logically only refer to the chances for Europe. All games contested means all opponents are strong.
The truth, then: if there were one insight to be gained from a balanced league table, it could only be this:
“The league has become stronger because no one can break away at the top.”
However, one can interpret the statement, which is simply uttered like that, unreflectively (unfortunately, gentlemen), with some skill – and put the question raised, which is intuitively what it is about, correctly (and this is precisely where the two words must be written apart, regardless of the spelling reform).
First of all, the statement gives expression to an apprehension. The fear, which is quite understandable, is actually “are we losing out in the European cup competitions?” (Well, Bayern’s Champions League final appearance and the German team’s performance in South Africa in 2010 have put those concerns to rest for now). One reads this from the table, since Bayern are not (clearly) in front and one’s hopes are always pinned directly on them.
So the correct question should be: “Are we losing ground in Europe because Bayern are not dominating the league this year and they should at least bring us success in Europe?”
Another sentence created by the media – i.e. one of inferior quality and spouted without brain power, presumably due to a lack of it – reads :
12) “Lucky, but not undeserving”.
It is precisely in this sentence, which is so utterly thoughtless, that it becomes apparent how busy the reporters are with counting goals and are not prepared to acknowledge anything else, indeed probably not even allowed to, because that could cost their own position, which would then become free for another stupid blatherer.
The terms “happy” and “deserving” are mutually exclusive, they represent antipodes, stark opposites. There is only one of the two judgements: The victory was lucky or the victory was deserved. If one wants to seriously comment on the question of whether one can also earn one’s good fortune, it is best to make use of an age-old proverb that has not lost its effectiveness for a long time: “It was the good fortune of the brave”.
This proverb contains everything that is sufficient to classify the game. One does not want to deny the winner the points, one also knows the laws which say that the winner is the one who has scored the higher number of goals in the end. You don’t want to begrudge it or denigrate it. We also give the ultimate winner credit for their passion and commitment, which may well be rewarded in the end. So everyone can accept it. But one realisation remains, which the winner is also entitled to say: “Yes, we were (a little) lucky today. The opponent might add: “Well, if you say so honestly? But you also fought and struggled until you dropped. That’s why it was the luck of the fittest.”
They shake hands and look forward to the next duel.
Lucky but not undeserving, on the other hand, is pure nonsense. Either or. Lucky because they were lucky, not undeserved because nothing but the goals count. So: lucky after all?
The coaches have spoken the truth about football. The media representatives are working to build up the opposite image. However, they seem to do so in ignorance. There is further evidence in this statement:
13) “The 100% goal chance”.
You hear this sentence often enough. Whether it is ever reflected by someone who says it is more than questionable. However, someone who commits himself to only “100%” still seems almost “reasonable” – compared to those who are always ready to increase it to 1000% in order to illustrate the size of this chance (some somewhat more cautious contemporaries occasionally increase it to 110% or 120%, apparently in the knowledge that there is something wrong with it, but often only applying this to readiness for action).
Well, in general – also elsewhere, in the section “The predictability of football” – there is the somewhat provocative statement that mathematics is a kind of (more than unloved) stepchild in this country, but that probability calculation is a correspondingly even less “loved”, hm, almost hated, descendant of it. A tiny bit of evidence for this could be gleaned from such statements. At least in the sense that the effect of increasing 100% is now really finally ineffective. However, even the first author of the attributed 100% does not seem to be familiar with all the laws. Nevertheless, one could grant him mitigating circumstances under certain circumstances.
If one examines this construct closely, one basically finds that it is either a paradox – or a complete banality.
Paradoxical would be this view: if it were a matter of a 100% goal chance in terms of the utilisation percentage – as presumably originally meant – then this is only the case when the ball is in. The question of whether the goal must then also count, however, almost devolves into philosophy. For: suppose the goal was scored absolutely correctly, not a shadow of a doubt. But the referee refuses to recognise it. Well, how much of a goal is it then? It is a 100% goal. Yes. But it is not counted in the final result. 100% becomes 0%. Just like that. Exactly: philosophical.
Well, Thomas Helmer scored a 0% goal that was recognised. However, due to the absurdity of the recognition, he had to make do with a 5:0 instead of a laborious 2:1. Such is the justice of the world…
It is a 100% goal chance if there is a goal. Multiply by: 100% * goal = 100/100 * goal = 1/1 * goal = 1 goal = one goal. A goal is a goal. Well, it wouldn’t be paradoxical up to this point. Rather a kind of tautology. But the sentence is applied precisely to those situations where no goal is scored (leaving aside the slightly joking exception about a clear goal that is not recognised). The ball does not go in. The speaker, however, finds “that was a one hundred per cent chance of scoring.”
The alternative interpretation, which on the one hand allows the extenuating circumstances to prevail, and on the other allows the statement to degenerate into inane banality, looks like this: “It was a 100% goal-scoring chance” is always a goal-scoring chance if it is a goal-scoring chance at all. “Yes, it was a goal-scoring chance.” So that’s 100% correct. That’s a car. Yes, 100% car. After all, the number words “a”, “one”, “one” stand for exactly 100%, just like “a goal”. As I said, banal, but not wrong, because with that it gave no insight whatsoever into the size of the conversion percentage that separates a goal chance from a goal. “That was a 100% scoring chance.” “Yes, I saw that too. But what is the chance that a (from that) goal-scoring chance also becomes a goal?” “Well, I don’t know. I only saw that it was a chance. Unlike the throw-in earlier. That was 100% throw-in.”
Let’s return to more substantial banalities.
14) “The ball is round”
Yes, good old Sepp Herberger. How many words of wisdom he uttered that are still valid today. In any interview, almost any coach could start the interview with these words, regardless of the expense to the phrase bank. “Why did you lose today?” “Look, the ball is round. It went into the goal twice for us, only once over there. That’s how round objects behave occasionally. Next question?”
It actually answers everything, especially the cheeky reporters who cite the correctly counted goals as the only support for their argumentation (obviously in the absence of alternative means of observation and understanding) should have this sentence rubbed in their faces again and again.
Implicitly, the coach is saying: “Before we commit ourselves to a judgement or carry out a game analysis, I would like you, especially you, to understand that every game outcome depends to a fair degree on luck, on chance. Luck, chance, which makes the round object jump here and there, especially near the goal, where even a blade of grass (or, remember, a paper ball, in England recently a balloon) can be responsible for the direction of flight. Do you understand that?” If ever there were to be a meek “Yes, I think and hope so, now it’s clicked”, then that person would indeed have made progress, moved a little closer to the truth – and the viewer might finally get to hear some good match analysis that provides actual insight.
Yes, it would be so very true and at the same time express respect for the uncontrollable part of fate (how high should the influenceable one actually be?) that one can perhaps have the intention and in some cases even achieve a certain success, but that one can never definitively explain everything that exists between heaven and earth – gladly beyond.
Well, visions of the future….
15) “It’s as simple as that”
Finally, a few sentences on some reporter’s phrases, which of course are anything but reflected. When one hears this phrase, “it’s as simple as that”, it is of course a reporter’s comment. What he wants to say with it remains largely unclear, except that he himself wants to appear in a better light and theoretically should. “It’s as simple as that, if they finally implement what I’ve been explaining all along” would be an attempt to complete the sentence. Regrettably, however, it would remain a highly transparent smart-ass remark.
What imposes itself on the viewer and what could not be expressed any other way – even in the interest of ratings on the part of the broadcaster – the Englishman easily manages to put into words verbally: “They make that look so easy. “They make that look so easy.”
Exactly that reflects the truth. “It looks so easy.” But at the same time it expresses this huge, appropriate respect for the difficulty of getting it right. You yourself would fail miserably, you have to realise that first of all. Anyone who has played football knows how difficult it is to implement an idea that seems so simple and so beautiful. But at this speed at the very highest level? You can’t take your hat off to these gigantic, inconceivable feats. This presumption of “it’s that easy” unfortunately expresses what is true of all the reporting in Germany, see above. “It’s that simple.” and one is probably supposed to assume “I could do it anyway, I’m just not allowed to do it anymore because of the distortion of competition it triggers.”
16) “Closing weakness”
This dreadful term of weakness in completion does not even exist. It indicates that the person saying it doesn’t really understand anything. Occasionally there are coaches who give a fitting answer to this, which is: “I’m not worried about that. We had the chances. I would only worry if we didn’t have them.”
That is exactly the truth. That you naturally train your finishing here and there, that you know very well that a Wayne Rooney, David Villa or Fernando Torres create a higher scoring rate from less good scoring chances and that you would like to have them in your own ranks is not the question. The art remains to create scoring chances. The exploitation of these chances follows the individual probabilities, one of which is the size of the goal-scoring opportunity – even if it is difficult to measure objectively – and the other of which is the exploitation potential of the team’s own attackers, which can vary from one individual to another depending on the type of goal-scoring opportunity.
The coaches are naturally concerned with a) creating as many chances as possible, b) creating as many as possible and c) exploiting as many of them as possible. The daily work is certainly directed, among other things, towards achieving progress in all these areas, if there were not also a defence that strives to thwart exactly as many of them as possible from the opponents’ side…
17) “Results crisis
The term “results crisis” was simply invented by some coach to deal with the merciless media in a humorous way, without concealing too much of the truth. The media practically never leaves a good hair on the loser’s head anyway. This is based on the section about the lack of goals, which doesn’t even exist, since the term actually describes in a positive way what the team achieved, namely creating goal-scoring chances, most likely even more than the opponents, otherwise the question wouldn’t be asked and the defeat would rather be attributed to the poor defence.
The “results crisis” is the truth. It occurs precisely when a team has created the higher number (and possibly quality of) goal-scoring chances several times in a row, and still came up empty-handed. “We’re playing well, we’ll keep doing it, the results will eventually come by themselves because we haven’t done anything wrong. Full stop.” That’s it. Full stop.
18) Offensive or defensive? It’s all a question of tactics?
One often hears after today’s games that a team allegedly behaved so passively, lacked any offensive spirit and really locked itself in at the back. This can also or especially be “analysed out” – even often in the middle of the game — when the opposing team is leading. So what is this all about? How sensible is this reasoning?
Football at the highest level may be very, very even in some ways — which may not have been the case in the past — but to what extent is this desirable? Is there perhaps truly no longer any discernible difference in the qualities of players and teams?
Note that it is a proffered evidential technique to play games in full, but with facial features and jersey colours rendered unrecognisable, to one of the would-be pundits, indeed, to one of the reporters, and then query in which league the game was played and who might have been the higher placed in the table or rankings? Apart from asking about a winner or who deserved it – to compare it, of course, with the actual result – which would then reveal the reporter’s helplessness and cluelessness (after all, after 25 minutes of play he has just switched the second division match to the Champions League and mistaken Alemannia Aachen for Real Madrid; he might, of course, be happy to switch to objectivity and start capturing the beauty and excitement of the game regardless of the division and the player or team names), but on the other hand to show that the differences are becoming more and more blurred.
If this were indeed the case, it would certainly not do football and its worldwide marketing too much good, as the outcome of a single match would then take on more and more of the character of a dice game, which is certainly not suitable for attracting crowds. You need differences in performance, you need the David versus Goliath duels. And David should win now and then, but not too often.
If a team, a designated favourite, actually dominates the game, succeeds in putting the opponent under pressure, does not allow him to catch his breath, and possibly soon converts an attack into the longed-for opening goal, then perhaps it was not a question of tactics that the opponent could hardly leave his own half? Why is it simply referred to as defensive or hedgehog tactics? Perhaps – and in earlier years such behaviour was absolutely common – the favourite even makes an effort not to retreat after taking the lead in order to let the opponent come and set up a few counterattacks himself, but instead keeps to the tactics originally adopted, which is also an expression of superiority, and continues to put the opponent under pressure? In the knowledge, which was quite common in earlier years, that one should score the second goal (as soon as possible) in order not to be surprised late on by a sudden equaliser?
So if a team simply attacks, has more ball possession, is clearly superior regardless of the score, at least today, then one can certainly not speak of a defensive tactic of the opponent in all cases. Those who do so also claim that they can actively control everything that happens on the pitch. And in doing so, they forget good old Sepp Herberger, who explained it so nicely to the reporters, who were already exhausting at the time, but nowhere near as brazen: you play as well as the opponent allows you to. Applied to this: you play as offensively as the opponent allows you to.
Apart from that, the question actually always intrudes when confronted again with this dubious “game analysis” that one would like to ask the commentator: “How, pray tell, do you imagine you play offensively when you don’t have the ball?”
19) More on the “finishing weakness”.
It’s purely a reporter’s phrase when they can’t think of anything else to say and they quite simply aren’t allowed to mouth the terms “lucky” and “unlucky”, let alone would even acknowledge the fact itself. When you really run out of arguments after a game and the coach of the losing team once again can’t help but point out that his team did a lot of things right and had a lot of good chances. However, he too knows the iron law of not being allowed to use the words “lucky” or “unlucky” in front of running cameras, with the understandable intention of not making himself the plaything of the media, which would have given anyone who wanted to invoke it – of course, it’s always the losers who do that, isn’t it? It is easy for the winners to observe the law, because they do not care whether they say they were lucky or just “deserved it because the goals count” — they would automatically deny any expertise. Unlike the huge question mark facing him, however, he knows of the existence of these elements.
So now that the losing coach has pointed out the superiority in terms of possession, corner ratio and goal chances, and the questioner should actually have seen the same game and could not close his mind to the fact that it is quite simply the course of a football game that is readily accepted because it can happen that the team with the greater number of chances nevertheless does not win or even loses, it also depends on tiny details whether a chance is “converted” and furthermore the chances have different magnitudes, thus chance plays a co-decisive role, the insubordinate reporter can think of nothing more to say except to throw his complete expertise, which consists of the much admired art of counting goals and the flawless use of the relations >, < and =, into the balance and say: “Yes, if you had more chances and still lost, then surely your team has a clear weakness in finishing? “
No, they don’t. The coach will answer anyway, evasively, cautiously, above all adapted to the entire media landscape, i.e. never in the sense of “honestly” – ie: he wants to be left alone as soon as possible –, he may even reply with a grin, patting the man on the back, which the latter would fortunately not take as “pitying” due to a general lack of knowledge, that he would not worry about the finish, but would only worry if his team had had no scoring chances at all, however, this will in no way be suitable to enlighten this person, let’s say, for the next eagerly awaited round of questions, in which he could apply what he has “learned” (er, the terms “reporter” and “learning” are somehow mutually exclusive) and as a result ask one slightly less stupid question.
Doesn’t work? Or vice versa?! Yes, it does: reporters!