Sir Alex Ferguson’s ruddy wine face took a hard steer to the port as he swallowed on the 4-1 hammering that Liverpool had inflicted on his Manchester United team at Old Trafford in 2009. “It’s hard to take,” Fergie fumed. There’s proper visceral honesty for you. This was followed by a more warped appraisal of the match from the same source. “I thought we were the better team but the score doesn’t reflect that and unfortunately that’s the name of the game.”
Oh, yes. It’s the “we played well but the statistics just got in the way” argument. Haven’t we heard that somewhere before? Last week, perhaps. When Antonio Conte had stopped stomping and shouting at the Nou Camp, inflicting all kinds of imaginary damage to his limbs and the dugout, his triple espresso temperament dulled into a more defiant analysis: “We have no regrets,” the Italian claimed. “If you watch the game, you can see the final result is unfair.”
Having watched proceedings from a relatively decent viewpoint, cognisant of the rules, it became apparent that Barcelona made the net bulge three times legally and Chelsea did not when presented with similar opportunities.
To make matters worse, Thibaut Courtois suddenly forgot all that health-and-safety underground advice on the way to Fulham Broadway when he failed to mind the gap as Lionel Messi alighted in the penalty area twice. There really was nothing unlucky about any of the four Barcelona goals scored in the tie. Truth be told, they were effectively handed to them. This was controllable, even if Messi isn’t sometimes.
Sporting fortune is a dangerous beast to rely on, or to rail against. Cricketer and TMS presenter Ed Smith once wrote a book called Luck: What it Means and Why it Matters where he argued that the modern world lusts after the control element of life through self-help and building towards success as if climbing to the peak can be manufactured. However, luck still tends to have a bigger impact than we wish to give it credit for. Skill, hard work and good genes are all very well, but there’s still a certain randomness about the final result was the gist of Smith’s tome.
How is it that Elise Christie only has her worst crashes in an Olympic environment? How many times can it be cruel when England go out of a major tournament in a penalty shoot-out? Such questions can easily lead to sliding door alternative realties. Jose Mourinho still insists that he was denied by a goal that “came from the moon” in the Champions League semi-final at Anfield in 2005. “The best team lost. After they scored only one team played, the other one just defended for the whole game.”
Then again, after beating his big buddy Fergie at Old Trafford with Real Madrid in 2013, Mourinho said: “We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this.” It’s easier to be totally honest about fortune when you might have an eye on the hot seat in Manchester…
Photograph by Stephen Broadhurst – https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenbroadhurst/