Luck

Luck

So here we arrive. The elephant in the room. As someone who primarily talks about football tactics, the concept of luck is something that regularly provides a mild annoyance at best, so I figured I would explain my stance on the matter. A lot of the time it is easier to simply say that I do not believe in luck, but really it is that I do not believe in the all-powerful rival-favouring malevolent force that so many think of it as.

The discussions on this site about football tactics are theorised – even discussions of matches and changes that have already happened are interpretations rather than solid fact – but football. It is not that dominating a game through tactical superiority will guarantee a win, but it does make it much more likely: you play better than the opposition, you are more likely to make chances. The more chances you make, the more likely you are to score and thus win.

The problem is that of course that theory can falter when put into physical practice. Tactics are based around the manipulation of space: it’s significantly harder to control ands pass a ball accurately if you don’t have much space, and easier if you have lots of it. A player will generally have a good chance of picking out a good pass if no one is within 20 metres of him, while someone crowded out by three or four players close to him will have a significantly worse chance. The issue with this theory though is that it’s not impossible: a player will have a worse chance at connecting well with the ball with lots of people around but there also the chance, albeit a smaller one, that they, especially if they are a good player, will have the ball bounce just right for them and hit the ball in the right spot to pull off that pass even with those . With time and space, the likelihood of pulling off that pass becomes higher, but cutting down on the time and space doesn’t eliminate the threat – it just makes the chance of it working less likely. It’s why managers with good tactics and good players usually win – the percentages just become so much higher.

It’s not like poker. Part of the joy of poker is that you can have a rubbish hand for one round, then a brilliant one in the next. There are 2,598,960 combinations of cards you could receive for a hand in poker – it is based significantly on luck. The physical element still applies: the cards are ordered by shuffling, and what you, and every other player, receive depends on that order. However, a football manager can pick his players, his tactics and is will have at least a basic knowledge of how his opponent will do the same. To imply that a match is won by some omnipotent force makes the whole spectacle a bit pointless, doing neither the winner or loser any justice.

This doesn’t mean luck doesn’t play its part though. One of the best examples of luck I can think of is the 1-0 victory for Chelsea over Manchester United in the 2009/10 season. Using Antonio Valencia to nullify the threat of Ashley Cole and having Ryan Giggs tuck in on the left, Sir Alex Ferguson ensured Carlo Ancellotti’s diamond formation was dominated by his United side. Yet they lost thanks to some poor refereeing. Chelsea got the win which, through theory, would imply they were correct in the way they went about thing, but watching the game would show that as incorrect. Unsurprisingly, several teams went on to mimic United against Chelsea and found themselves to be more successful in their use of this tactic, forcing Ancerllotti to make changes.

Sometimes you just have to accept luck plays its part, but you can’t repeatedly blame a lack of it if your team performs poorly. The luck factor is more often an exception than a rule.

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