He keeps coming back - makes him a winner?
Winners are people who hate losing
Have you ever thought about losing and top class sport? The effects it has? Granit Xhaka recently said that he cannot sleep after he loses and Aaron Ramsdale is the same. Arsene Wenger famously said that I cannot remember all my wins but I cannot forget my defeats, they stay with him forever. Defeat is a consistent part of football. You lose many times a season, even at the best clubs. The invincibles? Lost six times in the Charity Shield, FA cup, League cup and Europe. Losing ten times, even in a very successful season, is common enough. Add to that international matches and it could be even more. And what about draws? They are not wins so they have to be added to the totals. Wenger had a win record with Arsenal of 57%, a huge number of times he had to cope with not winning. So you have to find a way to cope with losing.
Not so big a winner now, Mike?
I think it is fair to say that it always has an effect. The end of the Invincibles run was also the end of Arsenal as league winners up to now. Look at Mike Tyson, when he was dumped on the floor by Buster Douglas, no-one was ever afraid of him again. His career spiralled out of control, getting big fights mostly on his attraction as a prize draw. In boxing, losing is something that few fighters come back from, but in soccer, you have to come back as you lose regularly, even in big matches. Look at Liverpool and Man City last season and the heartbreak they endured in major matches towards the end. Has it had an effect on Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season? City have come out of the blocks as if it had no effect but Klopp’s team?
Losing has a big effect on such players
Let’s look at Ramsdale, he got relegated at most clubs he was with, and had a live link up with losing regularly. That must have been unbearable and hey, if he can’t sleep after losing, he must scarcely have slept at all. How did that affect his keeping and his well being? He must have found a way to cope. Those of us who have watched All or Nothing – Arsenal will know that he is cranky as hell in the dressing room after a defeat so it is not obvious that he has found a way. 15 losses last season and 15 sleepless nights mean that life as a professional sportsperson is a tough life.
Try and get some sleep, Aaron
I suspect that an eternal optimism is a requisite for coping. Another match comes around and you say I will win this. If you do, then the confidence comes back. But then if you lose the next and the next? You can find yourself like Everton, struggling to avoid relegation. We had our famous three in a row last season and all of us were in despair, but new players came in, the next 2 matches were the doomed Norwich and Burnley which we scraped home with one nil to the Arsenal and then a big turnaround against the hapless Spuds, going through a managerial crisis of their own, 3-1 to pump us up and believe in ourselves again. So we can say that winning helps you cope with losing, I think with certainty.
Even winning may not be good for losing
However long unbeaten spells may not be so good. Celtic and Rangers in Scotland have had spells when they were clearly on top, winning almost every match to capture all domestic trophies. However, if you watched them in Europe they were often poor, as they could only play one way, attack, and they hadn’t the nous to see games out, and play cagey, ensure a win. So losing helps you become a team that can hang on to win, going back into defence and the corner flag if necessary to play ugly football for a win.
I want to go on a diversion for a moment into other sports, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are two of the biggest names in golf. Woods played 371 events and lost almost 300. McIlroy played 429 and won only 33. Roger Federer in tennis played 367 and won 103. Lewis Hamilton in F1 had 301 starts and 103 wins. Losing is the norm in those sports. Lots of top players scarcely ever taste a win. How do they cope with being losers? They continue being losers? Maybe.
The Ballon D’or is the answer
And that maybe is the question? Do players become great because they are in a winning team? And the reverse is true, players don’t become great because they are in a losing team? Is Harry Kane a great? He has never won a trophy. I would argue that it is a black mark against him and is why he seemingly wanted to leave for Man City or Real Madrid. Spurs, quite rightly, have done everything they could to keep him. Unless he gets a move to a top side soon or Spurs start winning trophies I doubt if he will ever be regarded among the true greats. I don’t see him doing a Van Dijk or an Aubameyang and forcing a move by going on strike. But it does mean a Ballon D’or is a distant dream.
Only goes to the lucky winners?
But does that mean there is an element of luck in how we regard the best players in a team sport? Are many players regarded as great because they managed to get in a top side and gelled? And others never quite made it because they were in modest sides? Jamie Vardy was ignored and unknown for most of his career well outside the top rank. He got in a Leicester side who gathered together a superb squad and became a superstar, playing for England and with that magic title that made him a winner. It is so rare that a non league player makes the grade at his age that it virtually doesn’t happen.
Did bad luck stop Jamie Vardy for most of his career?
Does it all come down to luck?
But he does give evidence to the suspicion that luck plays a big part in whether you make it or not. Suppose Vardy had made it at a big club early in his career, winning lots of trophies, scoring lots of goals and playing regularly for England. Nobody doubts he had the ability to do so, but for whatever reason he was overlooked. As Harry Kane came up via Spurs, he would have found his way blocked by Vardy, being older. He may have struggled to get in, and not have had the respect he has now. Vardy, with the ability he undoubtably has, could have become a huge superstar to be ranked with Lineker and Shearer - and Kane? Not so well respected. Our own Ian Wright had his way blocked by Lineker and Shearer and does not have the respect accorded to those two.
Kane - destined never to be a true great?
Now to answer this question truly, I probably need to ask top sportspeople how do they cope with losing. Personally I would love to do that as it is a subject that fascinates me. My only conclusion at this moment is that losing only matters if you cannot lift yourself off the floor over and over again like Woods, Federer and Hamilton and indeed top soccer players, but also be in a top team that starts winning again, or you may find yourself being regarded as a lesser player than people without your talent. And that, I feel is the answer, coping with losing is about being in a top team that collectively lifts itself up time and time again. Let’s hope this new Arsenal will prove such a team.