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The best always win? Ah, cheating. Winning is all that matters. The ideal of sport that is whoever is better at the skill would win does not apply to football. And yet it is hard to say which sports that applies to, nowadays. Golf, darts and snooker spring to mind. What else? Let’s take athletics. At least you have to be over the line by yourself to win. It is clear who has won. But drugs are a serious problem in so many sports where at least the winner is clear. Cristiano Ronaldo - always cheating Soccer is no longer a sport where the winner is clear nor probably has it ever been. There have been many apologies since VAR has appeared where teams have lost or drawn matches they should have won. And prior to VAR a referee could cost you the game. But you never get it back. Last season Arsenal had a few VAR decisions go against them, Man Utd, Brighton and Brentford spring to mind. We were a short few points off Man City and getting the correct decisions could have won us the league. What is cheating? That is the starting point of this discussion. Football is not about sportspeople playing better than the other team but rather those who use every trick in the book and are writing new ones up to gain an advantage that wins the match. What are those advantages? I probably can’t list them all, but let’s give it a go, in the order they come into my head: Calling for everything Surrounding the ref Verbals – abusing players to try and put them off their game Diving and tricking refs by screaming Going down with little contact A new one, since the introduction of almost universal handball, is hammering the ball into a crowded box in the hope that it hits an arm when there is no sight of goal. Is the use of excess money cheating? Most of these things did not happen in English football when I started watching. Dirty Leeds in the Sixties, with a truly top squad of players, started a lot of gamesmanship and fouls. The most notorious being Jack Charlton standing on top of the keeper at corners. But all the other things mentioned above were starting to appear. Of course, football was never clean Now, it has to be said that football was never really clean. There have been many instances of the dark arts since soccer appeared in its present form around 150 years ago. The problem is, if it is not clean, is it truly a sport? I say no. The definition of a sport has to be that the best at the discipline wins. And only golf, darts and snooker comes to mind where that applies. This is the sign that football is clean In this modern era, you would have to be a genius to figure out the blurry lines between what is acceptable and what is not. Money? The big teams spend egregious amounts to gain advantage so that they have at least two top players for every position. They have also campaigned strongly to allow more and more subs giving them another big advantage over poorer clubs. In the old days you had one sub which was normally only used late in the game, if at all. And yet I rarely remember teams being down to ten because of injury. But subs were originally supposed to be only for injury, not for tactics. I say 5 subs are cheating as the advantage is to the big clubs. Will anything be done? Yes, when you see a member of the porcine species use its wings to fly past your window. Just give me one million of that and I will delete this piece, Sheik Money allows you to buy players that other teams want just to stop them having them. Chelsea and Man City are possibly the worst at this but all big teams are guilty. Is it cheating? I can’t see any reason to say it is not. Analysing ways to cheat What about analysts? Is that cheating? There are teams of guys with laptops spread around the grounds relaying information to the bench and the manager is stood on the pitch bellowing instructions. Why are they allowed do that? We would laugh if at an athletics event if there was 20 managers screaming at the runners. In the past, the manager sat on the bench and I see no reason for anyone on the bench to be allowed give instructions. It should be the best sportsmen win. They should be talented enough to use their own ability, brain and reason to be able to play. A guy is free on the edge of the box at the corner? Get out and cover him, how do you need to be told to do that? Educating young people to cheat is good, is it? Will we see the days of hidden earpieces on the captains or all players? Is it already happening? I suspect the technology is already there so it could well be. Is it cheating? I say yes. I covered drugs already here and you will see that my belief is that drugs are endemic in football. We do, most of us, see drugs as clearly cheating but the world of pharmacy is very clever. They are like Hydra, you cut off one head and 2 more grow in its place. A putrid sport ready to collapse? The problem is, that if one big team cheats, then they all will, to try to stop them having an advantage. We have gone so far down this rabbithole that we can’t see any possibility of anything getting better, we keep accepting the new ways to cheat and the new charlatans, the Chelseas, the Man Citys, the PSG’s, etc., will continue to use their money to whitewash the cheating and the old big clubs will scramble to catch up on their cheating and surpass them if they can. And so here we are. A rotten sport without much semblance of fairness. Where anything at all, no matter how outrageous, is acceptable. Cristiano Ronaldo is perhaps the biggest single example, always diving, harassing the ref, waving for cards and so on, yet he was still one of the most popular players of his time and not castigated and banned for being a lowly cheat. In golf, also a huge money sport, he would have been cast into the darkness long ago. Tiger Woods would have been with a tiny amount of cheating. For all golfers, being a true sport is what matters, especially Tiger Woods You must call foul on yourself and a sport has to be about the better person or team winning. Soccer has left that ideal far behind. Is it the right road that it has taken or will there be a sudden, dramatic, realization that cheating and sport are incompatible? The most dramatic event of my lifetime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, was inconceivable to me until it happened. But people then realized how rotten it was and didn’t want to go back. Could it happen in football? I will say a definite maybe.
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.