Thursday, 13 March 2008

Chance. A Fine Thing?

Over at the esteemed House of Craven t’other day, Mr. Rich was tickling the underbelly of the role of randomness in football.

Without sidestepping into an oblique treatise on Brownian Motion, I thought I’d give the screw cap a slight twist and allow a few aerated bubbles of my own to make their bid for freedom. Please consider the impending hiss of escaping gas as an affectionate addendum rather than a challenge.

My fledgling consideration of the influence of chance, or randomness, in football would be founded on the fact that for a player participating in a game, there are things he can control and things he can’t control. A far-from-exhaustive list:

Can’t Control

~the weather (North of Watford/South of Watford)
~the time of day (evening kick-off? I’ll miss “Pimp My Crib”!)
~the pitch (bowls lawn/turnip field)
~the ball (design or inflation)
~the referee (myopic, bewildered, spiteful)
~the venue (home/away)
~the opponents’ play
~his team mates (although he should have some notion of how they might respond through training and experience, and he
could (should) influence them via communication)

Can Control

~the decisions he makes when he has the ball
~the decisions he makes when he doesn’t have the ball

The above suggests that whilst much is indeed governed by chance, each player still has a choice about how he responds at any given moment throughout a game, coupled with a varying degree of understanding about the potential behaviour of the players around him. As we know, the right choice at the right time can win a game. These choices are clearly prey to a number of factors: experience, “natural” ability, mood (“the red mist”), fatigue, will to win, and I’m sure many others.

I would also propose that where teams are dominant within a league, and chance is apparently playing less of a role, that it is this concept of inter-player understanding that is in the ascendancy (greater individual player ability being a given in the more successful teams): players having a better understanding of what their team mates are going to do in any given situation. Doesn’t some of Arsenal’s play appear almost telepathic at times? Less wasted runs, less misplaced balls. Percentages, percentages.

A final comment about Rich’s reference to tactics – another elusive, will-o'-the-wisp, aspect to the game that refuses to be quantified or pinned down. Tactics are the manager’s concept, but the player’s duty to execute. Clearly, many things can interfere with and distort the message on its pathway from whiteboard to pitch: a kind of footballing Chinese Whispers:

~Did the manager express himself correctly?
~Did the players understand it correctly?
~Does the player have the ability/energy/desire to implement it?
~Will the player’s opponent allow him to implement it?
~Were the tactics the correct ones in the first place?

Ay, there’s the rub.

No comments: