Opinions and narratives, aka the “Gotcha!” syndrome

repent

Two negative results. This is what we know.

Where many differ is not only in how those negative results happen, but what they mean. It’s at this time that the difference between opinions, assessments and narratives become most fascinating.

On social media during the match, I Tweeted that “Messi held the ball too long there.”

Someone responded that others also did at other times during the match, and WTF?! That person also suggested that my reaction to a moment was “Criticizing for the sake of criticizing.” And because I love language and how it’s used, here’s something short delving into semantic differences.

If you have an opinion or an assessment, that’s different from a narrative.

Assessment: Bravo got caught out by that header.
Opinion: I don’t think the club should have bought Bravo in the summer.
Narrative: Did you see Bravo’s positioning on that header? Told you the club shouldn’t have bought him.

As accusations of malleability and being a fair-weather culer fly, and various people running around with various prophesies of doom, I just want to take a peek at evaluating Barça and how we should be careful not to mix up assessment, opinion and narrative.

I said it, therefore it is

“Pique sucks” is a conundrum because it is all three things all at once. It’s an assessment of a moment in time. It’s also an opinion. It’s also a narrative. Where the last makes itself evident is when Pique has a good match and one of three things happen, based on where someone sits.

— “He got lucky, but he still sucks.”
— “He played very well today.”
— “Baaaah. Guess he wasn’t up late playing poker last night. Eff him.”

The last one, the narrative, is most dangerous when it comes to a club and players because it defines everything. Pique gets injured, it’s because he’s a playboy married to a pop star. He doesn’t defend a header properly, it’s because he has a poker website. Picks up a yellow, and he shouldn’t be starting.

Narratives don’t allow for situational malleability, so even an excellent performance is viewed with disdain. “He wasn’t terrible today, but he will be again. Just you wait.”

When you bring a narrative to a team it can color a lot, from views of transfers to how a board is running the club. Narratives aren’t interested in reality or the possibility of change. Instead, they shift themselves to incorporate, then consume any and all results.

The thing narratives love most is to be able to say “I told you so.” That is their real danger.

In and of the moment

“Man, what a tackle by Pique!” That is the purest form of assessment there is, a reaction to something that happened. It has nothing to do with an opinion of the player, or a narrative related to his overall presence at the club.

What’s interesting is that we sometimes find assessments that allow opinion to creep in, as in “Pique is crap, but that was a hell of a tackle.”

How does a narrative look at an excellent tackle? “If his positioning was right, he wouldn’t have had to dive in. Unfocused playboy. He could have picked up a yellow. Get him off the pitch!”

It’s easy to confuse assessments with opinion, but the thing I ask myself when parsing the two is what does the statement react to? Then it becomes easy.

“Everything has been crap since Guardiola left.” Opinion and narrative, but let’s spin that one out a bit.

Last year, the team came 5 goals short of being able to make a run for the Treble: 1 vs Atleti in league; 2 vs Atleti in Champions League; 2 vs RM in Copa.

That statement sits as a piece of objective reality. Put the strainer to it and it becomes interesting.

Assessment: “Man, they came really close to major silver last season.”
Opinion: “In light of all that happened last season, the team did a good job but fell short.”
Narrative: “Martino wasn’t good enough, just like I told you. I miss Pep!”

An assessment doesn’t care what happened before. An opinion acknowledges the passage of time and tries to form a global estimation based on objective and subjective evaluations. A narrative doesn’t care. “Everything has been crap since Guardiola left,” so nothing good can happen. Ever. Wins are luck, temporal things based on “luck and individual excellence, but the system is crap and will be crap. I told you so.”

Nobody should have any use for narrative. The inflexibility of a narrative makes those who carry them around easy to spot. But it’s also important to not confuse an assessment with an opinion.

“Celta outworked Barça, and got an excellent result,” is an assessment.

“There are systemic difficulties related to the personnel that Barça have and how they are used, that had an effect on the result vs Celta,” is an opinion. Assessments are to be discarded as the momentary reactions they are. Opinions can change in the face of reality. “I thought the club shouldn’t have signed Bravo, but he’s been really good this season.”

Moreover, an assessment can’t be optimistic or pessimistic. It simply is. An opinion can be optimistic or pessimistic, but allows for change. Change doesn’t mean that someone lacks the courage of their convictions. It means that they have looked at the situation and decided that things are not in fact what they thought. It’s a grownup quality, and something to be lauded.

As we look at things that people write, whether comments in this space or social media utterances, it’s worth applying a filter to it, and basing our reaction to the statement on that filter.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

105 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    November 7, 2014

    I believe the next board must have an agreement with the new sporting director that for every transfer if the player dont play a number of games,the director will pay the salary of the player.

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