Knowledge is weird because of its roots in the ephemeral, particularly when it comes to football. This is a fancy way of saying that none of us know anything, really, even as some don’t know more than others.
After the Luis Enrique presser on Saturday, in reaction to his quote about Gumbau being a “very interesting player,” this was the post-inspiring musing via Twitter, from Lala Ordenes (@OohLalaFootball):
“Lucho knows something I don’t. As he should.”
Leaving aside that Gumbau isn’t the opposition to Samper but rather a different player, it’s the idea of knowledge that is thought provoking. I’m old, and in my general observation there are two kinds of old folks: those who know what they know, and “Shut up, you!”, or those who have learned the staggering volume of what they don’t know and become patient, almost tentative. I am, to the detriment of my football opinion-making, in the latter category.
In another muse-like moment for Barça Twitter, I had a fascinating debate with someone whose opinion I respect (who shall remain nameless just because I don’t know if they would be interested in having an official, public role here), about knowledge and perception. My basic view is that opinion can never be “wrong” in the objective sense, but that I take issue with pronouncements when it comes to Barça, or pretty much anything. So if someone says “X player isn’t good enough for Barça,” the pedant in me says, “But the coaches, by their actions, say that he is.” This is very similar to the abovementioned Tweet.
Conversely if someone says “In my opinion, X player isn’t good enough for Barça,” there is nothing to say. Debate if you want, but respect the opinion, even as the difference in the two statements is semantic.
I have been riding/racing bicycles for more than 30 years, with the attendant skills and knowledge that makes me a good rider. But I don’t know that I am a good rider because as I type this I am nursing a nose with four stitches, various scrapes and bruises and a busted knee, courtesy of a stupid, stupid crash that shouldn’t happen to a “good” rider. Suddenly, I don’t know anything. And it happens time and again.
Audiophilia is rife with the kind of knowledge that fuels football debate. “Good” sound is subjective, even if you define it as “like live music.” Rock? Jazz? Classical? What about crap halls or deaf sound engineers? Audio objectivists like to get their knowledge from the blind test because the giant, sparkling amplifier festooned with glowing vacuum tubes is of course going to sound better than the wee amplifier that is just a black box. Why? “Well, just look at them!” So you put both amps behind a curtain, and play music. Then you know. But even then, you don’t, because “better” is a matter of taste and opinion.
Try something: As you go through the world, cup your hands behind your ears, then take them away and note how differently things sound. That difference explains a lot. Now look at all the ears around you, their different shapes and sizes. That is why being an audiophile is madness, why that world of wild subjectivity is fraught with madness. Yet in that world, people claim to “know” things, just as they do in football. Messi vs Ronaldo, Busquets vs Toure Yaya, and on it goes, debates rooted in “knowledge” that is little more than taste and opinion.
In the 1980s, the Chicago Bears of American football had a fullback, Matt Suhey, who I didn’t like. Suhey could score 4 touchdowns in a game, throw a scoring pass, play defense and return an interception for a touchdown and I still wouldn’t like him. Why? Because I didn’t like him. At that point, there is no arguing or debate. Statistics don’t matter. His effectiveness as a blocking back doesn’t matter. None of it matters, because I don’t like him.
We all come at the world with different desires, notions and ways of looking at things. Some don’t care how Barça wins. Just win. Others would prefer a loss in the right way than win in the wrong way. Both people are right, and know that their belief is correct, because it is theirs. Which is, again, correct. The interesting part about that debate would be to strive to understand why the two sides feel as they do, and hope that they can come to an understanding about each other.
Because I am old and know what I don’t know and am a print journalist, I am tentative to a fault. A famous wire service, City News Bureau, had a legendary saying: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Because there is nothing worse for a journalist than getting a fact wrong. In this age of digital, someone can just log in and fix a fact. But back when the phrase was coined, newspapers were the thing of record. Get a name wrong, and it’s there forever. So print journalists tend to be tentative, tend to resist the snap judgment. This affects my view of players. I can watch a player that many deem not good enough and say to myself, “There must be something, because the club bought him and the coaches are using him. What the hell is going on?”
What don’t I know?
This is true even in the face of evidence that to my knowledge base, should affirm something. I admire the people whose passion or confidence allows them to say “He isn’t good enough.” My patient, tentative quality will always make me hesitant. So when the team was imploding in January and people wanted Enrique fired, etc, all I could say was “Let’s wait to see what happens,” which is fundamentally worthless, it must be said. It turned out to be “correct,” but if you say nothing, can you ever be wrong? In the previously mentioned Twitter debate, the other person said, in effect, “Let people be impatient, that’s their right,” which is correct. It’s something I would never argue with, because opinions can never be wrong.
To me, the challenge that ended Rafinha’s season was reckless and reprehensible. To someone else, the defender took a chance and got it wrong. “Bad luck, and best wishes to the injured player.” And at the end of it all, none of us “know” anything. Someone says, “In my opinion, Eden Hazard is as good as Lionel Messi.” Okay. Moving on. Right? No. Wrong? No.
Arts critics always get missives from outraged readers that often begin with, “I don’t know what play/concert/movie you saw, but … “ The correct answer is “One that my evaluative template made me see differently than you.” Sometimes, people will Tweet at me during a match, “We are watching different matches.” And this is correct, because everyone watches a match and sees different things.
One person watches a Messi run and says, “If he had just beaten that last defender!” Another person watches a Messi run and says, “Why didn’t he pass to Suarez?” Still another watches that Messi run and says, “He had to fall deep to get that ball. The team’s system is broken.” All three are “right.” All can and should coexist in a world that is discussing a game that we are all passionate about. The only thing that is “wrong,” to my view, in that is assuming that someone is a particular way just because they might assert something different than what someone else believes.
We’re seeing it with Gumbau, who is training with the first team. Or course, he was training with the first team before the Rafinha injury, as were Camara and Samper, but Sport is suggesting that Gumbau is the Rafinha replacement for now. As this is something that I just don’t see as the two are very different players, it’s something that I will have to wait and see on. On the surface it’s like replacing a sports car with a truck.
Others find it outrageous that Gumbau is even training with the first team, and how can they prefer him over Samper? I don’t know the answer to that, and the only people who do aren’t telling us. So as with a story for which none of the sources will return phone calls, you can’t write the piece, to my worldview. Another reporter would promise that people wouldn’t go on the record, cite “unnamed sources” and go for it.
My general view is “trust the experts.” It doesn’t mean that I believe they are infallible, but rather it is my set of biases and assessment skills (or lack thereof) that makes me ask, “If I am seeing a player who sucks, but he is playing for the best club in the world, what am I NOT seeing?” Someone else has the confidence to say, “He sucks.” Done. They aren’t any more or less “wrong” than I am. They are just less tentative.
Football debate is wonderful even as it is pointless, because there is no right or wrong. But if you can get some knowledge from a discussion, if you can understand why the aesthete says it’s bad that Messi had to go deep to get that ball and what it implies, and the aesthete can understand why the other person thought the run was really cool, nothing else matters. If both enter the discussion accepting that they are both right and wrong, something good can happen. This is true in social media, comment spaces and pubs, true anywhere that people talk about something on which opinions differ, because every day of our lives should be spent trying to learn something new.
When someone writes about tactics, it’s something that just doesn’t click for me as I watch a match, but I read it because that knowledge is useful for me. I also hope that when I say, “Hey, give x or y player a shot because we don’t know,” the other side can get something from that, just as I can get something from them explaining why that player is awful. As long as everyone can learn from everyone, a successful intellectual transaction has happened, irrespective of whether there is agreement. And ain’t that just beautiful?