We know that we know what we don’t know, or something

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 (@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?

Categorized as Thoughts

By Kxevin

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.


  1. If Gumbau is the one to come on, obviously it is not a like-for-like with Rafinha, but who would be? We have several versatile players and I trust LE will know how to shuffle his chess pieces to do what’s best. If Gumbau comes in to deputize as a (deputy) holding mid, we have Busi and Sergi Roberto who could play an advanced role in midfield, and Sandro and Munir who can play on the wing. Obviously it would be better to have Rafinha. But what can you do.

    I am sure Thiago Alcantara will have some philosophical words for his younger brother. If Thiago made it past his injuries with the quality he still has, there is lots of hope for Rafinha. Just a rough several months ahead. I hope he can be back for the business end of the season.

    1. Not a fan of Busi at CM. Gumbau doesn’t look like he can do the pivot DM job. And we all know how we look with both Busi and Masch on the field together in midfield. It just doesn’t work. Both are too not adventurous.

      If God forbid Busi is injured, who’s going to replace him? I suspect Masch would be the first option but what aBout when Masch is injured or when he’s gone? I don’t see Samper as a DM. Who should we promote or buy to be Busi’s back up?

  2. Thanks for the philosophical musings! As with all actual debate, one needs to consider the premiss of a position, and this will decide how the observation (of a play, run, etc.) will be understood and valued. Samper has for some time been the considered the “next one” (premiss), so when instead Gumbau – who seemed to pop up out of nowhere – is introduced we are baffled, it does not fit. But the problem, of course, is that we do not know LE’s premiss on this one. From what I heard, Gumbau is more of a Keita kind of mid, who will put in a solid shift, while Samper is a more talented playmaker. But perhaps this also means that it will be easier for a player with Gumbau’s profile to provide a decent shift, while Samper’s way of playing would require more risks and more adapting to the first team situation. In the long run, Samper would then have the potential of becoming a real star, would his talents rise to the occasion, while Gumbau would remain a squad player at best.

    And perhaps LE is thinking that he needs a “worker” at this point, not a Busquets/Xavi understudy? Same thing will Halilovic, in a sense. But him being on loan and Samper remaining might be explained with their profile’s and positions: Halilovic is an ‘outsider’, a creative force who needs to learn some work ethics and discipline; Samper is home grown and need to fully find his way within the Barca system. Obviously his outings in the B-team have left something to be desired – be it defensive awareness or maturity, or whatever – and LE & co have deemed it best to let him season in the B.

    Speculations, all if it. But there are so many aspects to consider, that it is hard to try to understand the particular choices of a coach who are burdened by the responsibility to retain the level of the world’s best team that just won a treble. Strategy is seldom straightforward, and must consider the totality rather than single individuals (unless they, like Messi, become good enough to become a foundation of the strategy).

  3. I was in a really good mood, thinking to come on and comment on the latest piece here, when i saw the the Squad players for the levante match, and instantly everything went sour

    And right now-honsetly, i cant help but ask “whatsup with LE”, really. Like thats the first statement that came into my head after i saw the squad list
    Granted, right, that after all he seems to be doing some things right_ that would have to do with the win against AN. That is onething i think he should be given credit for- that i think i should acknowledge. The way and meanner in which that game wa prosecuted was impressive, no doubt. And apparently i’d had a lot of misgivings that necessary in tha regard, he does know what he’s doing after all
    But still yet, as i thought, that dosnt clear him from his other shortcomings. one of which is his decision making, which i find really weird. But then, as i came to discover recently, there’s probably a method to his madness

    As regard this article, and the like thats been written previously, i just want to categorically state here, that there’s no Justification- moral or spiritual, for LE’s actions. call it whatever yo like; “samper’s not ready”- sao apparently gumbau? it all just get more ridiculous

    I find it really hilarious, when people try to justify LE’s action on samper vis a vis his actions on Gumbau
    Its tolerable, when yo try to cut the coach some slacks for treating quality without much regard, but its totally incredous when yo try justifying the coach rejecting a quality player for an “inferior one”. like seriously, trying to justify his treatment on samper is not too bad, but trying justify his “rejection”(in quote) of samper for gumbau is just way way over the line, really.
    I wouldnt say much about this, but simply put, there’s no justification on earth for the way LE has treated Samper, such quality, None. Its totally disrespectfull
    As a side note, Bayern would be totally estatic of somehow Samper could be transferred to them, thats a club thats gor respect for quality
    Apparently they even wanted Adama, i mean ADAMA, the one we all deemed not good enough, and offloaded, but we said that about thaigo didnt we? His refusal was practically the only thing that kept him from being a bayern player now

    As regard to the squad list, it beat me how you’d be prosecuting a match without any CM on your beanch, when in reality the coach in question, had the priveledge of calling a capable replacelment to stand in for Ranfinha
    But instead, he brought in gumbau, and here i am womderimg what he’s gonna do, would he replace Iniesta? thats laughable. would he replace busi? certainly not. except, as someone “said”, busi would be pushed up, while gumbau becomes the pivot, and we all know how busi plays in such position. Meanwhile the coach could afford better, yet he all but snubbed it
    And if i’m Samper, wherever i am, i’m supposed to say “ride on good sir, your decisions are gracious”, right??

    1. Do you know something about Samper and Gumbau that Lucho doesn’t?

      For what little I’ve seen, Samper looks a fine player in possession. He picks a pass well and looks confident. Barca B, with Samper at DM, had a softer centre than a custard doughnut. Is Samper to blame? At least partially.

      For the record, when Pep decided to promote Busi and play him over Yaya, many including me thought that he was mad and undervaluing Yaya. Something similar to now with Gumbau?

      When Gumbau doesn’t perform then I will accept that he should be criticised but at present his fault is that he is not Samper. That is ridiculous.

    2. A bit. emotional, Cyclops although I agree with the basic point. There isn’t mo, a huge argument for playing Samper in the first team this season but there is a very strong one for giving him his chance. He certainly looked the most impressive of Sandro, Munir and Gumbau in the pre season. His passing, possession, turning ability all look well above those but he has been dropped from sight. First of all that does mean we don’t have a huge amount of creativity starting for us tonight although we can drag Ini from the bench but maybe it is time to see what Rakitic can bring in that sense against weaker opposition. I’m just as gutted for Mathieu after his flawless performance last game. Back on the bench for what reason ?

      My biggest worry, however, is that, we’re I Samper, I’d be looking at the perceived pecking order and thinking what if I get that call from Pep. Bottom line, I’ve always felt LE values pysical attributes too highly and we may eventually pay for it . . . but surely not tonight ? Hopefully, we get away with resting the first teamers and some of those brought in show us a bit more than they have. We could do with a bit more depth to choose from. Looking forward to the game.

  4. Sorry i meant the game against AM, rather than AN, lol, sorry for the mistakes

    Anyway, just to state here, i havnt got any grouse against gumbau, none actually. My problem is LE- out of the blues, choosing him ahead of someone who’s miles better than him

    In this match now, i wouldnt be suprised if LE subbed Rakitic off for gumbau, really. with LE you can expect just about anything
    But now i’m wondering, rather than that, how about Rakitic coming off for Samper? A substitution that would maintain the team tactical structure as opposed to a gumbau which obviously would change a lot. i dont know about yo but i’d take a Samper for Rakitic anyday anytime. And yo cant say, LE would probably not make that change anyway, or he wouldnt need to, because we are already at that point where a lot of rotations would be needed, injuries are alredy coming in thick and fast. Everybody needs as much rest as they can get. Based on that, i think it wouldnt be a bad idea if a Rakitic is subbed out, but then who would you bring in, gumbau ? dont think so

    Like i said, nothing against Gumbau, but i’d rather prefer he’d come into the team in different circumstance, and even then, i’d be seriously pissed that you’ve got an Alex grimaldo, the much talked about samper, jordi masip( thats a story for another) and a host of B teamers who are worlds better than gumbau, yet your exceptional thinking tells yo gumbau is ‘more matured and ready’ than the rest

    As for the method in which LE seems to operate, someone rightly said, if LE had been in charge when busi was about displacing toure yaya from the squad he’d have probably sent busi on loan, and really that just tells the whole story, tells yo all you need to know

    He’s obviously not a fan of ’em techincal players and all such stuff, he’d rather have his Mascherano-esque type of player

    Well, i’d just go watch this match now with a heavy heart, feeling sorry for Samper…

  5. Can we just watch the games or see how people play before we actually make a judgement?
    Feeling sorry for Samper? Stupse when his opportunity comes he better grab it with two hands.
    Btw… Munir needs some work. He’ll be the first to come out. Neymar should join him but he is one who is actually creating. I like Sandro, smart movements.
    Busi as a CM. We need a goal.

    1. Yeah, Munir is not working out, really. An interesting attempt, but it does not work with both youngsters at the same time. I would sub Munir for Iniesta to balance Messi. Neymar is having an awful game so far, lacking sharpness and proper execution, but he is shaking things up a little at least. Raki can’t do much attacking, since he must cover up for “CM” Messi…rather, 4-2-1-3 tonight. Hope they will find that good old dynamism during half-time!

  6. Amazing. After all the vitriol last year towards LE, questioning his rotations, man-management and probably even his clothing, youd think, after we won the triple, that people/fans would humbly accept that maybe there are things they don’t know or understand, and give LE the benefit of the doubt. Kxevin writes a piece speaking exactly to that point but it still just goes right past some people. Listen LE is not an idiot. He was a better player and is a better coach than you. If Samper is as good as everyone says i am sure he will get his chance.

    1. Well, I’m not sure if the assistant referee on the far side was one of LE’s picks but he should have been. He’s been our best defender by a mile !

      It doesn’t make for pretty viewing does it? I mean we’ll win because even though this mob have numbers back. They’re not really organised and there are still huge passing gaps but I just can’t see what this formation is. I know I’m harping on about him but what is his job in this formation ? Is amessi still the playmaker and scorer ? He’s been great but at some point someone else needs to step up against lesser opposition like this. Too many rotations in the one game ( again ) for me.

    2. I for one think that Rakitic has done jis role well today. If you are still looking for Mr.Highlight reel… keep looking.
      Sliding interventions, open for outlet passes. Recycling possesion.
      As i speak TEr Stegen covers himself in glory (SARCASM)

    1. So here’s what I’ve noticed in Gambau’s first 12 mins…
      He needs to work on his positional sense (his reading of the game)…. again this is his first 12 mins… trying to be objective

  7. Oh well, he did subbed in Gumbau for busi afterall , well well…and as i typed this they just got a goal back
    We were begininig to play with verve before that, hope that sub dosnt changed it

    As regards to Samper taking his chance, i’d suppose that Gumbau took his right ?? better than Samper ? that’d be your opinion

    But right now, everybody who’s watching this match with me are just screaming “ter stergen! ter stergen, ter sterg…”, like what the hell, can someone send a memo to that guy already…

    1. I am saying the way you guys speak of Samper, he better come with his guns blazing. Nothing worst than to hype up your best for a position at your job and then he is a total dud…. EMBARASSING.
      At least give Gumbau the chance … that’s all I ask.

  8. Okay, Gumbau’s really doing a job here.. No hard feelings, but Midfield”s really porous, i think LE just got that sub wrong
    If this was Sevilla, you wouldnt look past them putting two more goals past ter stergen…

    1. If this was Sevilla… well, that’s just false logic, isn’t it? LE would not field the same players against a top team, now would he…

    2. Look at it this way…
      We rested 5/6 key players… Alba, Matthieu, Iniesta, Suarez, Sergi Roberto (yes please), Busi (a wee bit) and still won… How’s that for a squad? I think pretty decent.

  9. Love Terry Gibson’s comment on sky that only people in the stadium didn’t think it a penalty ; the ref and Messi. 🙂

  10. Lol, just saying friend
    Anyway, somewhere from the 70th minute, barca just made levante look like a really good Sevilla side….
    After that Missed penalty you could see that messei was desperate to score, and he did score. Maybe he should be ‘desperate’ more often. lol. but seriously Messu always seems to score when he plays that way as opposed to just taking thing ‘easy’

    Anyway for the proponents of Gumbau whats yall assesment, Excellent performance, No ?

    1. I have not spotted too many “proponents” of him. Only people admitting they might not know everything there is to this issue. Most feel Samper is more talented, looking to understand why he is not in the first team, rather than bluntly criticise it.

  11. In the end, a good win. Messi looked strangely uncomfortable after that last run, hope he didn’t pull a muscle or something. Ini and LS rested, Busquets as well. A little gambling from LE, but at some point you need to trust the squad players, or you might as well not have them in your squad. This was a good opportunity, even if it was slightly rich playing both attacking youngsters. Gumbau? Looked a bit on the wrong foot at times, but hard to tell. Difficult game, system not in place, really.

    And most importantly: man, am I happy Dani stayed.

    1. I was now about to spare a word for Dani. Not that Sergi has been bad; I like Roberto in the rightback position but there is only one Dani…. Man his personal fitness coach must be making a fortune selling that energizer nutritional juice. LOL

      On Gumbau,
      I think he looked lost; chasing the ball rather than playing a positional. But at times I was left wondering if there was a system in place … 4-2-1-3??? Positionally needs to improve or he will get “eaten alive”. MrGummyBears…

  12. True that Jim, this Levante side were poor in my books, barca just made a meal out it. In the first half alone we’d have taken them apart, but from the Second half we were begining to find our groove, which thanks to LE, got interrepted courtesy of that busi sub, then everything went back to square one

  13. Apart from the way we played, its worth noticed that half of the squad was rested, and it will bring positives in the upcoming games.
    Few other things are bothering me. LE will have to talk to Messi about the penalties and TS about his mistakes. Versus Levante it wont matter to much, but we will have important matches where these sort of errors are not allowed.

  14. What is our problem?Why we cant enjoy the team?Yesterday madrid beat Granada 1-0,maybe with a offside and maybe Granada scored a legal goal.City lost.Roma draw.And yet with heavy rotation we won with ease.But i dont see joy,only sarcasm for Gumbau and bad words about Sandro and Munir.Lam Masia is Deulofeu Traore and Samper but not Roberto or Munir?So what will happen in our first defeat in La Liga?Be critical as u want.But do they really enjoy the game?

  15. Good comment from LE in pressed afterwards.

    Luis Enrique: “Missing penalty makes Messi human? Scored twice and gave an assist, still doesn’t seem very human…”


  16. Oh, and we are yet to score in the first half in La liga. 🙂
    All our goals are scored during the second half.

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