If you lose something, what next? Let’s say you lost a pair of spectacles, favorite spex of yours, on a bus or a train. And you kick yourself.
But whose fault is it?
The magnificence of the Barça comeback is like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. Winners exult, losers grieve, neutrals pick a side dependent upon their degree of interest.
UEFAlona has returned, along with the cries of cheating. The PSG president said that his team wasn’t up to it. The coach said that they wuz robbed. Everyone, everything, everywhere points to that barrage of emotions attendant to somemthing that nobody knows how to deal with.
An extraordinary photo, taken from behind the goal, shows the faces of Marquinhos, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Andre Gomes. They all have the same look on their face: shock. Nobody knows how to deal with shock, so we all get the same look, mouths agape, eyes bulging. That’s all we got. It’s only afterward that we get to deal with the after effects.
UEFAlona and the question of loss
The most accurate assessment of the situation has come from the PSG president, which is that his team wasn’t at the required level. How? Four completed passes in the last seven minutes, when the match was on the line. Di Maria’s miss, which came after the Mascherano foul, which was indeed a foul. What would have been the outcome of that foul, had it been called? Time. Precious time. That PSG free kick would have taken at least a minute, which meant that time would have expired before Sergi Roberto’s magic moment.
Was the foul a conspiracy, or simple human error. Mascherano said that he fouled Di Maria, clipped his ankle. The ref missed it, or did he? Now what? What if Di Maria had squared to Cavani instead of making the foolish decision to be the hero? It’s a confluence of decisions that culminate in one basic thing, which is opportunity. Risk and reward. Di Maria took the shot. So did Mascherano. Two players took their shot, took their risk, used their skill. Pure art vs black art, and the latter won.
On replay, you could just — just — see the foul. Just. How would a ref see that. But let’s take it a step further. If there is a conspiracy to give Barça the match, what is the time, the correct time to do it? That’s the fundamental difficulty with all conspiracy theories. In American football, it is said that holding could be called on every offensive play. Refs call the most blatant ones, the ones that truly affect play. Conspiracy vs human error opens up a massive can of worms, with all kinds of crap crawling around.
People who don’t like Barça suggest that the ref “gave” the match to them, made a passel of questionable decisions that point to little else but a conspiracy. Only a fool can’t see it. Let’s have a look.
Time and opportunity
Seven minutes, four passes. PSG should be ashamed of themselves for putting their team in a position to allow human error to affect an outcome. Seven minutes, four passes, and lots of sour grapes. Unai Emery has seen enough football to know, as have we all — refs and the attendant complaining is for losers. Luis Enrique never talks about officiating because he isn’t a loser. Emery has faced Barça 24 times and come out on the wrong end 22 of them. Different teams, different personnel, same result. Only this time, his team had an insurmountable lead. His opponents had a zero chance — not just figuratively. UEFA statistically placed the chances of the first-leg result being overturned as zero. And yet, it happened. Why and how? What decisions did Emery make that assured the outcome? Every coach says that they are going to be brave, going to attack. Then the thinking begins. “We have a 4-0 lead. We have successfull defended a one-goal lead for a match. Let’s play it safe.”
Then stuff gets crazy, the crowd starts screaming and The Fear comes. The chance is lost.
A football match comes down to thousands of individual actions, each one an opportunity for a ref to work a conspiracy. Why do it with something as blatant as the Suarez call, one that, by the by, was made by the fourth official who saw the chop from Marquinhos. Conspiracy? Look at Marquinhos’ actions, and how much he argued with the call. He tried the same black art that Mascherano tried. One got away with it, one didn’t. What’s the difference in the situations? Both players were trying to make something happen. Was it as simple as the quality of the black art?
Each official has to make a determination when a given situation arises. The official hasn’t said anything, but what if his determination was that the contact wasn’t sufficient to warrant a call, given that Di Maria had already missed the shot, and play wasn’t affected? We see that kind of call all the time. Some officials will bail a player out, others won’t. The match was being officiated in a way that let the players decide it. If the same contact had come before or during the shot, would it have been called? Good question.
The Suarez situation was different because he was on the way to the goal, chasing a pass that was catchable and controllable. He was impeded by an opposing player in the box. That is a penalty. In La Liga, without the extra official that UEFA uses, that penalty probably doesn’t get called. Or maybe Suarez gets a yellow for simulation. But to call what Suarez did a dive is inaccurate. It was an exaggeration for effect. Neymar does it, every attacker does it. Why? Because if defenders have their own black arts, why shouldn’t attackers? If a center back can be said to have made a hard tackle, or if a TV commentator can say, “I have seen those given, but the defender stood his ground,” whose black art wins?
Diving would have been no contact. Suarez felt the contact, which probably wasn’t enough to bring him down, arms flying as if he had been shot, and exaggerated it for effect to make sure the official saw it. When Neymar gets kicked one time too many, one of the kicks will bring a theatrical fly through the air. The effect is enhanced so that the official understands that something is going on. Everybody has their black art, their ways of trying to take advantage in a game where opportunity is always there, just waiting to be seized.
When Verratti cleared out Ter Stegen late in the match, should that have resulted in his being sent off? The ref called the foul and whistled play on. Conspiracy? In whose favor? If PSG had held on, would culers have cried conspiracy about that moment, about the chance Barça would have had for a last-chance effort, 11 v 10?
It still comes down to opportunity. Luck is made because an athlete places himself in a position to made the play. People are even questioning the foul that resulted in the Neymar free kick goal, because once you start down that slippery slope, where do you stop? But how did the official know that Neymar was going to score the free kick goal? Or is the conspiracy just to give one team enough chances? What things could have been called or not called to influence the match? Mascherano handball, or ball to hand? Time after time, moment after moment, you could pause the match and say, “A-ha!” no matter which team you support, but it comes down to simple opportunity taken and spurned.
Football has as much a need to be aggreived as to be right. People are still not giving any credit to Luis Enrique, who changed the formation and the way the team played in response to a situation, who made the subs that affected the outcome. Why? Because of the need to be right, a need that doesn’t consider facts. Fake news. The players did it all. Anyone could have coached that team to a win. History? Sheeeit, the refs gave it to them.
So it goes with conspiracies. At the negative Betis result there was a goal that wasn’t, and culers screamed. There were penalties given and not given, and cries of Villarato arose from blaugrana throats. There are league tables that claim to show a very different world without refereeing conspiracies. It’s easier to believe that someone took something from you than that you lost it.
If you see someone wearing the spectacles that you lost those many months ago, what would you do? Would you say, “Hey, those are mine,” or would you shrug, and chalk up the lesson learned to the stuff that life deals us, opportunities to learn different, better practices.
Opportunity comes for every team. What that team decides to do with that chance will depend on whether the team puts itself in a position to get screwed by human error or a controversial decision, or rise above the nonsense to triumph.