“We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith because in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind that is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions. It is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.”
That astonishing quote is from philosopher Alan Watts, who has perfectly explained — and obviated — the need for debate in many ways, as this quote explains pretty much everything about football. It explains how we look at the game, how our views of the game and players differ, how reactions to the same result and the same play can be diametrically opposing.
One of the favorite sayings in evaluative discussions is always, “I don’t know what you were looking at, but from my view … ” Music reviewers get it, sports writers get it, anyone who applies a filter to an event or something that is created gets it. The clear implication by the person who says it, is that they have the clearer view, therefore any opposing one is incorrect. There are preconceived ideas and wishes attendant to that as well, which makes all such debates minefields for the intellectual agnostic.
A favorite phrase of the intellectual agnostic can be presumed to be, “I don’t know yet.” It’s a phrase that is kinda always true, yet isn’t a hedge as much as an acceptance of the malleability of “truth.”
A player comes in. The supporter who has faith is ready to look at the player and accept that someone has made the right decision, so let’s see how it plays out. The supporter who has belief asserts that the transfer doesn’t make sense, the player sucks and the money was wasted. If only the club had bought x or y player, everything would be ducky.
At this point, the two sides debate without realizing that no resolution is possible because of their very different systems of reckoning. Someone asked me on Twitter, which head coaching rumor or candidate was my favorite. The response was, “Don’t really have one. Suppose Pochettino would be nice, but I’m agnostic when it comes to players and coaches.”
Champions League without Barça is a struggle for me, because it seems an aberration due to my absolute faith that it is the best football team in the world. This is true even as we accept the truth of what is. I don’t understand what happened even as I watched it, and how this series of events has come to pass. Someone else will say, because of their belief systems and what they need to be true, that the club is doomed, it is wasting the best player in history, the coach and his tactics are terrible and the board doesn’t care. Everything sucks. Barça not being in the running for yet another treble is the ultimate “See? Told you so.” for such people, even as it doesn’t really tell us anything at all except what we want it to.
We have favorite players and coaching candidates, etc, because they meet a psychological need that we have. It isn’t logical. Being a successful coach isn’t about any magic, nor is it entirely about tactical nous and all those things that people debate as they discard one candidate over another. Look at Zidane, who has coached Real Madrid to being strong favorites to do the double this season.
When he was named, everybody questioned his coaching credentials. What had he done before that? Not much. What were his tactical views, his preferred formations? No idea. People have laid things such as luck at his feet, saying that he isn’t a coach as much as a dude who keeps finding money on the street, gets rich doing it and becomes viewed as a financial genius. But what is coaching? When the match starts, tactics and formations go out the window. Notions become like a wave hitting a breakwater. That perfectly formed thing disintegrates, just as a formation when the match starts becomes marbles in a bowl at the whistle.
Why do teams win? Coaching devotees like to think it’s superior tactics, etc, but it is almost always better players. Real Madrid wrecked Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie. Simeone is a “better” coach than Zidane. He has forged his team into this collection of players who believe in his system, in each other, in their coach.
On the opposite sideline, Zidane has created a group that has faith. Sometimes it just looks like they are running around like crazy people toward the opposing box, like ants at a picnic. And why not? They know where they want to be. Does it really matter how they get there? People scoff at them putting in crosses, scoff at the resultant goal, scoff at yet another result that came even though Real Madrid didn’t “play well.” There is a belief that football should be a certain way at the root of these ideas, something we saw from the “results aren’t the only thing” people when they discussed Barça. Yes, there was success, but the team wasn’t playing properly, something borne out by the present lack of success. Had the team been playing properly all along …
But it isn’t that simple. You won’t find a team more schooled, more set in its belief in its way of playing than Atleti. Real Madrid has faith, instilled by its coach, that they are going to win. They don’t bang in late goals because of luck. They bang in late goals because they’re agnostic about results and playing. 47 passes then a goal? Okay. Marcelo doing something crazy and Ronaldo pushing it home? Sure. Whatever. Truth is a malleable concept and them winning becomes the proof. It isn’t even, “Told you so.” It’s that any other notion doesn’t enter the picture.
Zidane’s coaching is, in many ways, psychological, similar to what Luis Enrique did with Barça when he arrived. Both teams acquired a psychological edge, a faith that they had the best players, the best approach to the game so of course results would come. Why wouldn’t they? Tactics are the most overrated part of coaching in some ways, because if a team doesn’t have faith, it doesn’t matter how well-schooled it is. Knowledge isn’t a bulwark against reality, flawless “juego de posicion” doesn’t matter if you ain’t got the horses. A tactical genius can school, train and line up Barça B against the Barça first team and it won’t matter.
Belief leads to circular arguments or shifting positions. So one coach doesn’t win because he isn’t a good coach, while the other one, in almost the same situation, doesn’t win because his players suck. It depends. But the ability to look at a result in an agnostic way, with roots in the notion “I don’t know” can be interesting.
Transfer rumor season has begun, and suppoters generally approach it with, “The team needs x or y player to make the difference.” That player comes, maybe doesn’t work out, then the search for a truth that matches a belief system begins. “Well, if only the coach had … ”
Names are flung about hither and yon, players that are the answer. If you ask someone why Barça isn’t in the Champions League, isn’t leading the Liga, the answer that you get will depend entirely upon belief vs faith. “Lucho sucks.” “The team isn’t playing right,” are a couple of favorites. The real answer, such as it is, is we don’t know. We know that the ball didn’t go into the net at the right times, or at all in come cases. We know that reliable players kicked the ball where they should not have, and unfortunate things happened. That is objective reality. What we don’t know is the “Why?”
Do tactics explain why Suarez hits a ball directly at the keeper, rather than to either side of him? Does “because Lucho sucks” explain why a usually unerring Messi missed goals he so often scores, against Juventus, or why folks stood around and watched Dybala shoot? No, unless a supporter needs them to. “I don’t know, but let’s try to find out,” is one of my favorite things to say, and hear because it brings an open-mindedness to the world and looking at the world, a natural curiosity. It’s fun. It’s also part of faith that the answer is available and out there somewhere.
Some supporters have faith in Barça. Whatever coach is going to be fine, because “I don’t know. Why wouldn’t this person do well? People who know a lot more than me believe that he will, and I have faith in my team.” Other supporters believe, are secure in their knowledge and truth. A candidate becomes bad because he runs counter to what a supporter needs the truth to be. Neither supporter is right or wrong. They just look at the world differently. And that’s okay.