Nothing sucks the fun out of a football discussion like a closely held idea. It would all be more fun if, like the school debate team, it was all just pure intellectual discourse. Here’s why.
In competitive debate each team is given a subject to research, then argue. Because that team is detached from its idea in a direct way, all it has is the process. It’s a lot like being a journalist. Once, before going on an assignment, an intern asked me, “What story do you want?” Answer? “The story that’s there, which you won’t know until you go and report it.”
Every football match is an open-ended question. Even at its end the scoreline is the only real absolute. The grey area is what fuels football discussion, even as being wedded to ideas sucks the fun out of it.
Social media is a fascinating study in debate, beliefs and notions. If you look at any Twitter discussion thread, people will like the Tweets that hew to their views, so use of the like button becomes illuminating, a sort of “Hear! Hear!” from the sidelines. (Maybe Twitter isn’t crazy for removing the like feature to help stimulate debate.)
What usually happens in a Twitter debate is each person stakes out a side. Then we become our ideas so the back and forth is endless as neither person wants to relinquish control of themselves. Ideas help us learn stuff. What makes us better is learning what we don’t know, rather than clinging to what we know.
The best writers are usually the most curious people. A journalist must become an instant expert on that day’s topic, which they often come to in ignorance. If you go into a story knowing what the story is, how does that affect your reporting? An editor’s job becomes to find holes in the story, just as a debate coach assesses an incomplete argument. During my music critic days, the challenge was to evaluate how good the band was at being the band. Like or dislike of the music is immaterial to the point of the exercise.
Football discussions are a hotbed of knowing what the story is. Look at the Rayo match and Dembele. Some know Valverde is the problem. Others know the player is the problem. As always, something like a truth is somewhere between. Maybe.
Maybe Dembele would be better if Messi wasn’t at Barça. He would be the man. Maybe a different coach, more willing to give him the keys to the car as Luis Enrique did for Neymar, would make him reach his potential more quickly. So many things are possible, even as we have what we have. Valverde plays Dembele in situations or at times that are chosen for maximum effect and minimum danger. Dembele wants to play more, wants to start. His supporters want to see that as well, and slate Valverde for somehow stifling talent.
But another part of that question is what is a player’s role in maximizing his talent, in creating the conditions in which he can thrive? Look at how Neymar changed his game to fit the demands of his team and his coach. He knew what he had to do. He and Dembele are different humans but that constant remains for Dembele, for club and country: Here is what you have to do.
We often debate what didn’t happen. “So and so almost cost the team a goal.” But he didn’t. Dembele loses balls that lead to dangerous counters, but the opponent doesn’t score. And Dembele scores, or helps create a goal. So what’s the conclusion to be drawn? Two examples:
— On the Rayo shot attempt that was pushed just wide, Sergi Roberto was surprised by a man running in from his side. The player missed. Sergi Roberto also got flummoxed on a goal they did score. Sergi Roberto also delivered the assist that won the match. Is Sergi Roberto good or bad? If Semedo is in there, does he not get beaten and the 1-0 scoreline holds? Dunno. It’s just an idea. Doesn’t mean someone likes Semedo or hates Sergi Roberto. It’s just an idea.
— Late in the second half Suarez got loose on a run, and plopped a weak shot at the keeper. Why? Dembele stopped running, so Suarez didn’t have an option for the square ball which would have been a tap-in had he kept running. So what is that an example of? Depends on who you ask. But asking the question isn’t “hating on Dembele.”
It would be fun to have the “Valverde out” crowd, in a debate, argue for keeping him and the reverse — to see if it was indeed possible to detach from an idea, to proof the belief that we are not our ideas, which are just things we throw out into the world.
During the post-match debate someone popped into my Twitter timeline to ask, “How can we trust the opinion of someone who wanted to sell Messi,” referring to my 2014 question about that topic, which was being debated back in the day. But if you look at an idea, a question as just this thing, what does it matter? Discuss it with the freedom that comes from the idea and its debate being meaningless.
We see it in this comments space. Someone will come to a post with a worldview, and so their reaction to that post is shaped by that worldview. So, “Why do you always defend him,” is something we see here with regularity. Or “You just love x or y player.” Nope. None of us knows how to get football discussion to detach from its ideas, but that is the key to making this stuff fun. Posts here come from questions, ideas and ideals. The debate happens during the typing process, and then the comments serve as the proof for that notion. It’s so much fun.
Comments (and social media threads) get personal when we don’t let our ideas exist in the world as balloons without strings. Fill it up, and let it float. “Hey, what is that?” The answer isn’t, “That’s my balloon.” The fun lies in the answer, “Some thing. What do you think about it?” Nobody knows how to get people to release their ideas, to just let that balloon float. But when it happens it makes a discussion pure and wonderful, and everybody learns stuff.