A Champions League FinalWanja talks to his children, today about…
A Champions League Final
Of course, one had to wonder if Wanja could not show his children all that he told them, which was mostly very convincing, in moving pictures. Of course he could. You could watch individual scenes now and then and evaluate them – mostly differently than the commentators did in the game or the experts did afterwards in their analysis of the game situation including the decision –, sometimes you could watch a whole game. The problem with watching a whole game, however, was that football in Earth times was regrettably very boring and one could not actually keep one’s attention sufficiently high for it, or did not want to. The children changed the channel and then watched a match that was currently on, went out to one of the big screens, even got hold of some stadium tickets for a real stadium visit or simply played themselves. Sometimes in club games, sometimes in friendly matches, just like that, on the ‘football pitches’ available everywhere, which in Putoia were not only laid out as a precaution, but were also plentifully frequented at all times.
On one special occasion, Wanja did manage to keep his children away from the screen for at least the two hours of an entire match. But it had to be well-considered games, preferably with a special explosiveness, on a very special occasion. He generally called the sessions “Heimatkunde”, because the children should already know a little about where they or their ancestors came from and to what circumstance they owed the putoiesque conditions here. Let’s be frank, there were even “compulsory events” from time to time, to which the otherwise not at all strict father invited here and there.
For today, he had chosen the 2019 Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham. He explained to the children: “England was the mother country of football and these two teams came from England, at the same time they had a very high tradition and in England people were generally much more familiar with the preservation of traditions, which proved itself in many places and made the world look enviously at England here and there, because it was impossible to build up a tradition in one’s own country. In addition, the English teams had very little luck for decades and, if one is to believe the general assessment, this had nothing to do with bad luck, but rather they had made failure in the penalty shoot-out, for example, a tradition. The English themselves would never have defended themselves against these accusations and illustrated their bad luck or referred to it. They would have simply continued to trust the laws of probability and waited for things to turn out differently at some point, by pure chance. Of course, they were a little offended that they could not show off their tradition as the motherland of football and prove to the world that the best football was still played in the motherland. But time was somehow on their side. This year, in the European League – the other big European competition – Chelsea and Arsenal, both from London, the capital of England, were two more clubs in the final, and so England was able to assert its supremacy, perhaps only for this once.
The children listened attentively, looking at pictures of preliminary reports and listening in here and there. Wanja’s lecture and these pictures and voices – he had recorded the entire day, in picture and sound – ran in parallel, so to speak, spread over a few hours. Through the embellishments, the father managed to wring a longer dwell time out of the children for today.
“I noticed that the voices kept saying ‘I don’t begrudge Jürgen Klopp the title’. What was that all about?” asked the youngest.
“That was the common language for the day and this final. Even if you heard someone talking on the street or somewhere else: it always sounded the same. ‘I don’t begrudge Klopp the title’. Now in Germany that was pretty easy, because after all Klopp was a German. Nevertheless, it got to the point with myself by the evening that I couldn’t hear it any more and couldn’t begrudge it to him. Apart from that: you only heard sensible, well thought-out statements from him anyway, before and during the games. You could listen to him for hours and you couldn’t help but believe him anyway, that he certainly wouldn’t become an unhappy person if he NEVER won the title in his career. Because: there were worse fates in the world than his, as he emphasised again and again. And after all, he also came up with the thought that he would certainly not be a loser if he repeatedly lost a final match with his team, but others who would have been eliminated in the semi-finals or much earlier were now completely unmentioned, so they would not be losers either?”
Again, the father’s words were convincing. But the children were already able to form a good enough picture of Jürgen Klopp and, whether they liked him or not, they liked him. To begrudge him a title was unnecessary, superfluous, and “swimming with the masses” was anathema to the children, probably inherited from their father, one way or another.
“It was very peaceful though,” his youngest noted. “Hadn’t you said they were always fighting, even the fans among themselves, and that would rob the last vestiges of fun of visiting a stadium? Here it was quiet both downtown and in the stadium.”
He was right, the boy. Yes, some of the fans were even sitting together drinking beer. Everything was peaceful, and all the inserts of fans, of this or that team, or even interviews, showed them sometimes “exhilarated” by alcohol, but still absolutely peacefully pursuing their mission.
“Yes,” Wanja explained, “it was an exceptional situation. Even if these two were otherwise bitter rivals, also in the league: here the aspect outweighed that England now dominated Europe, provided both finalists in both cup competitions and that therefore England was the winner anyway. It was also quite clear to both that they would not be able to achieve much more than that. To have already achieved the optimum, so to speak, so that even in the event of a defeat here, everyone would be a winner. Different, perhaps, from a league match.”
The father also let this sink in for a moment, before adding:
“However, one might still include that for such trips plus ticket, mostly wealthier people, i.e. those closer to education, were eligible, while the simpler fans, who could then possibly have caused unrest, stayed at home, simply because it would be too expensive. Either way, for such a big game, there were enough people willing to attend it and also to pay the high prices overall – including travel and accommodation.”
When Steffen Freund, who once played for Tottenham himself, said in the interview that he favoured Tottenham because of their underdog role, there was laughter at first. They are favourites because they are outsiders? The children already knew quite well about probabilities and even understood the betting market a little. At the betting market, courses were offered, these courses were in proportion to the probabilities of occurrence, except that their father could still calculate it a little better and thus, in questions about the chances, they preferred to ask him rather than at the betting market. Apart from that, the betting market was not interested in the fact that he had calculated the odds correctly, but rather that each individual was interested in being at the better end if possible, i.e. in being among the winners. In this respect, the bets and odds were primarily oriented towards the stakes and not towards the actual underlying probabilities. Although there, as their father had made them understand, there was usually a high degree of agreement due to the so-called “mass intelligence”. Each market participant only contributes his or her individual modest assessment in the form of a bet – and in total the correct odds come out of it.
In this case, the market had decided (again: mass intelligence) that Liverpool were 2:1 favourites. So 66.7% of the pot went to them, 33.33% of the pot to Tottenham. Vanya didn’t have a better answer ready: in the league Liverpool were clearly ahead on points, they had also won both games in the championship. Favourites, in about the ratio given, no objection.
The laughter? Well, if it’s 33.33% for the underdog, but therein should lie his chance of being underdog, then that would simply mean the market had miscalculated. You are an underdog and therefore a favourite? That was pure nonsense. But still, something like that was broadcast and no one set it right. If one assumed Steffen Freund to be a little more intelligent and adjusted his statement a little, then something not so nonsensical would come out of it: he could have meant that Tottenham are underestimated in such an important game and could well ‘make friends’ with the underdog role and use it, in a slightly more favourable ratio than the market would have calculated. He would actually claim that there was a minimal miscalculation that put Liverpool’s chances slightly too high. He would have to take advantage of this in the form of a bet. They would not be favourites but instead of 1/3 to 2/3 underdogs they might be 2/5 to 3/5. Quite possible.
As the game got underway, something almost unbelievable happened after 23 seconds: handball in the penalty area, penalty for Liverpool. The referee had actually blown his whistle.
Again, the middle boy objected immediately: “Dad, didn’t you say that the referees NEVER gave penalties, and even less so in important games, least of all very early in the game?”
“Yes, you listened well. Here the handball took place and when I was watching live at the time I also immediately thought `clear handball, but he probably won’t whistle’. Already he pointed to the spot — and I was surprised. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about it. Why did he do it here? The whistle with the finger pointing to the point happens spontaneously, reflexively and without much thought, of course. That was in the referees’ blood, acquired over years, that was their domain, they could do that to a certain extent. Only there was an additional psychological component to every such decision. Here it was probably that there was in no way a reluctance to give the favourite, and at the same time Jürgen Klopp — who had this positive reputation everywhere, by no means only in Germany — the nod, as it was called by default. If the same situation had taken place at the same second over there, the decision might have been different? Apart from that, everyone, in the stadium, around it, before the game, everywhere you went and heard voices, about the game, the assessment, the overall situation, felt that, as described before, it was absolutely peaceful and that you, as a referee, could not possibly cause bad blood with such a whistle. So it remains a ‘critical decision’, a landmark one, perhaps a game-changing one – offside and penalties, but also red cards, are the most important of these — but he will not start a war with such a whistle. It can’t be that really bad. Note, too, that Tottenham were overjoyed to have got there at all — which, of course, everyone knew — as they only punched their ticket in the last minute with a 3-2 win at Ajax Amsterdam, in that sense favoured by luck, and that they were not otherwise a team internationally that had to deliver big titles. If it had been a match between Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain or Real Madrid and FC Bayern, the decision could have been different. Namely, as is actually customary, against the penalty kick.”
A short interruption could never hurt to let what had been said process. “So you’re saying that the referee’s decision was much more intuitive and not, say, based on the match situation and objective criteria?”
“Good question. Yes, that’s what I mean. Of course, there was always a match situation to judge as well. Nevertheless, the recognised, accepted range of rules interpretation almost always allowed a scene to be judged one way or the other without being able to be prosecuted for it. And especially the important decisions were scrutinised very closely, but nevertheless there were always votes for this side and votes for that side. Everything was borderline, duels were hard and even over-hard on both sides, handball was always ‘critical’, as here, but rarely clear-cut, and offside decisions were likewise. Every situation was close and therefore a matter of interpretation. So the referee decided according to his intuition.”
“And how was the scene judged in general? It was a clear handball, wasn’t it?”
“Wait and see, there’s much more to come on that in a moment. But we all agree that it was a clear handball and that the penalty was justified either way?”
“Yes, that’s obvious.”
“I would like to try to give you an understanding of the behaviour of the defender, the offender. Do you see what he is doing?”
“Yes, it looks like he’s pointing somewhere as the ball bounces off his arm. The arm is outstretched, the finger is pointing towards a teammate, an opponent or his own goal. What’s he pointing at, what’s that about?”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk about. The pointing has nothing to do with him wanting to give instructions to teammates. Although this was later claimed. But at the same time it was interpreted as unfortunate and also unnecessary. So: if he had not shown anything, the mishap would not have happened. Only I’ll tell you about this: he did what he did because he thought: ‘if the ball now goes against my arm, I’ve prevented a goal-scoring opportunity, but by pointing my finger I indicated that it was only unfortunate and neither an unnatural arm position or movement nor an intentional body widening.’ Additionally, it’s the first minute of the game and he’s not going to give a penalty that early, also because of the excuses I gave.'”
“Surely a person can’t think that much in such a short time?”
“Right, yes, it’s just that, like the referee, it’s the basic thought behind it which explains these kinds of reflexes. You go into it with a certain attitude, even into that situation. It’s a bit dicey, so a body widening would do well to intercept the cross. It’s early in the game, surely he won’t? The finger pointing is meant to give the referee a clue to please not blow the whistle. All this happens in a fraction of a second and is due to the basic attitude as well as a lot of accumulated experience.”
One could follow this thought so far.
“Although the defenders had often been penalised recently, for handball in the penalty area, in the form of a penalty in the aftermath, they had also heard how these decisions were often ridiculed. These people who make the rules have never played football themselves. They don’t even know what they are doing. The players who hear such a statement process it and think that the referee will hear it too and won’t point to the spot this time, will he? If he does, then you still have advocates who protect you, which is good in spite of everything. You are still a scapegoat, just someone to pat on the back. ‘Ok, go on, it was bad luck, you couldn’t help it,’ that’s also part of his justification.”
The penalty went in, 1-0 after a minute. The game went on, what else. Only you never really had the feeling that another goal might come. No chance of a goal, here not and there not. Plus a speaker who complained more and more about the level of play. The children were bored and complained loudly: “This is nothing, it’s no fun. What’s the point? No scoring chances and a complaining commentator. Can we watch something else or go out?”
“Please, stay until the end. There’s a bit more to come. Also, the break analysis. What do the experts say?”
Nevertheless, Wanja explained to the children: “In the past, when a game was 0-0 for a long time, it was often said that a goal would do the game good. Because finally the feeling-out, the cautious playing would come to an end. One team would now have to attack, chances would arise on both sides. That may have been the case in the past, but it is no longer the case today. Tactics prevail at all times. Those who are behind by no means throw all restraints overboard but keep the same tactics. Wait and see, wait for a chance, the main thing is not to go 2-0 down. The leading team often lets the opponent have the ball, only they defend so skilfully – you know, exploiting the inequality of strikers against defenders – that possession is not a problem. They won’t create a goal. We won’t attack in any case, says the leader to himself.”
In fact, even the pundits had mentioned and observed this at half-time. Only they remained on the surface, realising that THIS goal had not done THIS game any good. Had they had more experience or used the one they had, they could have realised that it was the same in most other games. Goals might have done games good in the past. Today, that is no longer true. For the reasons I have mentioned.
There was also a general assessment of the penalty scene. However, most voices confirmed what was not surprising. This one was really too clear-cut. All the more astonishing that expert and ex-national player Michael Ballack was of the opinion that it could be given, but did not have to be. That was enough to cause dissenting voices to emerge – because there will undoubtedly be enough people who hear this and agree with the opinion because he said so – and insofar as there would be reasons to doubt this penalty again and, perhaps in the next such incident, give the referee an alibi not to whistle it. Which might then become the common way of interpreting it, as it has been in many previous examples? This is not one because… This is not one because… And so on.
The level of play was generally considered to be quite modest. Again, the experts had failed to realise that, firstly, it was not specifically this game, but the way football is played at the moment in general, and especially the way the rules are interpreted and applied, and secondly, that you might find a much higher number of spectators watching a really big game for once today, and that you could scare those away with any kind of negative presentation, and even for life. So: even if the standard of play was not good, there would be every reason to report only and exclusively positively. Today there was a chance to attract new spectators. The way it was presented, this chance was missed, apart from perhaps driving away a few die-hards. “I don’t watch Champions League finals any more either. It’s boring.”
Liverpool’s pass rate was 68%. A “subterranean value”, if commentator Wolff Fuss was to be believed. Tottenham did create a few chances here and there, but, again according to the commentator, “none of them really compelling”. Only goals are “compelling”. He also refrained from wishing for and conveying a certain tension. Rather, he explained the score throughout and that this was unlikely to change. Incidentally, this kind of presentation was no different from others. The current score actually prompts a German commentator to give a kind of permanent summary of the score. If there is a change in the tendency, for example through an equaliser, the commentators complain about the defensive behaviour in the early stages of the game. The complaint is really only about the fact that the conclusion he drew, which was actually so reliable, would now be thrown out – and he would now have to draw a new one, tailored to a draw. Woe betide, however, if this too should turn out to be wrong a few minutes later when another goal is scored. Then it would be “for God’s sake, what’s going on here?” and, in this statement, there is much less to conceal what is actually behind it. The thought shines through: “every time I finish my conclusion, they score a goal. What’s that all about?”
After about 60 minutes, the commentator uttered the following sentence: “Tottenham will gradually increase the risk.” The father didn’t have to say much about it, but still asked his children briefly how such a comment would come across and what was behind it.
This time the eldest thought out loud: “They will increase it little by little. That means that the score would have to remain unchanged during this period. So he assumes that it will remain 1:0. To do this, he wants to look like a true expert who knows such games. The score is 1:0, one team restricts itself to defending, the other tries to score a goal without taking any risks, but this is not possible. They have not yet ‘risked’ anything else. The phrase ‘risking something’ translates as attacking. It is probably indeed a risk to attack. The risk of conceding a goal is much greater than the chance of scoring one. Without risk this AND that doesn’t happen, with risk one still doesn’t happen but the other probably doesn’t either. Or maybe it will.”
“You explained that well, and observed it well, although it’s not like that here on Putoia. It was actually like that on earth. The question remains: what reaction might one expect from the viewer to such a statement?”
“The spectator might be amazed at so much experience, so much knowledge of football, but he might also say, ‘that’s banal.’ Of course they won’t defend more vigorously should they be further behind.’ Moreover, the commentator already omits the precondition – that the score would have to be maintained for the prediction of increased risk to come true — making it obvious that he has no interest in changing the score at all. After all, what would you rather have: to be right or to see a nice goal? By default: to be right. At the same time, he conveys that it is boring, but that it might become more interesting a while later, with the increasing risk. Translated, he could have meant what just came through: ‘you can safely take a nap for the next quarter of an hour. I’ll wake you up when things get interesting again. But actually, you can skip the last part. There are about three possibilities for the viewer to ‘look forward to’: a) the score remains 1-0, b) the score is equalised, c) the score is 2-0. The most to fear is that he is right. And that is indeed how it appears.”
The children sensed that. What they didn’t need too much sense for, however, was that it remained boring. There were hardly any chances. When Tottenham did manage to carve out a few better ones, they did straighten up for a while. “Could there actually be an equalising goal here?” No, it wasn’t.
Wolff Fuss realised at some point, around 75 minutes in, “Allisson Becker is already on the clock.”
“Very funny,” said the middle man, “what he means is clear. He’s playing for time. I wonder why that worked back on Earth? That would be my first question. Then it would be why he would do it as early as the 75th minute? If that happened here – which would be out of the question either way, even by the rules — it would soon be 1-2 and the team would suddenly run out of time, which they would have tried to buy before.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. That’s why we’re here doing everything differently. But what the commentator didn’t notice is that it’s not just the goalkeeper who’s ‘on the clock’ but the whole team, and he didn’t notice that they’ve been doing it since the second minute of the game. It may also have escaped his notice that every team does it, from a random leading goal onwards, and nor would it have occurred to him that no spectator would want to see such a thing and that there must be an underlying flaw in the rules and their application, that everyone does it, at all times, and still further that the reason they do it is because it gives them a high probability of success and that this underlines the rules problem even more. Otherwise, a brilliant insight.
The certain smile with which he pronounced this was out of place, but in a way was meant to suggest how clever the goalkeeper would be. Presumably, this would have been noticed only by him and not by the referee. The spectator was let in on it with the intention of being able to recognise Wolff Fuss’ exceptional position and, of course, to admire the goalkeeper afterwards for his cleverness as well. ‘But he does that great and clever, the goalkeeper, how he unobtrusively delays the game and thus secures Liverpool the title. Super, impressive’. That a couple of matches were needed at the same time to keep their eyes open was part of the deal? Ridiculous all round.”
No, it wasn’t fun. It was more like torture to have to watch a match like that. Much of the lack of enjoyment, however, was contributed by the announcer. His conclusion was drawn, you could feel that, so he would have been the last person to wish for a change in the score. However, a reporter’s basic task, as a reason for choosing a profession, is to make it exciting, to offer the viewer the story, to wait and hope for the very special spectacle, so he should at least have let it be known that he was rooting for Tottenham at the stage when they created the few good chances. On the contrary, he talked them down. “Jo, at least they had a shot, but the big goal threat was missing.”
At one important scene, the children rebelled. Quite simply, as a neutral spectator you would have begrudged Tottenham the equaliser either way, simply because of the shares of the game. But as a follower of the game of football, you had to hope for excitement and entertainment, which only a goal could have seriously created? In the pressure phase, Son, a Tottenham attacking player, took a ball on the edge of the penalty area. The ball may have touched the arm very minimally, but certainly not unnaturally here, nor seriously altering the movement of the ball. Immediately the whistle sounded. Son was noticeably upset. But probably not so much because he didn’t know he had touched the ball lightly, much more because he knew that defenders in general can play much more hand – and are very rarely prosecuted for it. It was this general injustice that made him revolt, but at that moment they were also close to equalising. A whistle here interrupted this attack, meant, loss of ball, rebuilding after recapture, apart from the minutes it cost and which were so precious towards the end of the game. More or less, it was this whistle that finally decided the game. Many such scenes were guaranteed not to be built up again, if a single one at all.
So the kids were in the same boat with Son: “Why is he blowing the whistle now? They were so close to scoring and we didn’t begrudge them.”
“Yeah, it was exactly the kind of rule interpretation we’ve been talking about. Just like he gave the penalty to Tottenham in their own penalty area for handball, he gave it here. He wasn’t biased, I’m not saying that at all. But he felt the world was protecting him. Today was Klopp’s day, the world had told him so. So he can blow the whistle with a clear conscience. But it underlines the fact that it was pure arbitrariness on the part of the referee how games turned out. Two close calls, both game deciding, both interpreted that way, both one-sided, but yet no one to complain.”
“Dad?” the youngest still said, “but we don’t have to watch the post-match reports anymore? We’re going out to play ourselves now. But I’m sad. Because I think the better team lost.”
Everyone in the group could only agree with him. Wanja was also a little sad, but also a little happy that the children felt as he did.
KloppBonus on the penalty?
No goal chances, not here, not there.
Complaints from Wolff Fuss about the standard of play
Passing rate Liverpool
“Tottenham will gradually increase the risk”.
Allisson Becker is already on the clock
But a few chances Tottenham
Pressure phase, you wish
The better team lost
A lot of boredom
Summary: Referee’s decision in retrospect as we feared it would be: decisive for the game and for the course of the game.