“Luck is just the name we give to the uncontrolled and uncontrollable events that crash in and out of our lives.” Max Gunther, The Luck Factor.
After becoming Chelsea FC’s highest goal scorer of all time, Frank Lampard’s bashers alluded that his achievements were down to mere luck. 203 strikes (and counting) downgraded because some of them are deflected shots and penalty kicks. The same penalty kick Roberto Baggio couldn’t score to keep Italy in contention for the 1994 World Cup title. The same penalty kick Arjen Robben failed to convert to keep Bayern Munich in the hunt for the UEFA Champions League at the Allianz Arena in May 2012. Disrespectful statements fired off in a futile attempt to belittle goals that came as a result of Lampard’s confidence, positioning at the edge of the opponents’ area and the uncanny ability to strike the ball with a measure of power and accuracy.
Luck has been too loosely used by players, managers and fans of the game. It is ubiquitous and equally available to everyone in the game, the favoured term it “good luck” and those at the other of it end term it “bad luck”. Let us, however, be frank and clear, luck is the word that describes the uncontrolled and uncontrollable events that happen in the course of the game. The wonderful thing about it is it doesn’t discriminate; it could favour or be against both contenders in equal (or unequal) measures and volumes depending largely on who works hardest and wants the win most.
Filipo Inzhagi, the Italian striker was so famous for his off-side positioning that a big-name manager was said, “He was born in the off-side position.” Yet he repeatedly continued playing there and sprung the trap set by defenders and scored tons of goals from the same offside position in his career. Was that down to luck? No, it was down to Inzhagi’s insistence and persistence to play from behind and blindside of his markers. Luck to a large extent is what happens when preparation meet opportunity. The luck factor is usually drawn to the team that’s more resolute and focused on achieving results in the game, not the more frustrated side. When two evenly-matched teams meet, the ones that squander their chances get psychologically weaker as the game wears on than the one that manages to be more clinical in putting away their chances.
Superstitions, and unsubstantiated allusions don’t play football; they only exist in the psyche of the team that allow them in their thought process. Sound tactical plans, fitness, persistence, skills, grit and concentration are what play the game (alongside the referee and match officials being in the right place, right time and making the right calls.) Injury to key players, bookings and sending offs are equally involved in the spins that fans loosely term as luck, whereas with meticulous planning negativity could be kept at the barest minimum. Let’s look at some historic games where players fought tooth and nail for their victory but in the end the classic encounters erroneously got tagged as lucky outcomes by fans and followers of football.
• MAY 26 1999, MANCHESTER UNITED VS BAYERN MUNICH, CAMP NOU, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
The Bavarians scored 6 minutes into the game and held their lead for 83 minutes of the duration; then disaster struck. United got the equalizer at stoppage time and knocked in the winning goal 2 minutes later, both from corner kicks. The Bavarians went home distraught while the English celebrated how things turned around in their favour in so short a period. Did the Red Devils win on a stroke of luck? Hardly, the more the game wore on the more ferocious Manchester United attacked the Bavarians and eventually they broke at the cusp of glory. United were even missing Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the victory.
VERDICT: THE DOGGEDNESS AND TENACITY OF MANCHESTER UNITED PREVAILED LATE INTO THE GAME, IT JUST HAPPENED IN THE PROXIMITY OF 2 CLOSING MINUTES
• MAY 2008: CHELSEA VS MANCHESTER UNITED, LUZHNIKI STADIUM, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
A battle of very familiar foes and all-English final that saw Manchester United score first through a Cristiano Ronaldo header and Chelsea equalized in the second half with Michael Essiens’ screamer. Chelsea almost took the game within regulation time but met stout opposition from the Red Devils. In the extra-time, Didier Drogba lost his cool in the heat of the moment, slapped Nemanja Vidic and got his marching orders. Chelsea would later rue this sending off when Captain John Terry slipped while taking what could have been the match winning penalty. Had the Ivorien kept his cool and remained on the pitch, that penalty would have been his to take and Chelsea’s title to win. United went on to claim the title after that fiasco.
VERDICT: DIDIER DROGBA’S IMMATURITY AND TEMPERAMENT COST CHELSEA THE CUP
• MAY 26 2012, BAYERN MUNICH VS CHELSEA FC, ALLIANZ ARENA, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
The football world was expecting the high-flying Bavarian team to erase the ghost of 1999 and give the physical-but-not-very-inspiring Chelsea team the basting of their lives. Well, we thought wrong. The Bavarians were unconvincing and decided to be uncharacteristically profligate on the night. They got the late opener but got a reply from Didier Drogba’s bullet-of-a-header equalizer few minutes later. They game went into penalties and Chelsea triumphed, reducing Bayern players, staff and fans at the Allianz Arena to tears. Chelsea left Munich the victors. Did I hear anyone say it was down to luck? Chelsea defended with all they’ve got while Bayern cut the legs off under themselves with their inexplicably hapless display. They paid for it…big time.
VERDICT: A WASTEFUL AND IRRESOLUTE BAYERN HANDED THE MORE DETERMINED CHELSEA THE TROPHY
• JUNE 20 2013, ITALY VS JAPAN, CONFED CUP 2013 GROUP A, 2ND MATCH FIXTURE
The Japanese romped to a 2-goal lead against the Azzurris much to the surprise and delight of the Brazilian crowd in the stands and viewers all over the world. In the ecstatic euphoria of their unexpected lead, they forgot to do the needful; defend their lead. The Italians stormed back with three goals of their own and took the lead. The Japanese weren’t done yet as they restored parity and looked likely to win with each passing minute but as witnessed earlier in the second half the Italians split the hard working but defensively inadequate Japanese open yet again for the win. Many felt the Japanese didn’t deserve to lose, I think they didn’t deserve a draw for not protecting their rare 2-goal advantage. The own goal and penalty the Italians got were as a result of their pressing the Asian champions’ backline consistently not luck. They worked for and deserved their 4-3 victory over the Japanese. The Japanese weren’t unlucky, they were careless.
VERDICT: THE JAPANESE SUFFERED CONCENTRATION LAPSES THAT ALLOWED THE ITALIANS CAPITALIZE EACH TIME THEY NEEDED TO SCORE
Like real life, uncontrolled and uncontrollable factors will always come up; it’s the level of preparedness they meet us in that turns them to either opportunities or misfortunes. Football isn’t gambling, it’s an exciting and mostly unpredictable game that plays on our nerves. It requires more effort than wishful and superstitious thinking to win a match. Lady luck always takes sides with the prepared, it’s the bookies and gamblers that need to worship the gods of luck for their earnings depend largely on what unexpected events they dish out. As for footballers, it’s a game of 90 minutes that doesn’t end until the referee’s whistle says so.
That’s my take, what do you think?
My name is Olumide Ogungbemi (@rednym) and I rep Manchester United.