Fortune Should Favour The Over-Achievers

Believing in the concept of 'decisions evening themselves out over a season' is like believing in the tooth fairy. All we can hope is that luck favours the over-achievers...

Last Updated: 11/04/14 at 14:40 Post Comment

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Sam Allardyce and happiness are not natural companions; the smiles that come to mind are of the bitter, crowing kind when one of his teams have got something right, or the disbelieving kind in response to the booing after West Ham's victory against Hull City. Still, he looked uncommonly disgruntled on Sunday after defeat against Liverpool and for once he had (some) right on his side.

Asked whether decisions evened themselves out over the course of a campaign, Allardyce flicked through his extensive library of expressions of disgust, settled on 'Moral High Ground Puce', then said: "People outside of this environment can't tell me they all work themselves out towards the end of the season. They simply don't. That is an absolute nonsense."

The moan was in part over Liverpool's second penalty, a decision Dermot Gallagher was quite rightly happy to defend on SSN because of Adrian winding up with both hands around Jon Flanagan's trailing leg. But by saying 'nonsense' Allardyce was talking sense, a great deal more than Steven Gerrard, who trotted out the conventional wisdom: "I'm a believer in them evening themselves out throughout the season, you know with the 38 games you've got a lot of decisions that maybe you don't deserve, and you've got a lot of decisions go against you."

Previously I have summed up this attitude as believing in a footballing equivalent of the tooth fairy; it is appropriate that Allardyce, looking like a man in receipt of constant dental treatment immediately off-camera, should dismiss the notion so firmly. With even a second's thought it is clear that no superior force ensures that all the possible elements of luck against your team - uncontentiously awful decisions, all the fifty-fifty ones going against you, bad bounces, bizarre deflections, shifting weather conditions so you play both halves into a gale, freak injuries involving jars of salad cream, Paul Merson getting the Saturday Soccer duties - can possibly balance out. There is no telepathy between divots, such that one is on standby on Sunday May 11 to atone for what another did on Saturday 17 August.

You can understand the reluctance to acknowledge the role of luck by professionals. First, it diminishes their contribution to their successes a little, conceding that results are not always achieved on merit (even though you must work incredibly hard to leave yourself in with a chance).

Second, it must be disconcerting to realise the extent to which your career is in the lap of the gods, that all your efforts can be denied: Gerrard's dream can be crushed by capricious fate just as much as by Sergio Aguero or Samuel Eto'o. Football is not a lottery - the title chances are divided between three clubs this April, not 14 million numbers - but there are breaks to be had.

Outsiders are better off acknowledging the role of chance - perhaps a better word than luck because it is more plainly neutral, one person's fortune being another's misfortune. Perhaps, too, we can wonder who is more deserving of a break (in the knowledge that such will not be a factor because chance has no conscience, or indeed consciousness).

Individual biases will of course play a part, but here's an attempt at a rule: the overachievers deserve most good fortune, the underachievers the least. Despite Crystal Palace's recent decent results, they remain in jeopardy and are away to Fulham on the last day. But no one can deny that Tony Pulis has elevated his team way above expectations (and made fools of those, such as I, who said the team were better of accepting relegation under a promising manager than fighting vainly under a dinosaur). Likewise, while Swansea have slipped in the league this season such that Michael Laudrup was sacked, they did so off the back of last season's wonders and with the distraction of a Europa League campaign.

At the top, Gerrard's Liverpool have been such unexpected entertainers and outstripped all predictions already; FSG's investment recipients are a world away from FA Cup-style underdogs but have surely added value to the Premier League this season, amounting to more than the sum of their parts. Likewise, Roberto Martinez has produced an Everton side that surely deserve the breaks in the battle for fourth - as happened last Sunday against the team who never disappoint when it comes to disappointing, Arsenal.

Fortune, of course, will be having none of this. But maybe, just maybe, whoever comes out on top in the various battles will acknowledge her role - with a bit of luck.

I>Philip Cornwall

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