Winning: Not Always Better Than Losing

You'd think it would be simple - that winning is good, losing is bad and drawing is somewhere in between. But no...sometimes losing is better. Or something...

Last Updated: 12/12/13 at 10:12 Post Comment

When it comes to football, winning is good.

An uncontroversial opening statement there. Winning is good, losing is bad, and the draw...well, we'll get to the draw later. For now, we'll just note that it lurks between the two distinct and proper results like an ambiguous bear who can't decide whether he wants sugar or salt in his porridge. That fairytale has always seemed a bit problematic in its messaging. Take the middle road, kids! Compromise is the future! Reject communism! Between that and the heroine's yellow hair, it looks suspiciously like a bit of Lib Dem propaganda.

But we drift from the point, which is that winning is good, but only if every match is viewed in splendid isolation. Which is not how life works. Everything is connected. Throw a butterfly into a tornado and Ashton Kutcher will come out the other side and hit a confused mathematician in the head.

For some wins are better than others. Overcome the odds to down a (supposedly) stronger side, or stick six past that lot from the other side of the city, and things are blissful. But where a Premier League side scrapes by some lowly minnow - one of those weird teams where the players have other jobs - then the glow of victory is a weak and feeble thing. Just the one goal? Against them? How deeply embarrassing for you all. You should probably just dissolve the club now and save everybody the bother of having to go through this ridiculous charade.

Some winning, meanwhile, is utterly futile. We mostly have two-legged football to thank for this; put six past your opponent in the first game, and it doesn't really matter what they do to you in the second. Bayern Munich have been very keen to emphasise this point, losing irrelevantly to Manchester City on Tuesday night and to Arsenal last season.

But was that Arsenal win really futile? That victory (or 'victory') at Munich may have made absolutely no impact on the tournament itself, and it certainly didn't knock Bayern in their pursuit of terrifying, yet it has effected a remarkable transformation. One good dose of hot dead rubber and suddenly Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have achieved competence through complementarity, Wojciech Szczesny is keeping like a grown-up and Aaron Ramsey is a 50-foot tall fire-breathing city-stomper. No, they didn't go through, and yes, the win was therefore futile, and of course, Bayern were some distance from their best, but none of that has stopped Arsenal's players using the victory as a performance-enhancing substance.

Taking this to its natural conclusion, it's not too unfair to suggest that a major contributory factor to Arsenal's win was that Bayern, having three away goals in the pocket of their [stereotypical German garment], weren't quite at their most intensely Bayernish. So if Arsenal's current world-shatteringness owes much to the win, then the win owes itself to the loss that preceded it. And that in turn was presaged by a last-minute FA Cup cock-up at home to Blackburn Rovers, which means that should Arsenal go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year, we can with some confidence say that it's entirely the fault of Colin Kazim-Richards.

Then there's the pernicious and ambiguous draw, which attains a character of not-winning or not-losing dependent on circumstances. A team struggling against relegation can take not only a point from a hard-won draw against the league leaders, but heart and courage and a brain as well. Their opponents, meanwhile, will probably be a bit miffed. And when it comes to league football, well, since three-points-for-a-win came in, the draw has been a toxic thing, not bad enough to be condemned but not good enough to justify itself. Take New Zealand, who put together a highly impressive three-match unbeaten run in the 2010 World Cup...and went out in the first round.

In conclusion, winning is good, except where it's not good enough, or it's futile, though sometimes a futile win can be of great significance, thanks to a previous loss or losses, which shows us that losing isn't always bad, at least in the long run, which is the only run that ultimately matters, since we are hurtling towards our irrelevant doom, while in the meantime drawing can be either not-losing or not-winning, while simultaneously being both. So it is pointless to attempt to divine any sort of meaning from any kind of football result whatsoever. And whatever happens this weekend, you're probably safe not getting too het up about it. Go forth and relax.

Andi Thomas - you can follow him on Twitter, you know, and you can read more of his work at SBNation

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may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

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