Luck and finishing fourth, or: aim better

Aim better, Cris - Denis Doyle

On aim and luck and finishing and skill.

Since the final results came in on Sunday, and Arsenal finished in fourth place one point ahead of Spurs, supporters of both sides (although clearly more from the Tottenham section this year for obvious reasons) and the media at large (which is a larger problem) have been talking about how much things like hitting the post and referees affected the results this year.

This must cease.

When you have a newspaper, no matter how laughable, like the Daily Mail, writing a piece like this one here, it is a problem, because they have readers, and readers will think stuff like this is real. Here's a little sample, if you don't want to click on the link:

In this year’s Premier League for instance, a matter of inches would have changed the whole complexion of the Champions League spots as well as the relegation battle...Instead of missing out on the top four on the final day of the season, Tottenham would have scraped an automatic Champions League spot next season – based on statistics produced by Opta showing what the table would have looked like had every shot that hit the woodwork gone in.

Here's the thing about shots that hit the woodwork: they're not goals. This isn't archery; you don't get partial goals for getting close to the target. A shot is a goal, or it isn't. The line is clear. Why does nobody ask "how would the table be different if all the shots that went six inches wide" or "one foot wide went in"? According to the logic about posts, they should ask that question, because it is just as relevant. Those shots that go wide count for exactly as many goals as ones that hit the post: zero goals.

This is not a matter of luck. It's a matter of skill. A football goal is 7.32 meters wide. There's not a lot that one would consider "luck"--defined as "a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person"--that would affect a football hitting that target or not. Here are some things that we could reasonably call "luck" in these circumstances:

-- A gopher emerging from the ground at the precise moment necessary to alter the trajectory of a football rolling towards the goal.

-- A bullet fired by a hunter a mile away from the stadium, missing its intended target, continuing through the air, and coming to rest on the pitch in front of a rolling shot, pushing the ball onto the post.

-- A comet descending from space, exploding over the stadium, and creating a shockwave that pushes the shot onto the post instead of into the goal.

These are circumstances outside the player's control that might alter his shot. However, this is NOT what people are talking about when they say the words "luck" and "post" together. They believe they are talking about luck, but they are actually talking about something else.

That something else is called aim.

Aim is a skill, as is finishing. Nothing burns my bacon more than people saying "on the balance of play, team X deserve a goal". Goals aren't presents handed out for good deeds. Goals are handed out because a player kicks a football through two posts. If she does everything leading up to, but not including kicking the ball through two posts, she does not deserve anything resembling one goal. (See, for instance, Gervinho). Similarly, if she does everything up to and including kicking a ball against a post, shes does not deserve a goal. That's not a matter of luck. That's a matter of skill. She does not get to roll dice after rounding the keeper. She has to aim, strike, and await a result dependent on her actions.

We should all be so lucky (harhar) in life as to have something we would have as much skillful control over as striking a football and aiming it well, where the two outcomes are so clear. Life is messy enough; let's not start putting shades of gray where they don't belong.

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