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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


TANGENTS

Watching the River Flow

Written by on December 7, 2011 | 9 Comments »
Posted in English Premier League, General, UEFA Champions League

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once argued that you could “never step in the same river twice” and from a purely practical point of view he was very wrong (I’ve tried it) but his more valid metaphorical point was that, although we see the same river, all the individual drops of water that go to form it are entirely different from what they were before.

Our brains are incapable of seeing the small picture, so we simply accept the larger one.

The same is true of soccer teams (bear with me here) for how often have people ascribed Manchester City’s relatively poor form in the Champion’s League this season to the fact that the club as a whole has little European experience to fall back on.

Strangely this theory completely ignores the fact that both the coach and players have a wealth of experience that includes actual Champion’s League and World Cup winners, let alone the vast number of international caps that their squad has accumulated.

If Manchester City are failing in Europe then it is because they simply haven’t played as well as their opponents, not because they lack the know-how to prosper on the continental stage.

We love a club to fit our preferred narrative so much that we often completely overlook the times that the story isn’t quite right.

It is a well-known truth, for example, that Manchester United will always score a late goal if they need one (although they haven’t done that yet in the Premier League this season) and quite how United’s own poor performance in Europe fits into the “experience matters” argument is anybody’s guess.

When it comes to international teams of course then our love of a stereotype goes into such overdrive that our responses are positively Pavlovian:

Germany –  efficient

 Holland – total football

England – brave yet flawed

Brazil- samba football!

Just four that are still trotted out and not one of them actually applies to the current teams.

Germany are a massively entertaining young team that is, if anything, too adventurous, Holland played total something in South Africa but it was rarely football, England are certainly flawed but haven’t been brave in their play for about twenty years, and the Brazilian players may occasionally lose their inhibitions off the pitch but rarely do the same when on it. 

Opinions can be changed over time.

Spain were once seen as the great international under achievers and Arsenal were once viewed as a ruthless defensive machine, but those changes take place with the speed of turning around an oil tanker and it takes an awful lot to tear us away from our beloved preconceptions.

Maybe Heraclitus had a point after all, although if he were alive today he would probably have looked at the way that coaches constantly rotate their squads and changed his quote to “you can never watch the same team twice”.

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9 responses to “Watching the River Flow”

  1. Blake says:

    Manchester United scored a late goal on opening day.

  2. Russell Berrisford says:

    Blake- 81st minute isn’t really the kind of “late, late” goal that they are known for.

  3. Gus Keri says:

    Russell:

    I am going to be a little picky, just for fun.

    Are you talking about the river flow or the water drops?
    You can always see the same river flow but the water drops would be different.

    the drops are the players but the flow is the playing style of a certain team.

    So, the philosopher statemant fits only when you are talking about the constant changing in the team’s roster. (Your last paragraph)

    But the changing in the playing style of a certain team equates to the changes in the river flow, which occurs only in few circumstances like flooding or drought.

  4. Russell Berrisford says:

    Gus- I think that playing styles change quite frequently but it’s just hard for us to change our preconceptions.

    People will seemingly always talk about Serie A as a defensive league, for example, no matter what the evidence in front of them.

    But to claim that this current Manchester City team lacks European experience really pushes the limit.

  5. Blake says:

    Would it be considered late If you showed up to an hour and a half long meeting with 10 minutes left? Lol.

    EDIT: Not to say I didn’t enjoy your article because I did!

  6. Blake – not if you are someone who normally turns up with a minute left.

  7. Mike Ruecker says:

    Heraclitus should know what he’s talking about, given his experience at centre half.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2kAnTZBnTg

  8. Roberto Manita says:

    Russell,

    What this Man City team needs is a manager with some continental savvy. Al Pacino simply doesn’t have it. His player selections, when it really matters, are piss poor this year. And Inter got rid of him because he couldn’t navigate the continental waters (no matter how many domestic Serie A titles be won). Inter gets rid of Pacino and two years later they win the UCL — there is your best advert for the acumen of Pacino’s managerial abilities. Pacino is simply an actor and not a real manager …

    Ask yourself this, “Would the prior manager of Man City be able to at least replicate what they’ve done under Pacino?”

    I say, “Si!”

  9. Roberto Manita says:

    Must I gloat??

    Well, I suppose not. But still … Basel 2-1 Mancs.

    This campaign just proved how much ManUre have dropped since the loss of Ronaldo, Tevez, and Scholes. They totally overachieved last year by getting to the UCL Final. The year before, QF ousting by BM, was a better reflection of their true continental worth.

    However, Old gum chewing Fergie boy just got bounced. And he just got eliminated by the club that Barça got their founder and colours from. Earlier in the season Old Red Nose (ORN) said that Manchester United closed the gap on Barcelona. Oh really now? What an absolute laugh and piece of bollocks that was! He must have been speaking about plate tectonics and not about football. If he believes he is going to close the gulf between the two clubs he should just do us all a favour and retire sooner rather than later. Full stop 😉

    I’m tired of Fergie bhoy. Go home and rest old man. Thank you.

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