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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