In a recent interview following his side’s 0-1 defeat to Sheffield United, the Arsenal manager, Umai Emery made it very clear what he thought had happened in the match. “We did not deserve to lose”.
He went further to claim that, “We deserved more from the game” and in case we were still in any doubt, the interview concluded with him declaring once again that, “We did not deserve to lose”. So there we have it; his team lost but they did not deserve to do so. That makes it all fine.
To be fair to Emery, he was not the first manager or sportsman to claim that his team did not deserve to lose; many managers, players and supporters often come up with the same old line. Some will disguise it slightly and announce that, “The better team lost”. The bleating is still the same: we did not deserve to lose. It does raise some interesting and illuminating questions, though. Firstly, who says if a team deserves to win or lose? Is there a panel? Is there a judge? Is it by common consent or personal opinion? Is the coach the best person to determine that? Such ambiguity only serves to render the pathetic claim even more irrelevant and unnecessary.
Secondly and perhaps more significantly, on what basis can we determine if a team deserves to lose or not? No doubt, coaches will bring plenty of evidence to suggest this, such as they had more possession, more territory, more effort, but there is nothing in the rule book to show that there are extra points going begging for such meaningless statistics. Coaches will persist, though, and put forward further claims based perhaps on them having more chances, more shots, more corners; in fact, better chances, better shots and maybe even better corners (perhaps, like ice skaters and divers, they think, mistakenly, that there are points awarded for artistic merit as well as for degree of difficulty).
In desperation, some may even argue that they did not deserve to lose as they had costlier players or louder supporters; they had more passion, more pressure and more positivity; they had more courage, more control, more class, more clearances; they had more tackles, more tears, more tantrums; they had more unfair decisions, biased calls, blatant robberies. They can try whatever means they like but the simple fact is, though, they scored fewer goals! They lost — and therefore deserved to lose! As golfers are always quick to point out, there is no ‘Comments’ column in sport; if we do not take the chances on offer, we deserve nothing.
And lastly, who cares whether a team deserves to lose or not? The obvious answer is that the team who lost cares as it would appear to be their only chance of gaining some degree of credibility (though in truth, there is little credibility to be found in such a claim, based on points one and two above). Put in other words, so what if we did not deserve to lose? We lost — full stop. End of period.
There are no points for deserving to win, no trophies for deserving to win, only a few tissues and teasers. It does not change the result. No rules were broken; no injustice was evident — we just lost. If we want to try to propose such a line of argument, then perhaps we can simply be persuaded that the reason why we lost was because we were playing against a team composed of the following players: Luck, Fate, Fluke, Destiny, Karma, Lot, Chance, Nemesis, Godsend, Kismet and Zemblanity (look him up!). We were up against everything and because of that, we did not deserve to lose.
However, once again that would be to miss the point. It does not matter who we play against, or how we play; what matters is what we actually managed to achieve with what opportunities we had.
Children can learn through sport to deal with all life’s apparent unfairness without blame, shame, complaint or argument. They must learn to accept decisions, results, consequences and bounces, not least as there will also be many times when they do win but do not deserve to do so. They must learn from every scenario. They must learn they had the chance to play, and in so doing they had the chance to learn and to develop.
So let us not crow on about the idea that we did not deserve to lose. At the end of the day (and this article) if anyone deserves anything, it is the supporters who do not deserve poor coaches coming out with such trite, useless statements, intended somehow to make them look good. If we do not heed these words, we do not deserve to play, let alone win. And, what’s more, we will lose — again!
l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: firstname.lastname@example.org