Is It All Down To Luck?

As a sports fan, the feeling that your team is holding their destiny in their hands is almost a given. Phrases like “It’s OUR time” “It’s all down to us” or references to the “soccer gods” and “Lady Luck” all belong to the jargon of our shared pastime. We also often turn to adjectives like “cursed” and “unlucky” when things on the pitch aren’t going our way. So, is it all down to this fickle thing called Luck?

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At first blush, this seems like an easily answered question: no. Teams spend countless hours practicing on the training field. They spend a considerable amount of time working out in the gym. Most of all, these sides total up valuable experience in matches. One’s result on the pitch comes down to the culmination of the positive results from all these factors. Add a dash of personal skill, collective desire, and the drive for success, and the result is naturally achieved. That makes sense. You can’t win any part of the sport without that, let alone the coveted silverware and titles.

If The Slipper Fits

And yet, the sports narratives don’t always play out like it does on paper. Davids often slay the mightiest of Goliaths and the humblest of Cinderellas often fit in the coveted glass slipper and are crowned royalty. Straight up and down, we should see Goliath pulverizing the outmatched David and Cinderella sidelined by her more privileged siblings. What makes those stories have fairytale endings is a dose of luck.

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Luck in the form of the King deciding to use the slipper as an experiment and not arrange his son’s marriage after the little soirée. Luck in the form of Goliath deciding to laugh at the sight of the young challenger David, and not use his weapons of war in the face of obvious danger. We could go on and on and we could even start a debate about what is or isn’t luck. It all feels subjective. And I mean, like we have seen this year, even immutable rules can be subjective. Like offsides or handballs or cleats to the chest… Whether you loosely define luck as things outside of your control breaking your way or see it only applying to instances where every single variable is accounted for, luck exists and plays a role in each of these moments.

The Belgian Beacon Of Luck

Liverpool is definitely no stranger to luck. Origi’s winner against Everton in the 2018 derby was definitely luck. A poorly cleared ball, followed by a slicing of a Virgil Van Dijk volley, led to the ball being tipped inexplicably onto the crossbar of the goal by a flailing Jordan Pickford which then fell kindly to the head of Origi to nod home. You line up all those variables and assign each a percentage of probability, given the training, skill, timing (whatever variables you want) and we shouldn’t have walked away with the three points. But we did. Luck was on our side.

Don’t believe me? Alright, the second-leg miracle against Barcelona where we scored four unanswered goals against Messi and company. Not quite a David and Goliath moment nor were we blushing Cinderella debutants in the Champion’s League but if you looked at the game before kick-off in 2019, few would fault a person for thinking we were down and out. Then: luck. The biggest shining example was a moment where the entire Barcelona defense seemed to fall asleep and a young Scouser took a corner quickly and an awake Origi hammered it home. Cue the celebrations that continued into Madrid as Klopp and the Reds lifted number six.

Shoe On The Other Foot

Luck hasn’t always been in our favor either. Loris Karius throwing a ball off the outstretched leg of Karim Benzema in the 2018 Champions League final was heartbreaking. Yeah, questions have been raised as to why he appeared to think it was safe to try and throw it back into the field of play. The fact the ball rebounded and trickled into the back of the net was definitely unlucky. Again, you would think a goalkeeper fielding a regular ball and feeding it to his defense to play out from the back would be routine. I’m sure it happens day in and day out in training and hundreds of times in games. This time, we were unlucky and it proved to be our undoing.

Another area that luck seems to be most prone to play havoc on is scheduling. This season Liverpool has been both fairly lucky and unlucky with the calendar. Early morning fixtures still seem to be our lot in life. We have had that tv slot more often than any other team since Klopp’s arrival. However, this season we haven’t felt it as heavy a curse as we have won all (3) but one of those (a 1-1 draw with City in November.) With cup ties we have had a better draw than usual. Arsenal was tough in the FA Cup, and we turned into our worst enemies against United. But for the majority of our draws, we have been the favorites.

The Luck Of The Draw

In the Europa League, we have also been lucky with the draws. We pulled Atalanta in the quarterfinals and watched what always seem to be perennial champions, the Spanish clubs, bow out. If that isn’t luck, then I’m not sure how else to describe it. This is not intended as a swipe at the opposition. Liverpool still have to show up and play well to take advantage of the bounty that luck has provided. This is especially true as commentators and opposition managers talk up the Reds in the competition.

Sparta Prague’s manager Brian Priske, who we knocked out 11-2 in the Round of 16 admitted his Sparta side had never played a team at the level of Liverpool and feels Klopp’s men should be competing in the Champions League. ‘We faced a world-class team… ‘I think the most important thing for me to say, I hope you guys also and the Czech football fans at home that they acknowledge the level from Sparta to Liverpool is massive.’

These types of statements might have been made in hopes the Red’s team mentality would slip and so would the quality. United’s 4-3 victory today definitely benefited from a mentality slip and quality drop in the Red’s play. We played everyone out of the park, including ourselves. We didn’t take advantage of our lucky chances, and that’s sometimes how it goes.

It Is Nebulous

Luck can really be a fickle mistress. At times it means a ball falling your way, or a kiss off a post leads to riotous elation instead of dejected questions of “what if.” If there was a way to bottle luck, I’m sure it would be one of the most sought-after commodities for use both on and off the pitch. The luck to stand out from a pile of job applicants or avoid serious injury resulting from an accident. Imagine having the luck of being in the right place, right time, and knowing the right thing to say to find your one and only or make a lasting friendship. The everyday world revolves on the turning of things that sometimes aren’t accountable variables. Sports isn’t an exception.

So what should we make of luck? Is it something we throw up our hands at because it ultimately is outside of our control? The chips will fall where they may and luck will be the ultimate decider, irrelevant of our wishes.

Or is it something only certain people can have and are more prone to? “The Luck of the Irish” and all that. If that’s the case Liverpool’s unlucky injury woes this year might prove, in the end, lucky! The injuries have brought extended game time to two Irish academy lads Caoimhin Kelleher and Conor Bradley who have been instrumental in our League Cup victory and continued League and Europa Cup challenges.

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Maybe Luck is something we can court? And through our sports-watching rituals and wooing of the oft-fickle mistress, win their boon in favor of our common cause.

I’m a firm believer in the latter. I’m sure there is a ton of anecdotal evidence and millions of additional examples that speak to the naïveté of this belief, but I don’t care. Luck is courtable, and I’ll put my best foot forward in its noble pursuit. I’ll wear my Liverpool jersey for every game. You’ll hear me send a silent prayer skyward. I’ll sing the songs and yell the chants. Close my eyes and turn away during PKs. Whatever it takes to, in the end, help tip luck in my team’s favor, I’ll do it. In order to get a ball to drop kindly, bamboozle an opponent, and get the right deflection off a post, if it can break positive for us then it’s worth appealing for.

Because in the end, every match has a possibility to be a fairytale or a nightmare, and which side the result falls in this dichotomy comes down to both the known variables and a little luck.

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
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