There is a difference between being able to face reality and thinking like a loser, and if some mistake one for the other it’s because there’s often a fine line between the two.
If you’re a boxer who’s given literally everything against an obviously superior opponent and you know that the tank is empty and all you’re doing is risking getting hurt, then sitting down on the stool at the bell and telling your trainer you’ve had it is accepting reality.
If you’re two rounds into the bout and have taken your first punch and no longer want to continue, you’re doing the right thing by hanging up your gloves and never fighting again, because you don’t have the mentality for the ring.
As Warren Zevon put it, “the name of the game is be hit and hit back.”
When Ange stood in front of the press last night he said all the right things. And you know, there is an obvious and pleasing difference between how we played tonight and how we played at Celtic Park against the same team.
Still, over two games they’ve scored seven times against us. Which itself is not a disaster; PSG did that in one game under Rodgers and he had a better and more settled Celtic team than this to work with.
There is certainly no shame in last night’s display.
But there are certainly hard times and disillusionment awaiting Ange and our fans for anyone who thinks we’re getting to the level of our opponents. That is simply not going to happen.
January is not going to solve this if we make the best signings we possibly can and the summer won’t solve it and the next ten windows won’t either.
We are never, not even with the smartest transfer policy in the game, going to be able to go toe-to-toe in attacking football terms with teams as good as Leverkusen, Betis and the other top sides from the top European leagues without the risk of major reversals.
That is not loser thinking, that is an acknowledgment of reality.
There are games where doing so will get you beaten narrowly, like tonight, and others where you will stun Europe by getting something out of the match. In every other instance you’ll depart with your tail between your legs having suffered a major embarrassment.
Whilst we play in Scotland we are going to have to live with these teams having footballers who are several classes above our own. That’s a fact. No number of smart signings will change it. They have longer reach and more money to spend, and more attractive leagues to sell the best players on. We play in a league sponsored by a company that sells used cars, being taken to court by one that sells used cars and hires out buses. That’s where we’re from.
For all that, I refuse to pretend that last night is just one of those things. I refuse to accept that defeat is inevitable, that all that matters is that you give it the good old college try, that it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.
If you listen only to a certain brand of Celtic supporter, the kind that never has a bad word to say about Celtic but spews endless poison at their fellow fans because they don’t believe “faithful through and through” means pretending every result is a good result because we still wake up in the morning supporters of “the best club in the world”, then last night we should have applauded the effort without asking why we didn’t get more from the game.
And that’s the difference between dealing in reality and loser thinking, because with the right game plan and organisation, with the right mix of quality in the right places, teams like ours are capable of going to places like Germany and bringing home a result. To applaud that last night on the basis that we were outgunned is to ignore that the injuries that done us were of the “shooting ourselves in the foot” variety. In short, we outgunned ourselves.
It is loser thinking to talk about losing to the Spaniards and the Germans as if those things were a foregone conclusion. Ange’s attacking game is brilliant, brilliant enough that we were 2-0 up in Spain. We were 2-1 up last night.
It exceeded all my biggest expectations of the game to be in the lead.
Yet with 10 minutes to go we had that in our hands.
So there is a certain genius to the game he wants to play … but oh man, there is a naivety to it too.
We were not beaten by their superior quality last night … but by ourselves.
We would have done better with a couple of better footballers to bring off the bench, and that’s true. But talk of “reaching their level” is for the birds, no matter how many improvements on the current squad we have available to the manager.
To win games like last night requires more than the ability to score goals. There is a time for being aggressive and a time for being cautious. A time, in a sense, for simply being smart.
Basic game-management calls for acknowledging that we’re a weaker team and acting accordingly. Going toe-to-toe, for a whole game, with a fine margin, when all we need is a point, against a footballing juggernaut with ten times our resources and vastly better players at their disposal is lunacy and it is not loser thinking to say so.
Loser thinking is when you say that what matters is having a go whether we get something or not.
Smart strategy and good tactics have left all comers in the dust.
A really good technical boxer will beat a brute force opponent as long as he doesn’t try trading punches.
Instead he ducks and weaves and feints and jabs and keeps his distance and keeps on circling and tries not to get hit.
All the while he waits and waits and waits … and then he delivers the perfect blow in the perfect spot.
If you don’t think you can do that, why would you even get in the ring?
On the flipside, if you go in there swinging and hoping to knock out some eight-foot monster, you won’t be in it for long.
And that’s the lesson Ange needs to take from last night.
Forget “reaching their level.”
Let’s just be a little bit better at how we handle things at our own.