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Everything’s the Best: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Liverpool eked one past Sheffield United over the weekend to keep their perfect season alive. Naturally, the L-word came up.

Sheffield United v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sporting events are all just big magic tricks. Not necessarily in the ways that the athletes produce moments of impossibility, though, I suppose, one is at least awe struck as though they were seeing magic. It’s more in how the contests are presented as moments of meritocracy.

Sporting competitions, you see, are supposed to be match ups in which the better team, on the day, succeeds. That it is a real-time and observable moment of measuring quality. The victor is the better team/individual and we have the results to prove it.

It doesn’t take long after being a sports fan when that facade begins to fade, though. Bad bounces. Injury crises. And dumb luck in the form of beach balls or a patch of wet grass always come into play. There are forces that go beyond the quality of play and execution on a given day that seem to say that fortune and hard work are inextricably linked.

Luck, it seems, is a central figure in defining whether a given match will be remembered in triumph or as a tragicomedy.

Films are also a bit of a magic trick. They spend time trying to sell you on narratives that are meant to be compelling and try to wrap them up in ways that often require a deep suspension of your own disbelief.

If you’ve spent any time following me on Twitter, you’d know how partial I am to the film La La Land. The Damien Chazelle masterpiece is an ode to Old Hollywood that plays up some of the most beautiful moments from Hollywood’s Golden Age while simultaneously serving a truly honest and elegant portrait of life pursuing a creative endeavor. It also is a bit of a magic trick in that it gets you to buy into this entire film despite it kinda, not really, but also yeah, selling the idea that Ryan Gosling is the Savior of Jazz.

There’s a lot I could say about the film both technically and personal (if you’re interested, you can always check out my podcast for the episode on it!), but one of the things that it gets pretty painstakingly right is that success in these types of fields - and, perhaps, more broadly - is always a mix of luck and hard work. That you can’t always count on the work pulling you through, but you need to do it on the off chance that the right person might find your work or see your performance and have that resonate. In fact, one of the most memorable musical numbers in the film is a song titled “Someone in the Crowd” which lays out the thesis that success in Hollywood is dependent on who you know.

Finding your way out of a crowded field and into the rarefied space of the elite, then, means you need to be ready to marry your skill with the right opportunity. To, as the maxim because, be ready to take your chance.

Liverpool, by all accounts, did everything right on the weekend. Up till the 70th minute of the match, they had nothing to show for it. A couple of spurned chances that looked golden. A lot of good movement. And, generally, the run of play. Liverpool did all of the hard work. Did the things they needed to do.

Then, fortune intervened. Or, rather, Liverpool cashed in on a moment that all of their hard work had paid for in advance. Georginio Wijnaldum sent in a volley, struck well and on target, that likely should’ve been handled by Sheffield United’s keeper. Instead, the ball dribbled out of his hands and into the net. Goal and points to Liverpool.

It makes sense to look at this moment and say, “well, were it not for a blunder, a fortunate mistake, this would have been a disappointment.” I don’t think that’s wrong. I also don’t think it’s wrong to focus on the aspect of fortune in this instance.

But I also know that, much like in La La Land, fortune followed the painstaking work and preparation of the main characters in search of their version of The Dream. I don’t want to spoil it for those that have not seen it, though, it’s been nearly 3 years since the film has been out in the world, so I’m not particularly sympathetic at this point, but one of the main threads receives its conclusion when a character cashes in on the fortuitous collusion of luck and work.

I thought a lot about that when thinking of the narratives spinning around this Liverpool squad. One that has most certainly seen all of the things that could go wrong, go right. In a season where all of the bounces and breaks have gone in Liverpool’s favor. I believe that’s all true.

But Liverpool did all of the other work to be able to cash in on those moments. They built the best squad I’ve seen in my time as a fan. They are among the hardest workers in the entire league, front to back. They are mentality monsters who do not cease digging and digging until the final whistle blows.

Which is to say that Liverpool have earned their way into lucking out. And who are we to question how Fortune has decided to divvy up their spoils in these first 7 Premier League meetings?

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