Friday, 9 July 2010

Fine Margins

When I said that Frank Lampard's disallowed goal against Germany was irrelevant, I didn't mean that it wouldn't have changed the game. I think that there's little doubt that it would have fundamentally altered the dynamics of the match. I said it was an irrelevance because England's subsequent performance was so poor that it retrospectively invalidated this perfectly plausible alternative reality. (Contrast this with something like Chris Waddle hitting the post against West Germany in 1990 - the alternate reality is all the more painfully palpable because, unlike against Germany this year, England deserved something from that game.)

Now Lampard already seems like a figure from a long-ago age. As an England footballer at least; I've not doubt that he'll be as cold-eyed ruthless as ever for Chelsea next season. But as an Enland footballer he will always be the man who went to a series of tournaments and didn't score. (Even though, against Germany he did.) That's what is so dramatic about these moments -the finest margin becomes a chasm that separates contingency from necessity.(With Lampard's shot, of course, the shock was that the margin wasn't that fine). Other examples of these cusp moments in this tournament are Italy's disallowed goal against Slovakia, Gyan's penalty miss against Uruguay, and perhaps Puyol's foul on Oezil last night. But after (what turned out to be) these pivotal moments, we no longer know how much was happenstance and how much could only ever have ended that way. This is why the post-hoc "wisdom" that Giovanni has referred to always has a bogus quality to it - who knows whether the factors that it isolates as decisive actually were? By the end of the Germany game, England's flaws were frozen into a narrative that was always going to end in defeat and humiliation. By the end of the Italy-Slovakia game, Italy were definitively "too old". By the end of the Spain-Germany final, Germany could only win well against teams that defended recklessly. But did any of these things have to be true?

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