Tag Archives: UCL

How Celtic Might Win in Turin, From a Philosophical Point of View

When the eminent philosopher of football, Friedrich Nietzsche, was asked for his opinion on how referees make decisions in high profile European games, he replied that ‘All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth’.

Alberto Mallenco would appear to be the type of referee who likes to follow the rules of the game exactly to the letter. For him, it would appear to be about truth, not power. Of course, Nietzsche was also keen to remind us that appearances can be deceptive.

However, this is what FIFA’s Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct states:

Click to access law_12_fouls_misconduct_en_47379.pdf

So although it frustrated, angered and confused a number of people at the time, it would seem that Mallenco was correct not to award a penalty when Juventus defenders held and wrestled with Celtic players during last week’s Champions League game.

But if that is the case, then perhaps Celtic should hope for a similarly minded, letter of the law type referee for the return leg in Turin. Wrestling like Juventus might turn out to be a winning strategy, if all else fails.

The relevant section of Law 12 states:

“The following conditions must be met for an offence to be considered a foul:

It must be committed by a player.
It must occur on the field of play.
It must occur while the ball is in play.

Remove any of these conditions and the offence is not and cannot be a foul.”

With that in mind, what would stop Celtic players flooding into the Juventus box at corner kicks and holding all of their defenders back, or pinning the keeper to the front post, whilst the ball is still dead, allowing the Celtic strikers to casually stroll into unmarked positions to wait on the corner being taken?

Of course, this could end up as a 21 man scrum (assuming the corner kick taker is left unshackled). But surely if the tactics used by Juventus were judged to be within the rules, then so too would this absurd scenario? Perhaps the same referee should be appointed across both legs, just to ensure consistency across the tie and to give teams the opportunity to take advantage of his particular interpretation of the rules from the first leg? Surely there would be nothing he could do about it?

When Ludwig Wittgenstein was working on the philosophy of mathematics he noted that ‘rules leave loop-holes open and the practice must speak for itself’; and when his good pal Friedrich Nietzsche asked him for advice on some of the vexing problems in the philosophy of football, he declared that ‘rules leave hoops hopes open and the passion must speak for itself’.

So I conclude, this is how Celtic might win in Turin, from a philosophical point of view.

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Excitement and fear are closely connected human emotions.

There are times when outward expressions of excitement are manifestations of underlying feelings of fear.

When it comes to performance psychology, this complex emotional twinset can actually be useful. Given the right balance, excitement and fear can produce a brilliant competitive edge that may otherwise be absent in routine contexts.

The Celtic players who posted photos of Camp Nou on their twitter accounts after their training session tonight were obviously excited about the prospect of playing Barcelona in the Champions League.

It is the greatest club competition in the world, after all. Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world. Camp Nou is one of the best football stadia in the world. Who wouldn’t be excited by the prospect?

The very players who were quick to share their excitement were probably also experiencing an underlying feeling of fear. Fear that they will be stepping onto a stage to compete against a much stronger team, against players who are technically superior.

There is nothing wrong with this judgement. It is a realistic assessment of the circumstances. But it also contains the seeds of Celtic’s advantage tomorrow night. Drawing on the right mix of fear and excitement can help produce a truly outstanding and energised performance.

The trick is to guard against being beaten by the occasion, by the subconscious comparisons already revealing themselves in the excited tweets in the empty stadium, the night before the game.

Celtic’s performances in Europe have been technically impressive thus far.

Tomorrow night will also be a test of emotional balance.

For the supporters too.

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Celebrating Ordinariness

Alasdair Lamont described Celtic’s performance against Benfica as ‘ordinary’:


Ordinariness is a fuzzy concept in football. It is a matter of appreciating the shifting context.

A performance described as ordinary in one situation, may justifiably attract praise in another.

An ordinary tight rope walk is one that is performed by an accomplished artist at a low height with safety nets – but extraordinary if performed by a less experienced one; whereas you might automatically think of an extraordinary performance as one that has been performed over the Grand Canyon and include a spontaneous handstand at the half way point. But that would be an unfair comparison.

At any rate, the end result would still be the same – getting safely across the wire.

Neil Lennon was quite right to praise his team’s performance last night. It was a hard working display. Now, I am no tactician, but I thought it was organised to suit the players at his disposal and correct for the occasion against a decent European team.

Sometimes it is good to celebrate what certain others might deem ordinary. When it is an appreciation of what has been achieved under difficult circumstances, it is most definitely not an indication of ‘dipped expectations’, but an appropriate acknowledgement of effort.

And sometimes acknowledging effort is a clever way of encouraging excellence to emerge out of ordinariness.

I’m sure Martin O’Neil used that simple technique a few times in his career at Celtic, particularly when some of the great players he had at his disposal had been purchased at a time when their confidence was low.

I think there definitely are occasions when ‘being ordinary is worthy of such high praise’.

Alas, Alasdair Lamont’s article isn’t even in that category.

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