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A Word on Words, with Apologies to Clint Eastwood

As long as we're airing our grievances about sports, I'd like to take issue with the way some people react to results. Specifically, I get frustrated when I hear or read about fans discussing whether a team deserved the win or draw or loss it received on a given day. They're not the only ones to do it, either. Earlier this week, I linked to the post-match video where Chris Hughton was defending his team to the media by saying that they "deserved" the draw against Wigan.

The goal of football is to score more goals than your opponent. The goal is not to have more possession, to win more tackles or free kicks or corners, or to put more shots on goal. Those are certainly good ways to accomplish that goal and they can be good indicators of form, but they are means to an end, not the end itself. I think sometimes we forget that.

Is this a semantic argument? Perhaps. In any sport, the scoreline never tells the true story. A 2-2 draw doesn't necessarily mean that the teams were evenly matched, so we search for ways to describe how even the play was. Perhaps one team dominated, but the other got lucky. Does this mean that the "lucky" team didn't deserve the point? Not at all. That team succeeded in what they were supposed to do: put the ball in the net. Maybe they didn't do it in the most efficient way, but they did do it. Our descriptions of the stories of games have gotten lazy. The language we use matters. There is no "deserve" in football. There is no theoretical table where points are given for style or crisp play from the back line. There is a table built on results and the bottom line, and that is the only one that counts. What's deserve got to do with it?