Playing Not to Lose is Losing: Manchester United Edition

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man city vs man u Yesterday was one of biggest football (soccer) games in English Premier League history: Manchester City versus Manchester United. 

The teams are archrivals (being from the same city). This year the teams are 1 and 2 in the English Premier League standings and this game very likely would decide the winner of the league championship. The game generated huge buzz. As a happy coincidence (I promise), I had already had a scheduled day off work yesterday and watched the game. 

For those who aren't huge fans of the sport, Manchester United (aka Man U, team color red) is a kind of football aristocracy. Manchester City (the blues) has mostly been the younger sibling--something like for baseball fans from New York, the difference between The Yankees and The Mets. 

Going into the game, Man U was ahead in the standings. As such, they could afford a draw (tie). A win would have been great, but they would have stayed ahead in the overall standings with a tie. Manchester City had to win the game to have any realistic chance of winning the league. The game was played at Man City's field. Their fans were incredible: loud, willing their team to victory it seemed at points. 

kompanyMan City won the game, 1-0. Their captain, Vincent Kompany (pictured left) put in a headball off a corner kick near the end of the first half for the only goal of the game. Watch it here

Going into the game I was slightly favoring Man U--although I do love a good underdog. But right from the get go, I could tell Man U's manager (coach) Sir Alex Ferguson, had set a gameplan of playing not to lose. This is royally pissed me off. 

Playing not to lose has got to be the worst thing in sports. While I generally eschew sports metaphors for life, perhaps this is a good one. A team that plays not to lose is playing to lose. If you go out there, give it all you got, and lose, you lose. There's no shame in that. Sometimes, it's just not a team's (or your) day. Fair enough. But to play in a game of that magnitude and play not to lose is the worst. And what I find incredible is how often teams will do this and then (surprise) lose. You either play to win or you are playing to lose. Man City, in contrast, even late in the second half when they had the lead were playing to extend their lead. They were going for the killer 2nd goal, which they never got. But in the process they controlled the game, so that Man U never got its offensive game together. 

Sports (and possibly life) lesson: Play to win, not to lose. 


Update I: After the game, Man City blasted Blue Moon through the stadium speakers. It was an awesome moment to watch/hear thousands of people singing that song in utter joy. Chris Isaak's version in their honor. 

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