Soccer Robots: Imperfect Men

By | February 29, 2016

Perhaps a byproduct of playing FIFA , highlight reels, constant social media clips and the focus on amazing goals and plays in soccer, many have come to expect constant greatness, perfection out of soccer. We see Messi touch the ball, Ronaldo take a free kick and our stomachs tighten, waiting for the inevitable goal. Something within us as an audience lose our sense of reality and statistics, and feel a goal is imminent, concrete.

It can become easy to assume the game is programmed – a series of binary switches such that a player standing in front of the goal is sure to put it in the back of the net. In FIFA, that is just about the case. Very little room is left for human error (though I have seen many provide ample error of their own). This expectation then translates to the real game itself. As a case study, we can look at Edin Dzeko, a talented striker who built a career for himself at Manchester City before transferring to Roma.

Here we can take a look at an assist, setting Edin up for a tactical goal:

Source: “Edin Dzeko Miss Of The Season” February 23, 2014, Youtube.

Suddenly, super-athlete Edin Dzeko clumsily stumbles into the ball, stuck between his legs and fails to execute a sure goal. Just barely, you can make out a stunned look on his face as he looks back at the ball confused why it lay behind him. And then with great speed, precision, and agility the striker takes to the post, striking it with his foot. Of course, extreme disappointment and embarrassment is all one can feel after such a blunder. And no matter how many replays we watch, it is difficult to understand how one misses this goal. That is, unless we try to put ourselves in their cleats. Just imagine how a brief distraction, hiccup, knick in the grass changing the ball spin can throw off an attacker just enough to miss the shot. Really, it is not so difficult to imagine missing the shot. But of course, we struggle to remember how human these stars really are. But then again, how many times can a mistake like this happen?

Let us continue our case study, in identical fashion Edin is set up for a sure goal:

Source: “Edin Dzeko Incredible Worst Miss – AS Roma vs Palermo 5-0 Serie A 2016 HD” February 21, 2016, Facebook.

For obvious reasons, the second time has got to be worse. And in watching this film, one simply cannot disagree. This shot was much cleaner, pass perfectly set up. Everything was in his favor, in almost identical stance as the previous blunder. And sure enough, a miss. This time he got the shot off, but the ball goes nowhere near the net. Perhaps more mature, Edin quietly walks this one off, standing in reflection at the post, absorbing the embarrassment. Surely, flashbacks of the first missed shot were ringing in his ears.

While these misses show he is only human, it is difficult for fans to see it this way. We brand athletes more as robots than we do human. Their training and practice is more like electrical fine-tuning than it is improving upon imperfection. Perhaps this has become the byproduct of treating soccer players as a commodity. In Colombia, a miss like this could get a man killed. For the rest of us, we just assume we would make that shot.

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