Win at all costs or win ‘the right way’?

Last week Barcelona beat PSG 6-1 to overturn a 4-0 first leg defeat and win the tie:

It was a sensational result, something that had barely been seen in football, let alone in a Champions League knockout tie.

But there was a little wrinkle in the achievement. Basically, Barcelona cheated their way to victory.

Suarez got booked for diving then dived again to gain a crucial penalty, then Barcelona dived all over the place before scoring the final necessary goal in the fifth minute of injury time.

I was listening to a podcast chat on the subject, which discussed whether or not this result was better than Arsenal beating Liverpool 0-2 with the last kick of the season to win the league in 1989, or Liverpool coming back from 3-0 down at half time to win the Champions League final in 2005. One of the chatterers said that the Barcelona win was not in the running because of the amount of cheating (there was little or no deliberate cheating in the other two matches).

And I agree. But then I brought this up with my friend George, who is firmly in the ‘win at all costs’ camp. He saw nothing wrong with what Barcelona did and believes that you should do whatever you can to stretch the rules and gain an advantage.

I have a feeling 50% of you are on my side and 50% with George because you can make a perfectly good case for both sides:

Barcelona just did what they did. It was up to the ref (and by extension, the rules of the game) to prevent what they did from allowing them to win the match. Besides, football is full of so-called injustices, and that’s what makes it such a fascinating game. If you take all this ‘gamesmanship’ away from the Beautiful Game you are left with an anodyne, beige heap of vanilla ice cream, and who wants that?

But then there are rules to every game, and if you’re not going to follow those rules you are surely playing a different game. Barcelona’s example teaches kids that cheating is a route to success. Winning by foul means is an admission that you can’t win with skill. The result is tainted because it was obtained somewhat illegally.


This is the essential argument behind the classic movie The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. In WW2 the Colonel wants to fight the Germans fairly, but because the Germans are happy to play dirty this means that he’ll lose. His wish to win ‘the right way’ would result in his country losing the war. So is it better to win ugly or to lose gracefully?

The record books will only show the win, and the trophy cabinets won’t have to display a ‘won unfairly’ tag on the cups, so does it matter?

It does if obtaining success by bending the rules leaves you feeling like the victory is hollow. If that deception eats you up in side, then perhaps it’a not worth it.

But if you’re delighted to win at all costs then that’s a literal win-win.

So maybe we should all shrug off our senses of morality and get with the nasty victory; after all, that gives us the best chance of happiness.

Or maybe we should try to do what’s fair because it makes the world a happier place.