Saturday, May 31, 2008

6+5 = chaos

"Look guys, I know it's stupid, but once you vote for my 6+5 rule, we can get back to forcing female footballers to wear skimpy outfits. So... all in favour?"

- Sepp Blatter, behind closed doors at the FIFA meeting.

This isn't a rule to improve local players, improve international football, nor to improve England's chances to make the next World Cup. It's a rule to change domestic football so that a domestic league reflects the footballing culture of a particular country.

We take it for granted that the French, English, Spanish, Italians and Germans all play football slightly differently. FIFA wants to preserve that. Competitions like the Champions League should be about discernibly different footballing cultures facing off against each other. We still get a bit of that now, but with the increasingly multicultural nature of the big, big teams, all the big clubs are starting to play like each other. It takes away from the spectacle.

I'm not advocating for the rule; I think it's a restraint of trade and it should be thrown out. However, I do understand the sentiments behind the rule, and I do believe that the differences in national footballing styles should be preserved. It's just that a quota system is a heavy-handed way of doing it.

It's depressing that the first reaction is always to ban. It's the "they took our jobs" mentality. People don't learn from history. Tariffs don't work. Tariffs hinder an industry by making it ineffective and uncompetitive. You get complacent. You take things for granted. And you don't go through the necessary pain in order to reform. There are better ways of encouraging more English players to play in the Premier League, but it'll take more brainpower than FIFA are willing to expend.

I'd like to see the FA try some sort of junior subsidising system, whereby each club is given a certain stipend for how many juniors sign professional contracts. It won't influence the way Premier League clubs recruit players, but it could be the difference for lower Championship and League 1 and 2 clubs.

It'll encourage lower level clubs to invest in domestic youth; give those clubs guaranteed income; and blood youngsters in lower level competitions before they're ready for a move to the big clubs. This would, in effective, have similar results as a quota, but without the stigma of a tariff.

It's just something I thought of now, and I'm sure there are much better ideas out there - you just need to think about more than the stupidly obvious.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Broken Dreams

"It is the principle. It is very important that Arsenal keep these guys. This group is unique. If a number of them leave it will be different. I think of myself as an Arsenal man but Arsenal should also try to make sure that we all grow together."

- Robin van Persie

The thing is, it never works out the way you want.

The problem with introverts is that we spend a lot of the time messing about in our own heads. We create elaborate sequences in which our real-life dramas are supposed to be played out; we tweak them until they sing; we rehearse them ad nauseam until we can't think of it happening in any our way. And then, when we roll it out to play, it's a fucked up piece of shit because we never took the time to work out if it was feasible in the first place.

It's fucking depressing when we find out it's all been for nothing.

I'm starting to realise that our transfer policy may have been built on a pile of the proverbial poo. van Persie's come out in the media about how we should keep the first team together at any cost, to preserve the "unique bond" at Arsenal. Every week, it seems another of our players is discontent, malcontent or just plain under-paid.

I read some interesting comments over at youngguns, about how we can't afford to pay our star players the market price because we overpay our foreign reserve and youth players. In the short term, we save on expensive mature players and nurture a group of above-average youngsters. In the long term, anytime our players become really good, they'll ditch us for big clubs who can afford big wages. Some may stay because of the "unique bond", but most will leave at some point; especially if they're approaching 30.

This is in counterpoint to those visions of brilliance that we're sold every year. Arsenal, on song, play beautiful, organic football with cut-price players. Sometimes, the dream seems so real, and we can almost smell our future dominance. But it's only a dream, and runs counter to the real world of money and agents and greed. Players don't play for peanuts anymore.

It's sad, but it's never worthwhile living your life through a dream. Inner monologues aren't the most constructive of things. They're so damn tantalizing, but when you want to bring them out into the real world, reality snaps back like a broken rubber band.

Things never work out the way you want.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Diarra can read?

"I really can't understand why Mr Wenger is choosing to make such a fuss over me again. Why does he not move on? He speaks about me more than when I was there. It's a very strange one. Perhaps to lose one French international midfielder may be regarded as misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness."

- Lassana Diarra, in the News of the World

I have my suspicions about the veracity of this quote. Firstly, I got this from tribalfootball, which got it from News of the World. In the game of media Chinese whispers, this is the equivalent of a message being sent by a gossipy teeny-bopper via her mischievous ten year old brother.

But also, I've never encountered a footballer who would paraphrase Oscar Wilde. If it is true, wow. For a brief moment, we had a footballer who (presumably) reads books, watches plays, and has a literary background. No wonder I liked him.

I've always liked Lassie. I always felt he had more potential than Flamini, and I was gutted when he left. I thought it was incredibly foolish to let him leave permanently, instead of on a season loan. I also thought it was foolish for Lassie to leave permanently, as well. How does he expect to oust Flamini from the national side when he's playing for Portsmouth?

I don't understand Wenger's reasons for selling him. Sure, we had Diaby, Denilson and Gilberto as backups to that position. But Diaby and Denilson don't play that defensive shield role, and Gilberto is getting old. Flamini hadn't signed his contract, and surely, the sensible thing was to keep a hold on Diarra while Flamini wasn't certain?

Wenger's too nice, sometimes.

Anyway, with Nasri on his way, we still need a few more signings. A holding midfielder, another winger and a reliable centre-back. I hope Wenger's got his coupons ready...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hleb Out, Nasri In

"I can officially confirm that a short time ago Alexander decided that he will leave Arsenal and join another club. Of course, Arsenal and Arsene wanted him to stay but they have accepted the player's choice."

- Nikolai Shpilevski, Hleb's agent

So you have this player. He's not perfect, but you love him because... well, you're not sure why he's special, but he is. He flirts with other clubs and it breaks your heart. He does things with rival agents that kill you. You get these little cold shivers every time you hear of his extra-curricular activities.

But you still really, really like her. You can't think of anyone else. When she smiles, she makes you happier than anyone has a right to. You know she's not right for you, and everyone you've asked agrees, but you want her because you want her.

You ask her why she does these things. She's evasive. She sends mixed messages. You look in her eyes and there's nothing there for you. The girl you loved has gone. Disappeared. Lost in the static of her own dramas, in the pursuit of her own burgeoning life.

So what do you do?

You go out and buy Samir Nasri.

You go out and fuck ten women.

You go on with your life, and have faith that there's nothing special about that person, beyond your unusually close proximity and your emotional investment. You trust that things will get better one day.

You just have to move on.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some Stuff About Our Transfers

This is one of those vaguely metaphorical posts about stuff in my life that I'm extrapolating onto Arsenal. Bear with me.

This year's transfer season has been different. There seems to be more purpose to our dealings. There aren't any dithering "we like him, but he's too expensive" commments, drawn out sagas or any procrastinating while rival clubs swoop up our targets. Instead, it seems pretty direct. We're targetting a CB and a winger, and maybe a DM replacement for Flamini. And we're going for them from the off.

Nasri's on the way for 12 million. We've got our two obligatory french teenagers. And we're still looking for more. It's refreshing. It's like Wenger's finally admitted that we're in it for the present, and not some distant future where Randall and co. have grown up.

We may fall flat on our faces. There's always the chance that Nasri will be a flop. There's always a chance that the new midfield won't gell. There's always a chance that the big money signings won't work and we'll be saddled with the consequences of their wages and transfers for years on end. But it's better this way than to hold onto our wallets and think of what could be.

We're heavily out-gunned in this race. Man Utd are a great side, and have great prospects. Chelsea have big, big money behind them. We've got a $25 million transfer kitty and a bunch of kids who may or may not be good enough. We've got maybe two shots to fire in the transfer market. Chances are that it's not going to work out. All the positivity in the world doesn't override basic economic reality.

Still, you've gotta do it, right?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Carlos Vela on FM08

"His time in Spain has now come to a close and he is just waiting for his passport. He has worked the amount of time required by the Premier League and everything is going fine. He has been granted permission to play and will be joining Arsenal in July for the beginning of pre-season training."

- Eduardo Hernandez, Vela's agent

It's something I'm eagerly anticipating. It's a strange thing, because I've never seen him play (other than on youTube), and all I've heard are breathless reports from Arsenal fans. However, I am a big fan of FM08, and Carlos Vela is a big, big player in that game.

In my Arsenal team, I've got Adebayor and Benzema as the strikers, Denilson and Fabregas as CMs, and Walcott and Vela on the flanks. They're all good players, but Vela is something special. Whenever Ade or Benny misfire, I switch Vela upfront and sure enough, our little Carlitos scores the winner. He has a shot like a cannon and moves like a beemer. He scores big, big goals. He's my clutch player in a team of clutch players.

Love the guy to bits - classy, classy player.

The other news is that we're going to sign Nasri. Again, I've only seen him on FM08, but in that game, he's over-rated. I'd rather a winger/forward like Ben Arfa, a more robust attacking midfielder like Silva or a genuine striker like Aguero. Still, you don't call a guy the "new Zidane" unless he's talented and of Algerian descent.

It's all getting very exciting, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Transfer targets

So far, we've been linked to:

Albiol, Alcantara, Aquilani, Ben Arfa, Barry, Camacho, Dunne, Drenthe, Dabo, Diego, Delgado, Eto'o, Frey, Gattuso, Gomez, Gudjohnsen, Gomez, Huntelaar, Henry, Hart, Johnson, Jaaskelainen, Kompany, Kranjcar, Keita, Martins, Marchena, Makoun, Maxwell, (Mark) Milligan, Moutinho, Matuidi, Nasri, Puyol, Pele, Pjanic, Perrin, Quaresma, Ramos, Richards, Ramsey, Robinho, Stilic, Santa Cruz, Saha, Toure (Yaya), Thuram, Villa, Veloso, Zarate and Zapate.

Think I'll take a break until something newsworthy comes along...

Or I'll write up something about the Champions League final, if I can be bothered waking up to watch it.

Go refs!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ex-Arsenal Wins The FA Cup

"This is the best moment of my life. I started the game and I won the Cup for Portsmouth. I have felt nothing like this."

Nwankwo Kanu, commenting on the best he's ever had.

Go with me on this one - I need the cheering up, and it's the most we can celebrate for the foreseeable future.

Congratulations to Kanu, Campbell, Lauren (where did he go?) and Diarra for winning the FA Cup. I think it's brilliant that such an Arsenal-dominated side is able to enjoy success. From what I remember, it wasn't a great game, and Cardiff were surprisingly good, but still, it's good that a side outside the Top 4 won it. I think we'd all agree that the worst thing about the Champions League is that power is concentrated in too few clubs.

And it was refreshing to see two clubs that really, really wanted to win it.

If I was being pessimistic, I'd be questioning Wenger's player management. We'd all agree that Lauren, Campbell and Diarra could still have played a part at Arsenal. However, I should make an effort to be positive. So well done.

There is one thing I'd like to expound upon. I notice that at the start of every game, the players come out holding hands with a kid. That's twenty-two kids per game. That happens every game of the season, which is 8360 kids per Premier League season (not counting domestic cups and European competitions). There are four leagues in the England, so that's roughly 33440 kids per FA season.

That's a hell of a lot of kids. Where do they get them from?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fell In Love With A Girl

Fell in love with a girl
I fell in love once and almost completely
She's in love with the world
But sometimes these feelings
Can be so misleading
She turns and said "are you alright?"
I said "I must be fine cause my heart's still beating"
Come and kiss me by the riverside, yeah
Bobby says it's fine he don't consider it cheating now

- The White Stripes, Fell In Love With A Girl

I’m sitting here wondering what to do next. I feel like I’ve had the shit kicked out of me, and it’s nothing more than a few home truths illustrated by a concerned friend.

She’s all wrong for me. As I keep finding out more things about her, the more I realise that. It wouldn’t work. My brain knows that, but my heart doesn’t want to listen. She's eighteen and beautiful and wild. She oozes innocence and sexiness in equal measure, and she's excited about what she can do with that combination. Every weekend she throws herself into mix to see what’ll happen.

She’s in love with the world.

Intellectually, I accept I’ve got no part to play in this. She’s growing up and this is a phase that all gorgeous young girls go through (presumably). You’re only eighteen once, and who am I to say that it’s better to spend it hacking through a university course rather than hitting the bars every night? I did the upright thing and I’ve always looked back wistfully at what I could’ve done instead. Maybe the real misspent youth is the one which involves a pile of textbooks and a cup of cocoa.

But still…I’m in love with the girl.

I worry about her. I worry because she’s a sweet, lovely girl who trusts people far more than she should and who’s too pliant for her own good. She can’t talk her way out of predatory situations. She hops into cars with strange guys. She goes into nightclub restrooms with boys. I worry that someone will take advantage of her. I really worry that she’ll get hurt. She rolls the dice every time she goes out, and I’m afraid that one time, she’ll roll snake eyes before she can cash in her chips.

Part of me has these grandiose notions of protecting her from all this shit. Part of me wants to save her from herself. But the larger part of me knows that I don’t have a fucking clue. I’m no more able to protect her than I’m able to stop the tide. Teenage kids do these things all the time. Most outgrow it. Some wallow in it. A few get badly hurt by it.

I just hope to God that she doesn't get hurt.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I've been medicated

“It seemed like this was one big Prozac nation, one big mess of malaise. Perhaps the next time half a million people gather for a protest march on the White House green it will not be for abortion rights or gay liberation, but because we’re all so bummed out.”

- Elizabeth Wurtzel

Say what you will about Prozac, but I'm not sure what I'd be doing right now if I wasn't medicated. Going out of my mind, maybe. Thinking thoughts that really don't help, possibly. Wishing things were different and sinking back into that pit of depression, probably.

Which is to say, I'm quite grateful for those little white pills I've been taking this week. The mood swings are gone, the whirling gears have been re-engaged, and things are almost normal. Almost, anyway. I get cold shivers when those thoughts come back. I still get bummed out, because while medication takes away the sting, it doesn't solve a single thing. And I feel incredibly sleepy. But all in all, it's been pretty good. It gives me a breather between headaches, and it gives me a chance to work out what I'm going to do next.

It boils down to heart vs head. It's a corny, hackneyed dichotomy, but there it is. I have always followed my head, and chosen the sensible option. I have often regretted those decisions.

Might I give the heart a try?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On Becks

"David Beckham is gorgeous. I loves his accent and he's extremely attractive."

- my nurse, fifteen minutes ago.

Okay, this post is about fame and sport. Why, for example, did David Beckham become a media darling and Paul Scholes did not. Why Maria Sharapova is the most marketable female tennis player, and Justine Henin is anonymous. Why I can't find a single frickin' thing to write about.

No, actually, this post is all about Becks.

I have a perverse fascination with Mr and Mrs Spice. I've always wondered how much of their fame is based on substance, and how much based on the necessity to have someone the media can talk about. If Posh hadn't met Becks, I'm sure the tabloids would've spontaneously generated a glamour couple of sell papers. After the death of Princess Di, they had to.

It's ironic that I'm the one talking about this. I am, admittedly, a member of the prawn-sandwich brigade. If it wasn't for SBS and internet streaming, I would never have found Arsenal. I love Arsenal for its effete artistry and the inherent fragility of their playing style. I am the produce of the fusion of football and celebrity that occured when Murdoch bought the Premier League. And I'm a bit sad that I'll never know what football meant before SkySports. I've got no idea what it means to be standing in the middle of a crowded North Bank, singing myself hoarse over a bunch of muddy, clod-hoffing centre-backs.

Anyway, I remember having an online chat with an anti-Beckham nutcase. I found it strange that anyone could have such an irrational hatred of a guy who, all things considered, seems like a decent bloke. Sure, he's over-rated. Sure, he's rich, famous and pretty. Still, he's worked hard to get where he is, and you can't begrudge a guy his good fortune. Not a bad bloke.

And then, fifteen minutes ago, my nurse said the above. And I figured... jealousy? Beckham, on the face of it, has everything. For us mere mortals, it's perfectly reasonable to feel the odd twinges of resentment.

It shouldn't be this way. Faustian bargains usually have a catch. Fame doesn't equal respect, money doesn't equal success, beauty doesn't equal charm. For every blessing bestowed, you're cursed in equal, proportionate measure.

I'm sure Beckham hasn't got everything. But I think most of us resentful males would like to know what he's lacking. Which is why he's so often hated.

I don't know. I'm just really desperate to find something to write about.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Let Me Get What I Want

So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time
Lord knows, it would be the first time

- The Smiths, Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want

The end is always tough to take.

It's been a long time coming, hasn't it? In January we were flying. Wenger was a genius. The team was irrepressible. Everything seemed possible. We were shooting for a treble, and we were contemplating at least a double.

It seems like such a hazy, unreal time. I'm nostalgic for it. I look back through all the silly things we've done in recent games, and I realise just how badly we've fluffed it up. It's not to say that we can't be proud of third place, nor the 83 points we've won, but still... I'm the kind of guy who indulges in pointless "what ifs".

What's so hard to take is the disparity between your beliefs and reality. You think this team is ready to rule the Premiership, and then our squad depth is exposed and our players start leaving. The table doesn't lie, and we were always a little bit deficient to mount a sustained title challenge. The problem was that we started out so well that we started getting ahead of ourselves. You got to walk before you can run. We have the players to play title-winning football, but we need the depth to sustain it. It's the challenge we're going to face in the coming months.

We've lost the season proper, but we've got to win the off season. We have to restock our squad and invest in the present. Otherwise, more players will agitate for a transfer. We're so damn close that the risks of a buying a number of experienced, expensive players is worthwhile. Next year, we could be walking away with the title.

I don't know. And frankly, I don't really care. I'm a bit depressed about that girl. I can't fucking believe I can feel this much for her. It's so damn disturbing.

Anyway, I'm not a fan of The Smiths. But it's a song that I've got on rotation, and it came up as I started typing. And it seems appropriate. So for once in my life, let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On self-respect

"Self respect is when you're able to stand up for your own considerations."

- my friend, on Saturday, after we watched Ironman self-respect the shit out of some Afghan warlords

I wanted to jot this down before I forget it. It's my thoughts from a conversation I had yesterday. It's got very little to do with football, but I'll be using it as a metaphor. It IS nominally a football blog, after all.

The idea we fleshed out was that you need self-respect before you can be respected by others, but you don't need to be respected in order to be loved. And we realised that there's a crucial distinction between the two concepts.

Wenger is loved by his players. He sees potential in them at a young age, and puts more faith in them than is sensible. He fast-tracks youngsters into the side and he's willing to pay for their education in points and titles. Of all his former players, only Bentley and Pennant have said bad things about Wenger. Says it all, really.

However, Wenger is not respected by his players. He puts their personal considerations above his ambitions for the team. He lets them flirt with other clubs, he lets them run down their contracts, he lets them get away with lax defending and an lack of effort. He refrains from signing squad players because he thinks the added competition wouldn't be "fair" to his current players.

As a result, players take him for granted.

Wenger doesn't have the self-respect to make a stand against his players. He's too nice. He accommodates their ambitions, and as a result, they walk all over him. They've lost respect for him because he doesn't stand up for himself. They profess to love him, and I'm sure they're genuine, but they take advantage of him because they know they can.

When you've lost the respect of your players, it's very hard to win it back. They don't treat you properly. They won't trust you enough to obey you. They always have, in the back of their mind, the idea that another club will be better for them.

If you try to discipline them, they often get angry because they're used to walking all over you. They start to resent you, and look for ways to get back at you. It degenerates from a good, healthy relationship into a series of tit-for-tat mind games. It's very exhausting.

One thing I couldn't work out was how you went about regaining your self-respect if you've lost it. Any thoughts?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Gattuso to Arsenal?

"Is it true that Gattuso wants to leave Milan? I like him. He would be an important player for Bayern in the Champions League. Or rather he would be perfect."

- Franz Beckenbauer, Wednesday, Gazzetta dello Sport.

There's not a lot to talk about, so I thought I'll make up a rumor:

Reports are coming in from Italy that Gennaro Gattuso is restless at Milan after the signing of Mathieu Flamini. "I've got it in my contract that I'll always be the ugliest player at Milan," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "How the fuck am I meant to bully the midfield if there's an even uglier fucker beside me?"

Gattuso has been recently seen eating brockhurst in Munich with Beckenbauer and blood pudding in London with Edelman, prompting speculation that the 30-year-old star midfielder is thinking of moving abroad.

"No fucking person eats fucking English cuisine for pleasure," an exasperated Gordon Ramsey remarked. "Blood pudding tastes like shit, looks like shit and shits like diarrhea - except if it's been made at my restaurant, where the quality is fucking fine. If he managed to scoff down the whole thing in one sitting, he's fucking serious about joining the fucking Arsenal."

When asked about the speculation, Wenger's comments were refreshingly frank. "Ultimately, we let Flamini go because we felt having such an ugly player in our team compromised our beautiful football. We do need an ugly player, but we want "Hollywood" ugly, not "ugly" ugly. We want a player who's ugly because he wears his competitiveness on his face, not because he's a freak of nature. Therefore, yes, Gennaro Gattuso is a player we are very interested in. We believe he is the ideal replacement for Flamini."

Flamini is said to be very happy that Gattuso is leaving. "Now that I don't have to compete with anyone, I can start looking pretty again," he remarked, as he teased his hair through the curler and pouted in front of his dressing room mirror.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On Morality

"Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time”

- Henry Louis Mencken

I've often dismissed Wenger's insistence that Chelsea's riches are immoral. It seemed weak. They always seemed the words of a sore loser.

I didn't see it from his side until recently.

There's this girl, you see. A sweet, lovely, gorgeous girl. I would dearly love to ask her out, but she's nine years younger that me. I cannot. She is too young. It's driving me mad because I cannot make a move, but I cannot. My morals tell me that I cannot.

My morals are willful, inconsistent things. They puff up with self-righteous pride in some circumstances, and fold discretely back into the knapsack in others. They are often inconsiderate to my personal wishes. I often try to ignore them. But once they catch a gust of wind, my sails are full and my course becomes unalterable. I've been trying to think of ways to get around my morals. I cannot emphasize how much I'd love to ask this girl out. But my morals will not allow me.

This girl, however, has other admirers. She's attracting guys who are older, and sleazier and who have no qualms about picking up young girls. It give me indigestion just thinking of the anecdotes she's told. I picture them surrounding her like jackals around a separated baby gazelle. A part of me realises that she likes the attention of those jerks. And a part of me realises that she's attracted to them specifically because they are older and sleazier and push all those rebellious buttons of hers.

When I start thinking this way, I get heartburn.

And out of nowhere, I recollect all those interviews with Wenger repeating those three little words, "it is immoral". It is the phrase of the guy who is frustrated beyond belief as he watches others waltz over and takes the things he covets most. He wants it so badly that he's ready to fight Martin Jol on derby day. But in spite of his intelligence and his talents, he cannot fight back. He's been rendered impotent and feeble. He's been betrayed by his own morals.

To compete against the immorality of Chelsea's "financial doping", Man Utd have bought the Premiership (presumably) and mortgaged their future. Arsenal have earned 3rd place and stayed solvent. One club succumbed to their lusts. One club remained true to their morals.

I'm sure Wenger, on those sleepless nights, thinks of all the players he could've signed if he'd accessed that huge transfer facility. I'm sure he's sworn over and over than next time he's competing with a big club for a talented starlet, he'll sign him "no matter what the cost". But when the time comes to call the agent, he chokes on his words. Why?

Your morals are YOUR morals because you cannot side against them. You cannot bend them, you cannot twist them, you cannot do anything but obey. For better or worse, they are part of you. They are the better part of you. I have to believe that. It's the only thing I can cling to, because when it costs you the things you want most in your life, it's so fucking hard to take. There's no consolation prize for 3rd place. There's no consolation girl for the guy who refrains. This is real life and the consequences of those morals are mind-numbingly painful.

In football, in life, sometimes the only thing that counts is scoring.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Globalised Football

This will be a quick one. I don't have the time for anything else.

I've been reading "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. Interesting read - I've never come across such a persuasive argument on the "globalise at all costs" issue. The guy makes high-speed broadband internet the modern equivalent of Mother Teresa.

Anyway, one thing I've learnt is that in a flat world, you've got to innovate, educate and communicate in order to succeed. Thanks to the internet, everyone has the same information and has access to the same funds. To survive in this flat world, you've got to be smarter, quicker and more ruthless than your competitors.

What does this mean to Arsenal?

Well, in the past, we've been the dog's bollocks when it comes to innovation. In England, Wenger started the scientific diet and training regime, the mass recruitment of cheap young foreign players, the paying of wages to offshore accounts (genius while it lasted), the stealing uncontracted youth players from big clubs, and "I didn't see it" for every controversial decision.

It kept us up the top on lower resources, but now the other clubs have caught up. Chelsea have more money and bulldoze their way to the best players. Man Utd have plucked the shit out of Portugal, and Liverpool are doing the same with Latin America. Milan bought Pato for 17 million. Barcelona have promoted awesome youth like Gio and Bojan, to avoid another Cesc.

We need to innovate again to gain another advantage.

Any ideas?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Apologies To Kurt Vonnegut

"People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore. I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt".

- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5

Listen: Connolly's agent is unstuck in time.

When he walks, he walks in the footsteps of his past. He repeats the mistakes of his past. It's as if he fell off his bike as a kid, and refused to get back on. And he's been sitting on the side of the road for all these years, waiting for someone to pick him up, dust him off, and give him a ride back home. But of course, the only way out of that park is to get back on that bike.

So it goes.

When he contemplates all the time he's wasted, Connolly's agent is so fucking annoyed that there's no way he can express his disgust. This is real life, so there are no friendly aliens from Tralfamadore to abduct him, nor any convenient metaphor to explain how some things are so awful that the only way to comprehend it is obliquely, through refracted glass and in the blackest, darkest humour.

Or maybe there is, only Kurt Vonnegut told it better than I ever could.

So it goes.

When Wenger sold Vieira, he told us to trust him. I did, although my body shook with fer at the thought of the endless seasons without him. As the season progressed, we realised something was drastically wrong. And as we started to shed Premiership winners like a tree sheds leaves in autumn, we realised that the long, hard winter was approaching. And still, we trusted him, because Wenger Knows, and because we know that after every winter comes spring.

So it goes.

Three years later, and our tree had been denuded. Of the Invincibles, only Toure and remains. Spring follows winter, though, and our season started brightly. Vieira and co. have been scattered to the four winds, and what's left is the new Arsenal. The ground has begun to thaw. Fresh buds and new leaves have emerged. There's the vibrant promise of youth, of new growth. And this season, for the first time in three years, we mounted a title challenge.

But with Flamini as good as gone, Hleb on his way and a tight transfer kitty to play with, we wonder if we've the resources to regenerate. We don't have much time. Summer will come soon, and if we're not ready, it'll be autumn before we've prepared. Our players are reaching their prime years and we're still stuck in the rebuilding stage. If we don't get a perfect replacement for Flamini, it'll be another six months to adjust, and another season wasted. And by that stage, another of our players will have become disillusioned, and agitate for a transfer.

So it goes.

There's no point to this post. It's just a circular train of thought about a team always takes retreats two steps for each advancing step. It's no bombing of Dresden, and I'm really uncomfortable for making this comparison, but I can't come up with a better way of describing my emotions right now, other than through that book. And in its own way, it is similarly tragic, pointless and difficult to come to grips with.

In the end, what else can you say but:


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Edelman's gone

"Please follow this story elsewhere. It's big news and good news. It's the first of many changes we will soon be seeing."

- Myles Palmer, ANR, 01/05/08

Myles' right - the sacking of Keith Edelman is BIG news. I'm struggling to figure out what it means for the club. I don't live in the country, so it's a bit of a mystery. I'm going to muddle through this post, so please bear with me.

This is the information I'm getting:

1. Keith Edelman was a good managing director when the club needed finance for the stadium. He ran the club like a business. No one else in football could've managed it.

2. Keith Edelman was sacked because he's no longer useful. Now that the stadium finance is stitched up, we needed a more "football-minded" MD. We need someone with the nous to compete in transfers and contract negotiations, and Edelman can't offer that. In fact, we're still looking for a replacement for David Dein.

3. If we get that new, football-orientated MD, we're going to be spending big.

4. Danny Fiszman is the absolute ruler of Arsenal.

5. Usmanov is the major shareholder.

These are the speculations:

1. Wenger's transfer policy was dictated by Edelman, not Wenger. Wenger always knew he needed to spend big to genuinely compete, but understood the necessity of austerity. However, he's cracked the shits after this season, as evidenced by his comments over the past few days regarding Hleb, Flamini, economic "doping" and the stadium finance.

2. With a new MD who is willing to provide greater funding, Wenger will be in a position to buy established stars. Please, Wenger, a goalkeeper!

3. Fiszman sacked Edelman to shore up support against the inevitable Usmanov takeover. He knows the fans are getting pissed off about the transfer policy, and he knows that if we don't win something soon, we're going to clamour for greater involvement from Kroenke and Usmanov. I don't know how much influence fans wield in a PLC club, but it must be pretty significant for things to come to this.

Whatever the case, the new MD will have a major effect on the transfer policy specifically, and the direction of the club as a whole. If anyone has any insight on these developments, I'd love to hear them. I'm pretty clueless at the moment.

I've just got one other question: what the fuck does Peter Hill-Wood do?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Fugly Duckling

"We are not naive enough to think it is not linked to money. He says he wants to stay and if he goes somewhere else that means it is linked to what?"

- Arsene Wenger, with regards to Flamini

I'm paid like shit to do a job I find very rewarding. There's something innately satisfying about providing a service for people who otherwise could not afford it. You get all warm and tingly when clients are genuinely appreciative of your efforts. You feel like you've done something worthwhile. At times, it's the only reason that makes you come back the next day.

However, I've spent five years working at this place, and it's time to walk away.

In my office, above my desk, there's a map of Australia. I've got pins scattered along the eastern coast, and post-it notes girt the sea. When I'm working, while I'm waiting for the local anesthetic to take effect, I walk over to the map and look at all the sleepy beach-side towns in Queensland and NSW. In my mind, I've already got one foot out the door.

Depending on where I go, I could make up to four times what I earn now. But when I sit in my office and daydream about the future, I'm not fantasizing about big wads of cash and convertibles. It's not the reason I want to move. Rather, I'm dreaming of the beach, sub-tropical weather, and that sound the sea makes when it hisses over the sand. I'm dreaming of a chance to change and reinvent myself. I'm dreaming of a fresh start.

It's not always about the money.

When you're the ugly duckling, sometimes you need to leave the nest before you truly start to believe you can be a swan. Self improvement is a nebulous concept. When you're stuck in the same place, surrounded by the same people, sifting through the same old thought processes, change is an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish. Whenever you try to leave, old habits pull you back in. If you're serious about changing, sometimes you've just got to cut yourself off from everything you know and love.

I think it's disingenuous of Wenger to say it's all about the money. Flamini has always been dismissed as Arsenal's ugly duckling. He's forced his way past Gilberto, Diarra, Diaby and Denilson, and he's been instrumental to our success this year. Based on this year's form he's matured into an exceptional defensive midfielder.

However, doubts persist, don't they? I still don't rate him highly. I still think he's an earnest trier on a very long hot-streak. I suspect Wenger thinks the same, and hence, the unrealistic contract offer. It's difficult to change the perceptions of the people who've known you the longest.

If I stepped into Flamini's shoes right now, I imagine I'd be feeling a lot of frustration. I'd have had my head turned by the superstar wages offered by Milan and Juve. I'd have had my ego boosted by the praise from all corners. I'd have the incredible satisfaction of knowing that I'd proved all those detractors wrong, that I WAS good enough to play for this side.

And yet, when that new Arsenal contract came along, I'd have been deflated. In this day and age, money equals respect. If I'd been the best player for the season, I'd expect wages comparable to the best in the team. Fair's fair. To be offered a contract substantially less than that is to told that, no, you're not that good and you're still a mediocre stand-by. It would be incredibly frustrating, and I'd be agitating for a move to a club where my qualities were respected and valued. I'd want to show the world that I'd changed into a swan.

If I was Flamini, I'd be stalling on that contract, too.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Milligan to join the Arse!

"I signed Mark Milligan because he's a very good player, he's very versatile, and he's Australian. We need more Australians at the Arsenal. They're fucking brilliant."

- Wenger, hopefully on July 1st, about Arsenal's new signing!

Mark Milligan, Olyroos captain and Sydney FC defender, is set to join Arsenal. Wow! This makes me happy. Very happy. Estactic, even. In a few months time I'll be cheering one of our own. I already tear up at the start of Socceroo games when they play the national anthem and our disparate band of players stumble over those lyrics that mean so much when you're an ex-pat living in a cold, distant land. I'm not sure how emotional I'm going to get when I see Milligan trot out for the Arse, but I'm going to stock up on Kleenex.

I love the fact that this guy has the technical ability to play Wengerball. It's a big tick for the future of the Australian team, and it's especially comforting considering the lack of talent which follows the Kewell/Bresciano/Cahill generation. He's a full back who plays as a centre-back for Australia, and can moonlight as a defensive midfielder. He's probably not a direct replacement for Flamini, but he's miles better-looking. And he's Australian.

I wish I could make an intelligent comment about this, but I'm a blubbering twit at the moment. So fucking happy.

Did I mention he's Australian?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ramsay's Football Nightmares

"Get your fucking defence sort before you start fucking about with fucking pretty football, Arsene! Your fucking fans don't give a flying fuck about how you fucking play, as long as you fucking win."

- Gordon Ramsay (hypothetically), when confronted with Arsenal FC

Gordon Ramsay is inspirational. He's a mean, nasty, pissed-off old sod, but his professionalism is excellent. He wants the best, expects the best and more often than not, achieves it. There's a reason Gordon's Kitchen Nightmares is the surprise ratings hit on Australian TV, and it's not just because he's got a limited vocabulary and likes to express it.

I heard that Ramsay used to be a pro footballer. It got me thinking. This is what might happen if "Ramsay's Football Nightmares" eventuated:

1. Inspection

GR: I see a formerly great team in desperate need of overhaul. All the ingredients are there to make this club successful, but they're piss-farting around. There's an impressive stadium in a great location, a dedicated fan base, a world-class manager and a playing staff... but what the fuck has gone wrong?

2. Heart to heart with Arsene

GR: Oh my God! Take a look at this crap. Arsene, you may like playing this over-elaborated crap, but your fans don't. Serve them simple, fresh, direct football that's easy to play and looks great. You can't go wrong with speedy wingers, one-touch football and dynamic, clinical strikers. You need to invest money in your playing stock. If you buy crap, you're going to serve up crap.

Take a look at the squad; it's in desperate need of an over-haul. Your players take you for granted, they look for other jobs on the sly, they're lazy and they take advantage of you. You're the fucking boss - act like the fucking boss. Don't whinge to the fucking media about players being tapped up; put the fucking fear of God into your players so they won't even look at other clubs.

3. Heart to heart with the players

GR: Look, you fuckers. You're in a Michelin rated football club. Don't you realise how fucking lucky you are to be playing here? Don't take it for fucking granted. You've got ten fucking years of top-level football in you, and you've wasted your first big opportunity to succeed. You're going to the press and saying how you're all ready for next year, and everything's going to be fine? Don't fucking say it - fucking do it.

4. Overhauling the club

GR: I see a squad that's badly in need of modernising. It's stuck in the early 00s. Warm, comforting colours and simple design. We need a fast winger, a clinical striker and a world-class goalkeeper. And for God's sake, get a fucking defensive coach to stop those fucking weak goals.

5. Opening night.

Well, we'll just have to wait and see, right?