Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Does Anyone Understand Our Financial Report?

With regards to Arsenal's financial reports for the year, Peter Hill-Wood said:

“The Group’s profits have now risen in each of the three years in which Emirates Stadium has been our home. This is excellent news although I should perhaps stress that making and reporting profits is not in itself the primary objective for the directors. First and foremost we are supporters of this great football club and, as such, our main goal will always be the achievement of success for Arsenal on the field. The Group’s profitability is important because it is a by-product of running the Club as a solvent and successful business, which in turn allows us to maximise the level of investment in the playing staff and in the future development of the Club.”

The board say that there is money, but they aren't spending money. They don't pay out dividends. The mortgage on the stadium is kept in check and doesn't require additional payments. So where is the money going?

There's a theory that they're asset stripping to plump up Arsenal's accounts, in order to keep the share price high to stop Usmanov from buying the Club. Kroenke's the preferred owner, and the Board want to delay Usmanov's advance until Kroenke feels like he wants to play. And that might be sooner than we think. Apparently he's on the verge of buying Nina Bracewell-Smith's stake.

There's another theory that they're using that money to hedge their bets with regards to Highbury Square. Gazidis mentioned that the property development and the football finances are fenced off from each other, but I'm not sure about that. I bet there's plenty of "mixed" bills that the footballing surplus could be used to pay off, allowing the freed-up money to go to propping up Highbury Square. Arsenal are a Club of creative accountants (remember their Cayman Island Player Payment Scheme in the early 2000s?) so I'm sure there are enough loopholes to allow the footballing department to finance the Highbury Square project.

There's another theory that Wenger's sitting on 50 million in transfer and wages, but he's got his head so far up his arse that he can't see that he needs to reinforce his squad. But I don't believe this, mostly because Wenger sees this team day after day, and he must surely realise that this team can't win anything for him. After all, Wenger is a pragmatist. He cut Vieira just as he started to decline. He cut Gilberto when Flamini became good. He bought Vermaelen and sold Kolo. He swapped Silvestre for Senderos for the experience, which just highlights how much Wenger knows we need experience. He bought Arshavin. So we know that he'd buy quality IF the price is right. It's just that the price has a ceiling of about 17 million (as Melo found out to our loss).

It leaves me wondering whether our 35 million pound profit is a good thing or a bad thing. It's good from a financial point-of-view. It's always nice to turn a profit. But if Arsenal are about the trophies and not about the money, isn't that 35 million an opportunity lost? 35 million would've got us that 'keeper we need, or that experienced DM we need. What's the point of proclaiming our financial solvency if it turns out that we're at risk of slipping out of the Top 4 this year? Not to mention that it does nothing for our attempts to establish ourselves as title contenders.

So what's happening with the Club? What are our priorities? I don't know. Who does? Maybe it's time to admit that it's way to difficult trying to second-guess the Club and just go along for the ride. Maybe it's time I learned to stop worrying and just love the Bomb.

2-0 win against Olympiakos this morning. Theo played for 60 minutes. Well done boys.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On a Monday

There's not a lot on today.

van Persie wants the team to maintain focus before the Champions League match against Olympiakos. Considering the relative weakness of the group, I think we could afford to drop a few points against Olympiakos, but I agree that we need to be up for this match. Winning is contagious, and we need to keep our streak going.

"They will give all they have against us. We need to be ready for that. I think we are, because we all know how football works when you do not give 100 percent - any team can beat you, even a Blue Square League team. When you do not do everything, you are gone. We will do that in this group and have a good chance of going through."

Long-suffering gooners know what happens when our players don't give 100 percent. It happened quite often last year. We would win a few games, then get complacent, and then lose an "easy" game against weaker opponents. Let's hope the Arsenal have learnt to give a full effort every game.

Theo Walcott's ready to make his first appearance with the Arsenal. He's had a busy summer, what with all his injuries and his international commitments. Wenger says that:

"He has a chance to be in the squad but not to be starting. He has played only 45 minutes since June."

I'm keen to see what Theo can do in a 4-3-3. One thing we've lacked in the current formation is a zippy winger on the right. Bendtner has done a good job, and his centre-forward-as-winger cameo has a certain value (he's almost certain to win the long balls), but it'll be nice to see Theo back in the side and stretching the defense with his pace. He's one of the few players in this team with genuine pace. We're a much better side with him in.

And lastly, Mark Randall's girlfriend has been posing topless for a lad's magazine. Apparently, if you send in a few pictures of yourself in your underwear, you could land a contract at Zoo Magazine. It's an unusual job interview process they've got at Zoo. I've just googled the initiative, called "Gimme A Job!", and found this quote from Zoo editor Ben Todd:

"We’ve decided to showcase the impressive talents of jobless females to potential new employers. We’ve made it completely non-discriminative: by removing their clothes, we’ve removed the preconceptions. We’ve all got to do our bit to help beat the recession.”

Now I realise England's borne the brunt of the GFC, but surely it's not THAT hard to find a job, is it?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An "Unbelievable" Performance

"He kept us in the game with some unbelievable situations. He has shown he has the potential to be a top goalkeeper. He loves football, has outstanding physical qualities and reflexes, and works hard every day to improve."

- Arsene Wenger, on Vito Mannone's performance

I was wrong about this one. Vito Mannone played in goal. van Persie scored a goal. And the Arsenal were lucky with a 1-0 win against a good Fulham side. But I was right at least in thinking that this is an "unbelievable" squad.

For me, it's "unbelievable" that this squad will be able to win anything this year.

Something needs to be done to this squad. It needs a bit more defensive nous. It needs a bit more squad depth. It needs a better goalkeeper. The problem is that these are the things that were needed five years ago, and nothing's been done to address the issues. And I don't believe they'll be addressed anytime soon.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped being a wide-eyed, optimistic Arsenal fan and turned into a cynic. It's not fun being a cynic. You can never enjoy a victory for its own sake. You can't enjoy performances like the 4-0 against Wigan without thinking back about being beaten by Man City and Man Utd. You feel relief more than elation after escaping with a 1-0 win against a plucky Fulham. You're forever focused on the title race, and sweating at whether points dropped now will have a bearing on the results at the end of the season.

I'm not sure how the optimism's going to come back. I know the first step would be a few significant signings in January. Or an indication that the much-vaulted kids have the talent to win the league. But what are the chances that this will occur?

Anyway, it was a good performance by Mannone today. He showed a lot of guts to play like that today, especially after the horror start of Standard Liege match. He should keep his spot for the time being. I don't know if he's got the talent to keep it permanently, but I think he'll do a better job than Almunia.

Well done, Vito.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Our "Unbelievable" Squad

“We sold Kolo and Adebayor but bought Vermaelen. That money is for me. I know how much I have and I am happy with it... Do we have the squad to compete with the other [‘Big’] four? I say yes. We have an unbelievable squad. Where do you put all the talented players?"

- Arsene Wenger, who'd have a problem (hypothetically) fitting Benzema, Villa, Huntelaar, De Rossi, Akinfeev, M.Diarra, van der Vaart, Zapata, Sakho and Richards into this current Arsenal side

I think we have an "unbelievable" squad as well.

I think it's unbelievable that Almunia's still our No.1 goalkeeper. I think it's unbelievable that Song is the only physically robust defensive midfielder in the side. I think it's unbelievable that we're using the transfer surplus to resign our kids on large contracts, and not using it to bring in on experienced players to augment our side. And I think it's unbelievable to think that Wenger can't find a spare position to place a player like Akinfeev. Or Villa. Or Huntelaar.

There is a lot of unbelievability going on at Arsenal at the moment.

Earlier in the week, Gazidis said that:

"We believe transfer spending is the last resort. That's a sensible view to have. Re-signing existing players is a far more efficient system. What Arsene will not do is spend money on players that do not add something of real value."

I disagree with Gazidis. At the moment, we're paying very large contracts to youngsters who haven't proved that they've earned it. Take Theo Walcott. Now, I love Theo Walcott, but I think it's a disgrace that we're paying him 60k a week and yet can't find the money to bring in someone like Huntelaar or Villa.

It's something we've got to sort out.

I fail to see how resigning a promising young player to a very large contract turns him into a great player. Especially if that young player hasn't done anything to justify such a large contract. Just because we want to pay Theo Walcott more money than David Villa earns, doesn't automatically turn Walcott into a better player. It just turns him into an overpaid youngster with a fat contract and with a lot to prove.

Contrary to Gazidis, I think the sensible thing would be to pay our players what they're worth, and use the extra money saved to bring in experienced players who can add "real value" to the Club.

And today, Peter Hill-Wood escaped his minders and held a "wide-ranging interview with ESPNsoccernet". I can't seem to find the full interview on the soccernet website, but I did find one excerpt in which he said:

"Arsene thought long and hard about selling Adebayor. But there were pretty strong rumours last year that he wanted to go. Perhaps it was time to let him go. I don't regret losing him, in fact I don't regret any of the sales made by Arsene, he has pretty good judgement as it has been shown time and time again. He doesn't always tell you, i.e. the press, or even me exactly why he is selling them, he might not always give me the reason, but we always back his judgement."

And while I agree that Wenger's an excellent judge of talent, I'm scratching my head at the moment. Peter Hill-Wood might be content with Arsenal cruising to 4th every year, but I'm not. I look at the financial reports coming out of Arsenal, and we're rich. We can afford to spend a significant amount of money to bring in the one or two players that would complete the team. We've certainly got £40 million in the bank at the moment, and that could surely be used on a class 'keeper or a solid defensive midfielder.

I'm probably being overly negative here. But we're leaking goals like a seive, our problems haven't been addressed, and Club Management is chatting to the media and telling everyone that the Arsenal are going splendidly. There's a fundamental disconnect going on here, and it irritates me.

Fulham up tonight. 2-0, with Szczesny to start, and Eduardo and Vermaelen to score. It's a game we should win, and should win comfortably.

C'mon Gunners.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stuff and Nonsense

And you know that I love you
Here and now not forever
I can give you the present
I don't know about the future
That's all stuff and nonsense

- Stuff and Nonsense, Split Enz

We're playing West Brom in the Carling Cup.

It's been a number of years since Wenger first turned the Carling Cup over to his youth players, and it's been proven to be an excellent decision. It's turned the Carling Cup from an annoyance into an exciting, thrilling glimpse into our possible future. It's Wenger's chance to sell us the future, and most of the time it is such a thrilling, fun future that you get swept up with enthusiasm.

I thoroughly enjoy the Carling Cups. I rarely have the time to watch a match, but it's still enjoyable to click on the link on the Guardian Football website and read about how our latest batch of 18 year-olds ran rings around a Championship side. And who knows? If I find myself awake at 4 o'clock tomorrow morning, I might even get out of bed and have look at Jack Wilshere, Fran Merida and the rest of our Carling Cubs.

But sadly, part of the reason why the Carling Cup is infused with such optimism is because it plays no significant role in our season whatsoever. It doesn't matter whether the kids bomb out or perform, because the Carling Cup doesn't really count. Remember the original Carling Cubs? Denilson, Diaby, Bendtner, Walcott... the side that thumped Liverpool at Anfield and which made it to the final against Chelsea. And what's happened to them? Occasional brilliance in a youth side doesn't translate to sustained brilliance in the senior side.

So if you're watching the kids tonight, just enjoy it for what it is - an entertaining performance by a bunch of precociously talented kids. It's unfair to put too much pressure on them and to extrapolate future success from Carling Cup fixtures. They can give you the present, but I don't know about the future.

That's just stuff and nonsense.

And in other news, Kevin Whitcher had this to say about the Highbury Square development:

“The problem is that the club have either got to push through the Highbury Square development or cut their losses and effectively declare that part of the organisation is bankrupt and walk away from it. They’ve got a £120m debt repayment to find for next April. The club have always maintained that the football and the property business are completely separate, and legally that is true, however, if they are going to see it through they do need to find money from somewhere. What I can foresee is that the club will pay back as much of the debt as they can by next April, but I heavily suspect they will re-negotiate the loan of what is left and this situation will drag on as long as Wenger is prepared to tolerate it.”

Well, at least we know where the £40m from the Man City sales went. I'm just glad the Club didn't use it to pay for Peter Hill-Wood's Cigar of the Month subscription.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Premier League's New Quota

"I feel that when you want to see the best players in the best league in the world, you have to be open. To accept competition – and we live for competition – it is not to accept artificial rules and that is why I am against it."

- Arsene Wenger, speaking out against the new quota system

The Premier League's going to introduce a new quota system. Starting next year, clubs will have to include 8 "home-grown" players in a squad of 25 players. Those "home-grown" players will have had to be registered with an English/Welsh clubs for at least 3 years between the ages of 16-21.

Richard Scudmore says that "it will encourage youth development and the promotion of young players. It's a rule which we think will give clubs an extra incentive to develop players, and to make a better return from their investment in youth. Make, rather than buy, is our intention."

The rule is going to make things interesting. But I'm not sure it'll do what Scudmore wants it to do. The lack of young English players in the Premier League isn't due to lack of effort from Premier League clubs. Every Premier League clubs wants to promote youth players into the senior squads. You save on transfer fees, after all, and having players come up through the system imbues the club with a feel-good factor.

The problem with English football is that their kids aren't coached as well as their counterparts in France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Italy, Germany... pretty much everywhere in Europe, really. There's too much emphasis on athleticism and not enough on technique. There's no central academy, such as Clairefontaine, in which to hone the the talents of the most promising kids. And probably worst of all, there's still that recruitment rule which restricts clubs from signing kids who live outside a 50-mile radius from the club.

I know this, and I'm just a plastic Arsenal supporter from Australia. I get most of my youth development theory from watching Craig Foster on SBS on a Sunday afternoon. If it's obvious to me what the problem with English football is, why isn't it obvious to the English FA and why are they doing sweet f*** a** about it?

A quota's not going to solve these problems. All it's going to do is push more mediocre English players into the Premier League, where they'll be up against the best foreigners that money can buy, and where they'll be out-classed game after game because they weren't given the proper coaching at youth level. It'll look good on paper, and it'll satisfy UEFA because the Premier League will revert to playing a classically agricultural style of English football, but it won't help England win a World Cup. And when you get down to it, winning the World Cup should be the English FA's first and only concern.

This plan won't even help clubs to break into the Top 5. All it means is that Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City will just pay staggering sums for the best 18/19 year olds in England, and leave the other 15 clubs scrounging around for the scraps. The other 15 clubs will have to fill their 25-man squads with 8 "home-grown" players of lesser talent, and therefore will end up with paper-thin squads that can't compete with the Top 4.

As for Arsenal, we're sweet. Wenger's crazy plan of stealing all the best 16 year olds on the planet is working. Just about everyone at Arsenal qualifies for the quota. From the first team, we have Song, Denilson, Clichy, Cesc, Theo, Ramsey, Vela and Wilshere. And if you add the likes of JET, Frimpong and Coquelin in the mix, you can see that we will qualify for the quota without having to buy up half the England U21s.

The quota makes no sense to me.

Then again, I'd like to ask Wenger a question about his comment. If he "lives for competition", why does he explain his refusal to buy experienced players by saying that it'll "kill his players"? Surely having no competition within a squad for places is just as bad as an "artificial restriction"?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vermaelen's a Fighter

"Thomas has everything I like in a footballer. He doesn't talk a lot but he is convincing on the pitch. He is a competitor, a fighter."

- Arsene Wenger, on Tommy Vermaelen

There's certainly something unsettling about Vermaelen. Maybe it's the combination of the shaved head and the pasty white skin. Maybe it's the dull, heavy-set eyebrows. Maybe it's because the only possible nickname for Vermaelen is "The Verminator". Whatever the case, Tommy Vermaelen certainly looks fearsome.

And now, Wenger thinks Vermaelen's a fighter.

We need some fighters in the Arsenal side. The Man City game had Adebayor stamping on Cesc's ankle and stamping on van Persie's face. The Man Utd game had Darren Fletcher acting like a nuisance. It's been a while since we had a no-nonsense enforcer on the field, and if Vermaelen can fulfill that role, I'll be happy.

Then again, we've heard this kind of talk before. A couple of weeks ago, Cesc came out and said we weren't going to be kicked around anymore. And then Man City came along, and Adebayor tried to maim two of our players, and nothing much happened. You'd think that if Adebayor was confronted with Vieira, Adams, Keown and the like, he wouldn't have tried it. Hell, if he was confronted by Freddie Ljungberg, he wouldn't have tried it. But since he's up against Cesc and Song and Denilson, he knows he can get away with violent, malicious tackles.

So, we need a fighter in the team. Maybe. Truth be told, I'm a bit cynical about Wenger's quotes to the media. They're not his real thoughts. He just uses the media to speak to his own players. So when he called Eboue his "Pass Master", he's telling Eboue that he's not all bad. When he says that Diaby is simply brilliant, he's telling Diaby to keep the faith. And when he says that Vermaelen's a fighter, he's telling Vermaelen that he'd better wear his steel-capped boots and brass knuckles to matches from now on.

What I'd really like to see is if we could bulk up Theo Walcott and turn him into a dirty, snarling, cheating, thieving Englishman. Just like Robbie Savage. Think about it. He'd be unscrupulous enough to pick fights with players twice his size, and then fast enough to run away. And if that works, we could turn Nasri, Arshavin and Vela into miniature Robbie Savages as well. We'd be the most terrifying team in England.

It's a combination that can't be beat.

Anyway, Standard Liege is comming up, either tommorrow morning or Thursday morning. I'm not sure. I think SBS is showing it on replay at 8:00am, so maybe I could watch it at a sensible hour on the TV this time around. Wouldn't that be a treat?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Man City 4, Arsenal 2

"I believe we were defensively a bit shaky today."

- Arsene Wenger, a master of under-statement

Well Goonies, we're fucked.

If I was being philosophical, I could say it's a long season and anything can happen, that we played well but lost, that ex-players always do well against their former clubs and it's not unexpected, and that since Arsene Wenger isn't worried, we shouldn't be too. All setbacks are just an opportunity to learn. After all, as Bob Dylan once sang, how many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?

If I was being a good loser, I'd say that it's a pleasure that Toure's been made captain of Man City, and it's delightful that Adebayor is playing well and scoring goals. Adebayor has always had great talent and I could say that it's pleasing that he's started to apply himself again. And of course, a defeat of this magnitude is a big learning experience for our young players.

However, I'd rather not be philosophical. Nor a good loser. I'd rather be an obsessive sore loser (i.e. a fan). It's quite frustrating to see a side lose 4-2. It's not exactly a Henny-Penny-sky's-falling-in moment, but it is fairly depressing. I think most of us have accepted that we're not going to win the league this year, and have scaled down our expectations accordingly.

But losing to City hurts.

It's that deep, dark helpless depression of knowing that this side could be so much more than it is, but it isn't because the manager won't spend. How much would it cost to buy Akinfeev, Villa and Mahamadou Diarra? And how much would we gain if we were a genuine contender again? I refuse to believe that the cost is greater than the benefits. As I said in the previous post, I still think we're going to finish 4th, but I don't think there's the will at the Club to progress any further.

And as for how many roads a man must walk down, WikiAnswers (another of the marvels of the internet) kindly provides the answer:

1) As many as it takes. Which is of course a non definitive answer.

2) 42, which is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question (Dixit Douglas Adams in "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy"). Which would imply that "How many roads must a man walk down?" is in fact the ultimate question to life, the universe and everything.

3) Just one, the road of life. Which will either make a man a man, or not as the case may be.

Which leaves us with one tantalising thought - isn't 42 million the amount banked by Arsenal after the Toure/Adebayor sales?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thoughts About Arsenal vs Man City

So this is it. The Big One. A genuine six pointer against our closest league rivals. It's the big face-off between Man City and Arsenal, with the hotly contested prize of 4th place at stake.

Does anyone else feel a bit deflated? Our biggest competition at the moment is from Man City, and the biggest "prize" we can sensibly expect is 4th place and Champions League qualification. It's a bit of a come down from the days when we were duking it out with Man Utd for the Premier League.

Our team isn't looking too bad. We've swapped Toure for Vermaelen, and it looks good so far. Adebayor hasn't been replaced, but the switch to 4-3-3 brings Arshavin and Eduardo closer to goal and (hopefully) we'll be able to replace Adebayor's goals with contributions from our outside forwards. We're playing well, and given the right circumstances we would have three wins from three going into this match.

Man City have spent heavily, as they're flying. Toure, Adebayor, Barry, Tevez, Lescott, Santa Cruz.... have I left anyone out? Adebayor's scored 3 goals in 3 games and is feeling the love from Citeh fans, and Toure's been appointed captain. It seems like Man City's started to click, and that could mean trouble for us.

But I digress.

Myles Palmer mentioned that this match isn't going to decided by big-name signings of the past summer. Instead, it's going to be down to our respective goalkeepers. It's a good point. Given has almost 100 caps for Ireland and has been one of the best Premier League keepers for almost 10 years. Almunia has no international caps and generally gives good performances, but he also makes the occasional mistake. Sometimes Almunia's mistakes come back to haunt us, and sometimes they don't. I'm just crossing my fingers that Almunia pulls in a blinder.

It's a big game for us, but I'm not nervous, or excited. I'm kind of resigned to fate. I foresee a positive start to the season, with our form fading through the winter and then a brief uplift in spring. 4th seems about right, and I don't think we'll budge much from that position. Even if Man City are better than everyone expected, we can still spend our way back into 4th during summer. I don't think the board expects anything more than that, and I don't think Wenger's team can do better than that.

So let's go the Arsenal. I hope we win, but if we don't it's still a long season and anything can happen.... except for us winning the league.

Predictions: 3-1 to the Arsenal, Almunia to start wearing a fake ponytail and 'mo to channel his inner Seamen, and Bendtner to tell Adebayor that "we only sold you because you're shit".

Friday, September 11, 2009

Finding Carlota

"Are you really Carlota Fabregas? If you are, could you please tell Cesc to stay with Arsenal?"

- me, after finding Carlota Fabregas' Twitter account

Sometimes, I love Twitter. It's mostly irrelevant, but every now and then it does something that makes you think that it's a profound piece of technology - like when I message Carlota Fabregas to tell her brother Cesc to stay with the Arsenal.

I guess it started when I was reading the Arsenole, and the Arsenole decided that marrying Carlota Fabregas will become his new life's mission. It's a worthy goal. Imagine being the Arsenal captain's brother-in-law? The mind boggles at the honor.

Still, when I read his article, it made me wonder what kind of person Carlota is. So I clicked on her account and had a look. She's in university, judging from her posts. She lives in Barcelona, I presume. She wears a beret at a jaunty angle and she's fiercely nationalistic and advocates a separate (and possibly socialist) Catalan state, I imagine. If I remember correctly, all earnest young Uni students wear jaunty berets and advocate left-wing agendas.

I can imagine the scene now.

It's a quite Friday afternoon, and she's sitting in an out-of-the-way bar in the Gothic Quarter. Maybe George Orwell Plaza. She's debating Catalan nationalism and the Barca 4-3-3 with her uni friends and they're drinking cervezas by the dozen and slowly get plastered. And as they drink, you can tell that there's something altogether ethereal about young Carlota, something that separates her from your run-of-the-mill Barcelona teenager.

She's holding court, and the others are looking at her with a mixture of awe and resentment. She's Cesc Fabregas' sister, after all. Whenever anyone looks at her, they're trying to see if they can spot Cesc's talent in her. What makes Cesc so special, they ask to themselves. Does Carlota have the same genius? And why does Cesc have it, and Carlota too, but not them? Those questions rise up in the warm September air and float unanswered in the beer-sodden afternoon haze.

And Carlota's flattered by the attention, but resentful of it at the same time. She's been the sister of a famous footballer since she was twelve. It's like growing up with a famous parent, only a little bit worse because the comparisons are more direct. She's used to it now, of course, but still it's a bit irritating when people look at you and only see you for your footballing brother.

And now that I think about it, I've just joined in the queue. I've just twittered Cesc Fabregas' sister because I quite enjoyed the idea of twittering someone tangibly connected to the Arsenal. And while I was doing so, I gave very little thought to our nationalist, socialist Catalan patriot who's getting pleasantly plastered in a Barcelona bar on a lazy Friday afternoon.

Nick Hornby was right; football fans are just middle-aged, balding groupies.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Speculating about the World Cup

"We didn't expect such a crushing defeat. Not in our worst nightmares were we expecting this. It was not a normal defeat. It was humiliation."

- Slavan Bilic, talking about Croatia's 1-5 loss against England

Today we are all Croatians.

Losing 5-1 against England is a national tragedy, and the world feels Croatia's pain. If there's one thing worse than being beaten in an international sporting event, it's being beaten by England. It's something Australians experienced a few weeks ago when we lost the Ashes, and still doesn't feel right.

There's something profoundly wrong about being beaten by England. Over the years, various international sporting competitions have been set up with the express purpose of allowing nations the chance to beat England in the most humiliating manner possible. Think about the World Cups for rugby, cricket and football, the Olympics, Wimbledon and (until recently) the Ashes. All these events are designed to lure England into thinking they've arrived into the "elite" group, and then once their expectations are high, thrash them within an inch of their lives.

But from the looks of things, the world might be in for a surprise in 2010. By hiring Capello, they've managed to turn their squad of talented, gormless individuals into something that looks frighteningly like a decent side - and one that has a chance of progressing past the quarter-finals.

I'm hoping this is yet another cunning plan conducted by FIFA. Give England a good coach, drill them into a long unbeaten run, get them thinking they've a genuine chance at the World Cup, and then make sure they're splendidly spanked in the quarter-finals again....

By Australia.

It's possible. We're also guilty of thinking we're better than we are, and we've got the same kind of boozy, jingoistic, nationalistic fans. Only the world loves Australia, and the world hates England. So what better way rubbing England's face in the mud than being beaten by a turgid, boring Australian side, whose fans can be guaranteed to act as boorish in a victory as their English counterparts?

Anyway, hopefully this is the plan. Because the idea that England has a genuine chance at the World Cup is too terrifying to contemplate. I mean, this is what England's captain said after their win last night:

"Their No17 spat at me. It's not a nice reaction. He came on frustrated, but it's not nice at all. He's the first person who's ever spat at me in my career. It's disappointing to see, but let's not let it ruin a massive night."

Those nasty foreigners again, hey Terry?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Usmanov: Our New Insect Overlord!

"Usmanov, who turns 56 tomorrow, is in pole position to buy Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith's 15.9 per cent share in the club, a transaction that would take Usmanov well in excess of 30 per cent and would precipitate a formal takeover bid for the club, in agreement with the City's financial rules."

- The First Post

So it turns out that Usmanov is going to buy Nina Bracewell-Smith's 15.9% stake, thereby triggering the mandatory buy-out clause and setting up a clash with Stan "The Man" Kroenke for world domination and ownership of the Arsenal. On a slow news week, when the only significant stories were Djourou's injury and Sagna's hair, it's something worth looking into.

When Usmanov first started taking an interesting in the Arsenal, gooners were quite angry. He had a shady past. He's a foreigner. He looks like a cross between a very fat badger and a demustachioed walrus. And he's not a cigar-smoking, old-money, Etonian toff like the other significant owners of Arsenal Inc.

I'm not saying all these points were valid reasons to dismiss Usmanov's bid, but they were defended quite vigorously, if I recall.

However, two years down the track, and people seem resigned to the fact that Usmanov will play a significant role in Arsenal's future. Why is that? What happened to the protests, the burning effigies, the cancelled memberships and Highbury riots that were supposed to occur? Where is the opposition to a man who, given the questions about his past, seems to be unfit to own an organisation as awesome as the Arsenal?

Maybe we've admitted to ourselves that there's nothing we can do about it.

I must confess my allegiances at this point. I'm wary of Usmanov, and I'm wary of Kroenke, but I'm incredibly weary of Danny Fiszman, Peter Hill-Wood, Nina Bracewell-Smith and all the other old-money English owners of the club. I didn't like the way they kicked up a fuss when Stan Kroenke started buying shares. I found Peter Hill-Wood's xenophobic "we don't want his sort" rants disgusting. And I don't like the current cloak-and-daggers boardroom manoeuvres. It reeks of bad taste.

At this point in time, I don't really care who takes over the club. Usmanov and Kroenke want it because it's a big club which turns a profit, with untapped global potential. Hopefully they'll invest money into the club, build up the squad and promote it around the world. I've always felt that the Arsenal could have as big a presence as Man Utd or Real Madrid, and I hope our new owners feel the same way. But they might not. It's well within their power to do a Liverpool or a Man Utd, leverage the shit out of our club, sit on it until the value of increases, and then flog it off to a football-obsessed Gulf State sheik.

That's profoundly depressing.

In an ideal world, the Arsenal would be a non-profit organisation run by its members. Of course, given that the Arsenal is worth £1.2 billion at the moment, it'll take a bit of thinking to find the funds. I don't think it'll be as easy as pooling up our money, trotting over to the bank and asking for a £1.2 billion loan, with nice, easy repayments over 50 years. I think we'd need a billionaire to help us out.

So here's the deal. We need Alisher Usmanov and his untold riches. We could make a deal with him. Say, if he's willing to buy out the club, set it up as a member-owned and member-run organistion, and then divest all ownership to the members, then we're willing to accept him as Arsenal's sugar daddy. We'll put banners around the stadium proclaiming our love for him. We'll remove the cannons from outside the stadium and we'll erect a six-foot copy of Usmanov's head on the steps.

And as a measure of good faith, we should stop calling him a fat, walrus-like Uzbeki hitman. It's only fair.

All Hail Alisher Usmanov, our new Overlord!