Football, People

In the Beginning

In 1998, I started to watch football. I was 11 years old. It was the now-legendary World Cup 98.
France. Brazil. In Paris. With Zidane. A young Henry. Barthez. Blanc. Petit. Deschamps. Leboeuf. Lizarazu. Epic.

I’d watched a few of the games before that and found it interesting. Netherlands versus Croatia was noteworthy. But the finals were magical. I remember my aunt’s living room and popcorn that day. I’d heard enough to know Brazil were the favourites; that a lot of Brazil fans thought the French had the officials in their back pocket; and there was a ridiculous rumor that Ronaldo was intentionally slipped something to induce his fit.
But all that chatter washed away in the sea of crazy supporters and incessant camera flashes. The crowd was electric. Laurent Blanc kissed Fabien Barthez’ head. Zidane was Zidane. And I could feel the win right then and there. You know the rest… Ronaldo played, 3-nil, and rousing renditions of  “Allez les Bleus” in Paris.

I was hooked. The magic of what the French did never faded. Fast forward a couple months, to one of the most memorable football seasons ever. I was 12 and found myself liming with a bunch of girls in school who were into sports. That’s right. Girls who liked cricket and adored Brian Lara (we’re Trinis after all, but he was also the greatest player ever). Girls who liked football and got excited when a player nutmegged defenders en route to goal. When we ducked classes, we’d run to the Audio Visual room to watch football. And it was there my football fandom kicked into second gear.

The Manchester United treble was the sort of thing that you couldn’t stop talking about. Especially in Trinidad, because Dwight Yorke was our boy (well our boy from Tobago). I mean, joint top goal scorer in Europe that season, and skills to make your jaw drop. Fox was replaying that CL final every day, it seemed. Comebacks make for great viewing. And you never tired of the Yorke-Cole’s partnership. Solskjær, the Nevilles, Giggs, Schmeichel, Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Stam. In retrospect, that was perhaps the start of the “super-club”, i.e. a club with lots of money, lots of global fans and lots of players with magic feet. A club with a brand you could cash in at the bank. The big 4 in the EPL struck fear into the hearts of all opponents and played football to make you weep with joy. Bayern Munich was huge. Deportivo la Coruña were a decent side. Real Madrid was making magic with one star, el Capitán, Raul. And Hierro, Morientes, Helguerra were legendary. Not a Galáctico in sight. Iker Casillas was 17 and had to take the bus to training when he became a regular on the first team. We all had a crush on him. Luis Figo was like a Portugese Zizou, beats in slow motion.

The girls were divided over Inter or AC. Inter over AC, anyday, thank you very much. Roma and Juve were tricky opponents, and who didn’t like the Italian team? With their penchant for modelling and Gattuso’s crazy never-say-die/ I-will-damage-you mentality. It was golden. His shocked expressions when he got a card were Entertainment 101. Zidane and Trezeguet played for Juventus, so the Old Lady gained my fandom easily. Liverpool won me over with Steven Gerrard, a player I have immense respect for. Still a bit of a Kopite… Kuyt and Carragher are tireless. And I was huge on Nando ’til the move to ‘the other London club’.

Arsenal had The Dennis Bergkamp. And what an introduction it was to him in the 98-99 season. Freddie Ljungberg, the magician. Men like Vieira and Desailly. Tony Adams. A young Anelka. Back then AFC had JVC on the front of the shirt and played at Highbury. Ray Parlour. Seaman. Ashley Cole. AFC’s leading goalscorer (yes, I like to refer to Henry in this way). I don’t want to start talking about Arsenal much longer because that will inevitably lead to a (long) discussion of the 03-04 campaign. Much more epic than the treble; if you ever thought you admired the Gunners before, you fell head over heels that season. Pires, Wiltord, Reyes, Sol Campbell, Keown, K. Toure. Lehmann. Lehmann… what a character! They were amazing enough to get their own name: The Invincibles. Absolutely nothing like the style of play we saw that year. (Funnily enough, that season we got both van P and Cesc… go figure.)

Awesome doesn't even begin to describe =)

Nowadays, football is different from those first days for me. We’re firmly in the era of the “superclub” or as Wenger calls it, “financial doping.” Football is big business and a useful prop in the world of politricks. (Just look at the suits inextricably linked to AC Milan and Galatasaray.) Goalkeeper’s shirts no longer have a ton of little random shapes splashed across them in 6 or more random colours. The shorts have gotten longer (thank God). Becks doesn’t have platinum blonde locks in a new style every week. Freddie’s is no longer that beautiful red. Oliver Kahn isn’t dropping our jaws by stopping sure goals. You can stalk your favourite players on Twitter. Correction… Follow them on Twitter 🙂 .

But the things that really matter have stayed the same. A free kick is still like a penalty for Beckham. Derbies are still the highlight of the season; be it London, Madrid, Milan, Manchester, Merseyside or the Superclasico. You still jump off the couch when someone lobs the keeper on his line. The Dutchmen’s Total Football philosophy is still cranking out amazing players, though none ‘fly’ quite like The Dennis. The transfer season is like the most enjoyable soap opera ever, with players courting clubs and vice versa. Everyone feels a little dull in the international break (unless you’re Irish this year). You still feel nostalgic for Zidane when you see anyone score a volley after turning a couple hapless defenders in slow motion. Well, I do 🙂 And Balotelli’s picked up where Beckham left off. Always some players like Sergio Ramos and CRon who think their in GQ shoot. And the characters of the game keep things spicy… Tevez v Mancini, Balotelli v Mancini, Wenger v Mourinho, Sepp Blatter v Our Collective Common Sense etc.

To a large extent, I can still enjoy football like I did in those days before I had loyalties. These days my loyalties are with Real Madrid and Arsenal (in no particular order). And I will always love France, of course. That’s where it all started.


Arsène-isms… witty, sarcastic and wise

What do you do when you play for one of the best football clubs in the world, and your coach’s birthday rolls around? Why, you win matches in honor of him. And that’s exactly what Arsenal has been doing. Knock on wood, but I think we are approaching something akin to form.

What do you do when you are a supporter of one of the best football clubs in the world, and the coach’s birthday rolls around? You compile a list of your favorite Arsène Wenger quotes! If you’re an Gunner, we know you enjoy the post-match interviews with the coach almost as much as the match themselves. Especially when there is controversy afoot. Wit, sarcasm and nuggets of truth, all with a French accent.

il est 60 ans

Undoubtedly one of the wisest men in the game, here’s to Monsieur Wenger…

About Sir Alex Ferguson

Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home.” — In response to SAF’s jibe that his team weren’t deserving league and cup champions — “They are scrappers who rely on belligerence – we are the better team”, (May 2002)

I’m ready to take the blame for all the problems of English football if that is what he wants.” — Interview in reaction to comments made by Sir Alex Ferguson who highlighted the lack of homegrown players at Arsenal, (November 2007)

Any man who concentrates his energies totally on one passion is, by definition, someone who hurts the people close to him.” (February 2007)

About José Mourinho

He’s out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful. When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent.” — in the Ashley Cole transfer fiasco (November 2005)

Coining the term Financial Doping

They [Chelsea] are a financially doped club. They have enhancement of performances through financial resources which are unlimited. It puts pressure on the market that is not very healthy. They can go to Steven Gerrard or Rio Ferdinand and say ‘how much do you earn? We’ll give you twice as much’. I don’t know if there is anything we can do to stop it.” (May 2005)

About Nani

Everybody has a different opinion in this league and nobody is a prophet. I personally don’t know who will win the league. I managed 1,600 games so, if Nani knows, he must be 1,600 times more intelligent than I am.” — in response to Nani writing off Arsenal who were 2 pts from the top at the time (December 2010)

About everything else

You ask 100 people, 99 will say it’s very bad and the 100th will be Mark Hughes.” — after Hughes defended Adebayor’s stamp on van Persie (September 2009)

The penalty decision was Old Traffordish.” — I don’t know what game he was referring to, but you know exactly what he means (August 2009)

If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages.” — Arsenal 1-1 Middlesbrough (29 November 1998)

We do not buy superstars. We make them.” — (September 2007)

When you’re dealing with someone who only has a pair of underpants on, if you take his underpants off, he has nothing left – he’s naked. You’re better off trying to find him a pair of trousers to complement him rather than change him.” — interesting philosophy (February 2007)

If I give you a good wine, you will see how it tastes and after you ask where it comes from.” — his way of saying stop asking why he doesn’t buy lots of Brits (February 2007)

The way this season is shaping up, I bet there will many more Arsène-isms to come.


Dear Wojciech Szczęsny, Trust your wall.

Hello Arsenal fan, and a pleasant greeting to all naysayers.

It has been an interesting season start thus far. And by interesting I mean painful in the way a root canal without anaesthesia might be. Or maybe like iron filings in your eye. Put it in your list of experiences you want to scrub free from your mind.

We drew Newcastle (try not to think about the 4-all draw last season when you read that), took 2 in the Emirates from the Kops, and you know how that game in Old Trafford went last Sunday. If you’re like me, you’ve been trolling the blogs licking up every signing and rumor of signings.

The most sober reads on the Sunday’s match for me have been Arseblog’s stuff. Check out (I so envy Tim’s Italian travails) and What can I say about the visit to MU that these guys haven’t aptly said?

One. Wojciech Szczęsny, trust your wall. Please. I beg you. When your wall is covering the right side of the goal… you should concentrate on the left side. It’s simple really. This is indicative of a deeper issue within the team. The guys aren’t trusting each other to do their jobs. Which is understandable, because it’s like taking a bunch of engineers fresh out of Grad school and signing them up to pilot a rocket. You know they are smart and capable, but the question is would you trust a bunch of newbies with a $38 billion-dollar craft? The answer is no. Let’s say there were guys like Vieira and Pires in the wall. You know where Szczęsny would have been? On the left side. That’s going to be hard to inculcate.

Two. You know how people think of ManU and Sir Alex Fergurson as one and the same? It’s the same for me with AFC and Wenger. I cannot imagine another coach for the team. Nor am I interested in imagining that day. Yes, somewhere someone is saying this is ridiculous and other less- palatable words. But it feels like the current issue is more of the board liking to count 90 million in the bank more than Wenger has lost the plot. Granted, I think he lost the plot a bit. Let’s say, a couple chapters in the middle. Because last season (like any good skim reader) the guys looked out of sorts at times but occasionally deduced the storyline enough to grind out an end result (read: draw). On the other hand, the board’s penchant for money-counting means Wenger has to be a most excellent, creative writer for us to win anything, or look respectable. So I say, make the last few hours count, let’s see how the Swansea game goes, then talk about Wenger’s capabilities.

Three. My greatest grouse last season was not that we did not win BPL. Nor was it the Carling Final (although, honestly, this is a pretty close second). It was the fact that Chelsea finished above us. Chelsea, you know. Steups. That’s not going to cut it this season at all.

I’m glad we got this drubbing now, and not mid season. This way we can begin the “difficult” task of spending profits on players. And avoid the embarrassing slum that was the latter half of last season after the Carling fiasco. So as not to completely depress you Gooners out there, I offer you this throwback and suggest you get a tissue handy. Seeing Titi and Bergkamp in 03/04 may make you emotional 🙂

The Invincibles 03/04

Goals 03/04 – Loving someone’s comment on this one: “They should make an Arsenal Invincibles team on FIFA put them next to the Classic and World 11


Diary of an Arsenal Fan: In Wenger, we trust.

I’m an Arsenal fan. Yes, there have been no trophies since the FA Cup of 2005. Yes, if Cesc goes, we’re looking at another year of nothing. But that does not phase me.

Lately, Arsene Wenger is the kind of man that you either love or hate. If you troll the blogs, you know many fans are ready to bid him a brisk “adieu”. But I think this is not fair. Check out this article published on the official club site where he is quoted as saying “We are not here to make the money. We are here to keep our best players. We have managed the Club to be in a position to say ‘no’. For any money. We have that potential to do it because we are in a healthy financial situation.”

Also, see the latest Financial statement where Peter Hill-Wood says “I also want you to know that we are proud of the fact we continue to compete at the highest level while staying true to our principles. We continue to operate as a self-funding Club.” Bottom line: it’s all about the money. Even with unbelievably poor performances last season like the 4-4 against Newcastle (let us never speak of it again) and the debacle that was the Carling final (seriously, let us never speak of it again), and the fact only Van Persie was among the top 20 scorers for the season… we still managed 4th place.

So everyone thinks we need to bust the bank and throw money behind a bunch of stars. Ain’t gonna happen. And getting rid of Wenger won’t change that, since the upper management are probably even more cognizant of the fact Gunners are a “self-funding club”.

What’s the next step then? The illustrious winners, MU, have 3 persons in the top 20 scorers of the season and 3 persons on the top 20 assists lists; 5 different persons in all. We’ve got 3 persons in these lists, in third and fourth positions. MU gained 44 goals from the top 20 scorers and 37 top 20 assists. Arsenal had 18 and 25 respectively. Mind you, RvP didn’t play most of the season either, and I honestly believe if he did he would have been the league’s top scorer. All that to say, we need depth in the team. And we really need another striker of RvP’s calibre. Or even 80% of his calibre. Not being too picky at this point. However, the important thing is getting the best value for dollars, and players who can grow.

Another post to come on who’s coming and going, and who really should have been gone a couple seasons ago… yes, I’m glad Almunia is going.