Sunday, 17 February 2013

Arsene Wenger's One-Eyed Vision

......."we made more than six hundred passes in that game ( against Norwich ) and i watched it again twice, and they defended very well. We were not quick or sharp enough to create chances....... "


"We do not have a big gap between what our players earn at Arsenal. We are more a socialist model and vulnerable because of that. We have something that is defendable in front of every single player. We make exceptions, but the exceptions are maybe not as high as else where.


......" I couldn't see how we could lose the game because we had lots of the ball and they
         had one shot on goal but they defended well and it's the kind of game you can lose
         if you make a mistake at the back like we did".........

ARSENE WENGER - FEBRUARY 16TH,  2013.  ( after being knocked out of the FA Cup )

Those three quotes are a microcosm of Aresene Wenger's mentality as the coach of Arsenal Football Club, and the reasons behind it's lack of sporting success for eight years. It's not some kind of jinx, it's simply because the manager's raw instinct to win... that feeling of "my career here depends on winning a trophy this season "; that disconnection with the reality and aspirations of the fans ; that stout pursuit of an agenda that he has fostered, that he has gotten so mired in, so blind to, that he cannot fashion an exit strategy from..., is eroding his credibility. Arsene Wenger is lost as a football man. He now belongs in a wilderness of impractical theories and  self-absorbed in fantasies.  In this vain, his players are badly managed, and unfit for purpose..... figures of confusion, torn between their primal instinct, and how Arsene Wenger has programmed their minds to perform, hence their schizophrenic displays.

VISION : in 1996, Arsene Wenger inherited a winning squad, which he made even better, and went on to win more titles. He was influential in the move to a stadium of bigger capacity. The grand idea behind the move was to compete with Manchester United financially, and elbow them out of their sporting pole position. it made sense.  Old Trafford with gate takings from 70,000 fans, and Highbury with 38,000 was  depicted  as  a distortion of Arsenal's true potential. Man Utd could build a better squad of players than Arsenal because it had more cash to buy better players every year than Arsenal.  Arsene Wenger must be given credit for navigating the club through a period of austerity, while a new stadium was being built. He used his extensive surveillance network to bring in rough diamonds from Europe, Africa, and South America - Jeremy Aliadiere, Fabregas, Song, Emmanuel Eboue, Denilson,  for very cheap. He transformed the style of play, making the team technically affluent and flamboyant. To have masterminded such a delicate vision, and bringing it to fruition, amid a cash crisis was nothing short of amazing. It will be arguably his most admirable legacy. It got the Club loads of support from neutrals in recognition of it's noble cause. It takes courage to fashion out a business model that is healthy, sustainable, and taking practical steps to service the debt on a stadium.

ROAD BLOCK : Arsene Wenger's Baby was to get his team to play attractive,  technical football, and to give 60.000 thousand home fans entertainment and value for their money. He recognized ticket and hospitality costs at the Emirates stadium was about the highest in the land, but perhaps felt the fans would see it as a price worth the exchange for their pleasure. This is the point where the great man began to get it all wrong, and the drift away from reality. Football is a pleasure for fans only when their team win matches and titles. The writing was on the wall from the very first season at the Emirates. They thumped Liverpool 3-0, but struggled to break down teams that played on the counter attack with a resilient defensive shield. That trend has continued to this day. It's  been eight years  of a recurring pattern.... brilliant and incisive in one game, labouring to score in the next, permanently erratic. Titles remain elusive to teams that are void of consistency.

WHEREIN LIES THE FAULT ?  Sadly, you have lay it at the door step of the manager.  In my opinion far too entrenched in the club's financial side for the good of anyone. Wenger has taken his role as custodian of the Club's financial health to the detriment of his evolution as a coach.  Yes, he has brought in loads of cash from selling players for vastly inflated sums, but the consequence of that is the club has lost it's focus on trophies. The environment has become excessively commercial. Contracts and remuneration have overshadowed  proceedings. He has failed to galvanize the team to a winning ethos.
The synergy of player genre and style of play has resulted in untold malfunctions. Players are signed for the primary point of fitting in with the team's tactical structure. It is never about ambitions to help it win trophies, nor tapping the players experience at winning. Arsene Wenger puts style over substance, never generating a squad hell bent on winning. Too predominant is the idea of how to play the Arsenal way, failing to realize nothing has been achieved with this methods, and how upset the faithful are
Arsenal need to fashion a simple winning formula, that can provide consistency. This intricate, one pass too many makes their attacks  easy to deal with by the opposition. To compound matters, because the strategy involves pushing many men into attack, they are vulnerable behind,  and the manager let's this state of affairs' perennial existence. Even a novice could tell Arsenal's play lacks the right defensive organization.
Arsenal have become a club where too many players arrive for the purpose of their own development. It's the right place, there is stability with the manager, and youth being given a chance, then once that has been achieved , move on to win titles elsewhere.

ADJUST : Arsenal need to rediscover it's road map to titles. That has not been emphasized and worked towards with the gravitas required. The atmosphere must be imbued with a mentality to win, rather than for hollow plaudits for playing "good football". There is no doubt the details left to achieving formidable status are marginal. It's  a need to adjust the philosophy slightly, be smarter, the prestige of winning trophies complements the current project.... in fact it enhances it. There is no need for the club to be organized  on  wholly puritan values. Borussia Dortmund and Ajax have made success of the this laudable model.  The right balance is missing at Arsenal. Over to you Mr. Wenger.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Real Madrid shall Fall !

An iconic club, nine times European champions, a combustible, but ultra successful  trainer ; One of the best   forwards currently in their ranks, Spanish champions, and a team with no less than four, double European championship, and world cup winners in their first eleven. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, we are talking about the Great Real Madrid, and it's glittering personnel. If you overlook the grand introduction I have accorded them, we are talking about a club, a team, and a trainer in the middle of a crisis of some proportions.  Real Madrid are sixteen points behind Barcelona in La Liga; third in the table, even behind back waters, Atletico Madrid. Who is to blame ? take your peak.... Jose Mourinho who manages the team, the players, internal politics ????? more like the first two.

Real Madrid would weather storms, and continue to write successful chapters in it's history. The club as ever shall keep the worthy players, and rid itself of the unproductive ones. If Real Madrid fail to get past Manchester United in the 2012 / 2013 champions league last 16 tie, Jose Mourinho, their combustible coach would no doubt be the poster boy for their failure. A man who  plays high stakes always in his quest for success and trophies, or in confrontation of any sort. A man whose coaching fame was born after his swagger out of Old Traffford in 2004, when his Porto team downed United 3-2 on aggregate. He went on to win the champions league that year, and that triumph defined Jose Mourinho's standards.  He taunted his rivals about his levels of success. He brought a new definition to success..... it was personalized. Here we are, on the eve of Real Madrid's second round tie with the premiership leaders Man Utd, and Jose Mourinho's reign as Real Madrid's trainer hangs by a thread.... in the most vulnerable and  precarious of situations he has ever been professionally. This tie holds the key to the next chapter in Mourinho's coaching career. Another flawed genius ? all those lofty words he said " am the special one"......." i  am the only one "....... shall unravel before him with the out come of this tie. Truth or dare ? Only the coveted champions league trophy can save Mourinho's job, or at least  insulate him after the impending sack as manager at the Bernabeu. Isn't it ironic he needs the Champions League for redemption ? After winning La Liga last year, Real have gone into a tail spin, with their volatile coach feuding with his players, the spanish media, club officials, referees, and all. High stakes or siege syndrome ? motivation or implosion ? Mourinho has used these ploys as a means to an end, but diminishing returns have set-in. He is going to taste his own medicine. Decline, or the beginning of it is imminent.

No doubt this tie shall be a fascinating contest. The winner of it would need to master certain elements better. ADAPTABILITY :  winning will depend on which team settles best to the change in style from the regimen of playing domestically over the last two months.  DEFENDING : two teams with lethal marksmen in Ronaldo and Robin van persie. FIRST LEG ADVANTAGE :  the team to come out of the first leg with an advantage of any sort would go on to win the tie. I am backing United on all three indices . It started out as a strange season for them with a spate of injuries, musical chairs in the keeper's department, a suspect defense, and questions about van Persie being able to replicate his Arsenal goal scoring feat. Fergie and his team have consistently found solutions to these issues, and the team have performed to a consistent level in quality, and starting to gain the right sort of momentum for february - April. I believe United have the players to generate the sort of flexibility crucial to this tie. Robin van persie and Wayne Rooney hold the key for them. Rooney can do everything on the pitch, and is playing right now with sublime imagination. van Persie has that menacing look at the moment - a devil in the box, with an instinct to conjure a goal from an improbable situation

if United have consistently found solutions, Real Madrid are wallowing in the lack of them. One doubts their manager's psychological and motivational skills being able to get through to the players. Madrid's strongest point is not about style, but substance, and in particular scoring goals. They have lost too many times this season to be able to raise their game past United.  Jose Mourinho is a great tactician, but United are not as predictable as Barcelona ; at this point,  he is like an artist without a canvass to paint on.  Having said that, with Ronaldo the scoring sensation, and the duo of Mezut Ozil and Angel  Di Maria, Real have the sort of players to squeeze you in the tender areas. These three are key to Real taking this tie.

I repeat :  I fancy United all the way. They have the nuances that are vital to clinching this this two legged contest. It would be the end of Real's grand ambition of a tenth champions league success,  and an end to Morinho's contentious reign in Madrid. Who would have thought the champions league would prove to be his hamstring. What a crazy game !

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Promising for England, Worries for Brazil

England 2 Brazil 1. Wembley Stadium, on a Cold February 6th night, with 85,000 spectators proves the  pulling powers of these  two first tier soccer nations. With the World cup finals in Brazil only a year and a half away, this friendly game served as a bellwether for both nations' state of play.  Sometimes, friendly games offer misleading conclusions; generally the truth lies some where between promise, apathy, and worry.
England have not beaten Brazil for over two generations, and for those who have followed this fixture long enough, you'd know that has not occurred since the heydays  of Gary Lineker ( remember his goal scoring exploits for England  in that epoch ? ) ; and the season Liverpool last were Champions of England....

ENGLAND :  I am pleased Roy Hodgson chose his team and tactics primarily on current form. Opting for a 4-3-3 formation in  vogue with premiership teams currently. A three man attack with Walcott to the right, Welbeck to the left, and Rooney through the middle. This trio gave England's attack a cutting edge.  In midfield, Steven Gerrard moped-up, Tom Cleverly was busy, and Jack Wilshire stole the show as the furtherest of the three-man midfield, with some exciting play of skill, incision, and poise. On the whole, the midfield was balanced, and that was an enabling factor in getting especially Walcott into combat with the Brazilian defense-line, which suited the Arsenal Striker to dominate with his scorching velocity. Defensively, Glen Johnson,  Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, and Ashley Cole were efficient, and bar Cahill's error for Brazil's goal, left little or no space behind when the yellow shirts converged to contrive an equalizer.  The best thing for England is that it played within a conceived and sustainable frame work, and the players largely got it right on the night.  Yes, Jack Wilshire sparkled the most,  but it's fair to say this was  a good team performance, especially taking into account the absence of Jermaine Defoe, Daniel Sturridge, and Ashley Young. It was smart of Roy Hodgson not to water down this very important up-tick in standard of the team, by making too may substitutions, as was the irritating inclination of managers in the past.

WHERE TO GO : If it is widely acclaimed the performance and score line against Brazil was a qualified success, then perhaps it is an indication there is still a  long way to go. As stated earlier, friendlies sometimes can be a misrepresentation of reality. Jack Wilshere's  thrusts in midfield is adventurous and refreshing, but this style makes him very vulnerable to man-marking the more his talent unravels, which could potentially stymie the team. Just like Walcott is not going to be allowed to act fast and loose to the opposition when we get down to the business end of the spectrum.
There remains the uncompleted task qualifying for the world cup finals proper; then the "unknown unknowns ", injuries, form, and of course the reality that a year and half to the tournament is a pretty long time to be sure of anything. There is a stockpile of disappointment and wayward hope in the past surrounding England's fortunes. The public and the media must tread carefully henceforth.  No doubt the emerging generation - Raheem Sterling, Tom Cleverly, Jack Wilshere, Theo  Walcott,  Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, have arguably the potential for greater collective technical application than many of their predecessors could muster, but maybe it's best to take a different tact this time, like being muted, and let their football do the talking.

BRAZIL : There was some alarm and consternation at the performances of the team under the previous manager .  " Today is a historic day, Brazil needs to celebrate"....... Those were the words of legendary Brazil striker, and world cup winner Romario, when Mano Menezes was fired as coach in November 2012.  Not for the first time in history, the Brazilian public were not enamoured by the style of their team.  Mano Menezes tried unsuccessfully ( as many coaches in the past have found out ) to create a team whose attributes were not predominantly vintage Brazil  - flair and magic in it's character.  Menezes opted for the functional variant, and even though the team won over sixty percent of matches under his care, he had few friends. In came the man to have managed them to their last world cup victory - Phil Scolari, and he was greeted by defeat to England. Sincerely, I believe Brazil are not producing / do not possess the sort of talent to reflect the traditional values it's great sides  of the past embodied. Aside from Neymar, Oscar,  Lucas Moura, Thiago Silva ( who is injured) and the keeper Julio Caesar, the other players are not great. Danny Alves is in decline, Adriano is far less talented than Junior, Roberto Carlos, or  Leonardo, David Luis is erratic at best,  and the overrated striker Hulk is struggling for form at his club Zennit St Petersburg. Hulk's  international  goal scoring statistic of six goals in eighteen games is definitely less than you'd want ; the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Fabiano, and even Fred  (  all 30 +) are staging a come back.... that crystalizes the scarcity of exceptional talent in  Brazilian Soccer at the moment.
To be fair to Big Phil Scolari,  if there was to be a game of grace, it  had to be the England (his first ) one. It would have been one of assessment and analyses, then a plan going forward, more than anything else. They did not play badly in my opinion : their tactical formation was  a similar 4-3-3 to England's. Ronaldinho did not really serve Neymar and Oscar on the flanks.... Paulinho and Ramaires  did not get a grip in midfield either, meaning the scene could not be set for their famous  team-combination play. In truth, they mounted some decent, albeit desperate offensive play in the last ten minutes, but the issues with the team are glaring. First things first, their defense needs better quality personnel
I'll tell you what : Brazil last hosted the World Cup finals in 1950, and lost in the final 2-1 to Uruguay. The country was gripped by such fervour and anticipation of victory the attendance for the game at the Maracana stadium was 210.000 ( 172,000 ticket sales for the game ) ; after the loss, the all white kit the national team normally wore was changed permanently as a form of banishing the  hoodoo that loss evoked. Thirdly, sadly at least two fans committed suicide in the aftermath of that loss.  There is still  time to put it right, and Big Phill fits the bill. Spain are such  awesome champions at the moment, and if Brazil are going to wrestle away their crown in 2014, it will take more than passion, hysteria, or home advantage. More importantly, they need more talent, and fast.