Category Archives: Football
Yesterday I watched with great satisfaction Chelsea getting the better of Arsenal (well, duh!) early in the morning. That pretty much made my day and my weekend. The match was not without incident. Arsene Wenger openly pushed Mourinho in the latter’s technical area following a Gary Cahill tackle on Alexis Sanchez. I am not as interested in why Wenger pushed Mourinho or what exactly transpired there. What drew my attention earlier today is how fans from the two teams reacted to the news that Arsene Wenger wouldn’t be charged by the FA. For this, I looked at the SB Nation blogs for both the teams. (Yes, I follow the Arsenal and Man Utd SB Nation blogs in addition to Chelsea’s).
If you are not aware, SB Nation is a very well organized website with separate blogs for each sports team across different sports and geographies. The content is generally admirable and there are usually few posts every day on each blog, so this way you will always have something to read about your team. As a fan, this is invaluable as it gives a sense of being part of a fan community from all over the world. You should definitely check it out. But I digress.
So following the FA’s announcement today, We Ain’t Got No History, SB Nation’s Chelsea Blog ran a post that pretty much summed up my feelings. Just the hypocrisy of the FA when it comes to punishing Mourinho (or Pardew for that matter) over other managers is something that never seems to go away. I can possibly write an entire post on that but I won’t. For the most part, WAGNH’s post covers it – with a generous dose of sarcasm and an underlying frustration. Here is a quote from there:
“Point B” was of course on the pitch, where managers aren’t allowed, technically, but let’s not worry too much about technicalities. It’s not like they matter anyway.
Here’s a thought exercise. Say we reverse the roles, and it’s Jose Mourinho (or, say, Alan Pardew) who puts both hands on Wenger’s chest and shoves him (however meekly), just how many games do you think he would’ve gotten here? Three? Four? Ten? Perhaps with a public flogging or two?
Mind you, the Arsenal manager received a fine and a one-match ban for a “sarcastic pat on the back” of the fourth official in 2010. It’s good to know that the FA considers a light tap on the back a far harsher offense than physically confronting the opposing manager in his own technical area.
The tone and the text is self explanatory. Chelsea fans have seen Mourinho being fined and/or banned for far less by the FA. And watching Wenger go without as much as a warning obviously bothers us. But, whatever. Chelsea still won and Arsene Wenger still hasn’t won the only contest against Mourinho that actually matters – the one on the pitch. I was ready to cease my interest in this incident and get on with my work. But then…..
In comes The Short Fuse! SB Nation’s Arsenal blog. Ah! The Arsenal fans must be extremely relieved that their manager didn’t get any further punishment, right? Perhaps they realized that a manager just going out of his technical area itself constitutes a violation of the game’s rules? Nevermind actually pushing the other manager in the latter’s technical area! Surely they know that a manager is not allowed on the pitch itself? Obviously only the medical team is allowed on the pitch in case of injury, right?
Well, Fuck all that! Here is what The Short Fuse had to say (Bold emphasis added by me):
Both managers have admitted, in their own words, that it was a heated match. Mourinho stated, accurately, that he’s been guilty of doing “many wrong things in football”, with Wenger confirming in his post-match press conference that Mourinho was guilty yet again in the sport by preventing him from attending to his fallen player, in this case Alexis Sanchez, after being viciously assaulted by Gary Cahill.
After agreeing with Mourinho in that he was wrong, while concluding that Wenger – who’s only got the best interests and concern for his player – was acting in good faith and acted only after being unjustly provoked, the FA made the correct and honest decision today.
I don’t even know where to start. Read the text slowly paying attention to each and every word or phrase. Look at the choice of words used here: ‘fallen player’, ‘viciously assaulted’, ‘Wenger confirming’ that ‘Mourinho was guilty yet again’, ‘being unjustly provoked’?????? Really??
Just to clarify, here is Mourinho’s full quote (You should really read all the quotes here):
But to be fair, I do so many wrong things in football, sometimes you lose emotions but not this time. This time I was just in my technical area and it was not my problem. Story over.
Ah! Nothing makes a quote fit your own narrative more than just picking pieces of it that you like! In addition to the quote manipulation, the choice of words used in the post reeks of complete and unapologetic bias. Apparently Mourinho was at fault because Wenger just confirmed it. Yes, that is all you need. Wenger confirmed that Mourinho was at fault. Case closed. Let’s all go home, eh? And while we are on the way, let’s also give Mourinho a 3 match ban OK?
(On a side note, this is exactly the kind of quotes I expect to hear on Fox News. Complete and unapologetic bias).
Now I can definitely understand the agitated state of mind of the Arsenal fan following yet another loss to Chelsea (and Mourinho). I can also understand the frustration and helplessness of supporting a constantly under achieving team. I can almost feel the outrage in the mind of the guy who wrote that Arsenal post. And it is something I have felt myself many many times over in the past decade or so that I have supported Chelsea. (God knows what all I wanted to do to referee Tom Overbo after the Chelsea – Barcelona semi-final from 2009). So yes I understand the outrage. But to blatantly portray a situation in a favorable light to your fellow fans while painting the other team as evil by twisting quotes and facts (especially like the above) shows something far more fundamental in a sports fan’s psyche. It shows the basic human condition of the need to rationalize by choosing to believe biased points of view.
Sports gives rise to many such situations at an extraordinary frequency – irrespective of whom you support. Add to this all the passion and rivalries that are part of any sport and you have a recipe for extreme mood swings on a weekly basis at the very least! And when the human mind has to cope with these mood swings, it just turns to the ever present tools of rationalization, confirmation bias and subjective validation to make itself feel better. These tools manifest themselves in things such as online arguments, finding fault with the referee, conspiracy theories, declaring that the other team ‘just didn’t deserve to win’, finding a scapegoat, calling for someone’s head, manipulating and presenting quotes and facts that fit our narrative, collective commiseration, etc. The list really is pretty long.
So when we have situations where we are extremely frustrated – like your sports team losing to a hated rival – our minds automatically look for how we can rationalize and justify the loss. Because if we can indeed justify it, then we get a sense of satisfaction from ‘knowing’ that there was something out of our team’s control that cost the result. This does not make us feel happy but it definitely helps in dealing with the pain. (Trust me I have been there many times).
And this is what The Short Fuse has done. The writer has clearly succumbed to the mind’s need to rationalize. His mind is essentially telling him: “Fuck objectivity! I just need to feel good right now!” And THAT, is a celebration of the human condition. The resulting piece only shows to what extent he must have been feeling that outrage and frustration.
The interesting thing about this is that it is not restricted to just sports. The same feelings of outrage, frustration and ultimately rationalization/justification also prevail strongly in all things that we hold sacred. These include topics such as religion, gun control, politics etc. The more passionate you get about something and hold it sacred, the less objective you tend to get in that topic. It is just the way the mind works.
Isn’t it indeed a fascinating world we live in – where we can put sports, religion and gun control in the same box?
With the start of the soccer world cup, the small fraction of the American population who are even remotely aware of the sport’s existence, appear to be showing a passing interest in the proceedings. Most of them have decided to become soccer fans and to actually give a shit about the sport for the exact duration of Team USA matches.
Sport bars across the country have subscribed to the Team USA World Cup Special on their respective Cable TV providers. The special package allows the bars to show the broadcast of Team USA matches only. The broadcast starts exactly at kick-off and ends exactly at the final whistle. The advertisement for that special package explained that the time between kickoff and final whistle in Team USA matches is pretty much the exact duration when any American would even give a shit about the sport. It also said that it would cover the final celebrations only if USA won the World cup.
“Apparently this is something big. I think USA is playing. So I guess I will watch our matches,” said Tim, who learnt about the existence of this sport last year when his European college roommate was playing FIFA on his computer. When asked about other countries’ matches, he replied, “Oh I was not aware that there were other teams playing in this tournament. Maybe I will read up on the teams and the results online after the World cup.”
There appears to be no shortage of support for Team USA. There were reports that people who ‘would rather watch reruns of College football from 10 years ago’ were also supporting the USMNT.
“Go Team USA! We are the best! Wait…does it mean I have to actually watch this match? What sport is this? Why is this called football? Why is he playing the ball with his foot all the time?” wondered Bob, a truck driver from Wisconsin.
But what would happen if USA were to win the World Cup? To this, Pete, a NY Yankees fan replied, “First of all I do not understand this tournament. If this is a World Cup, why do they have different countries playing each other? Is this the Olympics? Why can’t they just have a bunch of city based teams in a country play other city teams in their own country and the winners crown themselves World Champions? That’s the way it is in the US of A! This World Cup is just a waste of time.”
I am not talking about ‘winning mentality’ or ‘winning tactics’ or ‘hard work’ or ‘discipline’ or ‘sacrifice for the team’ or ‘work ethics’. I am simply asking what makes a winning football team? More specifically put, I am asking what makes aconsistently winning team? What was so special about Johan Cryuff’s ‘Dream Team’, Real Madrid’s ‘Second Galacticos’, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team, the current Bayern Munich team, AC Milan in the mid 2000’s, Spain’s impressive run of 3 major international titles or Manchester United’s hugely successful team in the mid to late 2000’s?
All those above mentioned examples were teams that won or are winning titles in a specific period of time – usually between 3 and 5 years. During these years, the team wins the domestic leagues and cups and reaches the finals or semi finals of the Champions League almost always, and winning it at least once. If a team is able to do this for 3-5 years, then it can be considered a successful team by any standards. The teams mentioned in the list above have all done it. So, the question is if there is a pattern here at all. If so, then whatdoes it take to build such a consistently winning team?
The answer to the first question is ‘Yes.’
Every football player goes through a normal distribution curve (bell shaped curve) when his performance is plotted against time. (I am not going to take into account uncertainties such as injuries, fallouts with managers, attitude problems, etc.) The peak of a player’s career lasts for a certain period of time. Here the ‘peak’ should not be construed as the absolute pinnacle in a player’s career. Instead it should be looked at as the period during which a player has been the most productive as compared to the rest of his career. How high the peak goes is largely left to the player and his inherent talent, guidance and work ethic. Its timing and how long the peak lasts for is usually a function of the player’s position. For strikers, the peak period usually lasts between the ages of 25 and 31. For attacking midfielders, that range holds true as well with perhaps a couple of years thrown in there to widen that range in some cases. Central midfielders and defenders have the largest peak period with a generally observed age range of 23 to 32. Needless to say, an argument can be made that within that large range, a central midfielder or defender has an even higher peak period generally found between the ages of 26 and 31. Goalkeepers on the other hand can last forever. You can really take any example: Buffon, Van der Saar, Valdes, Howard, etc.
There are of course exceptions with early bloomers and some exceptional talents. Pep Guardiola (player), Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Wayne Rooney, are good examples for early bloomers and exceptional talents. You only need to look at Paul Scholes, Andrea Pirlo or Claude Makelele for examples of players with exceptional talent who were/are practically still playing in their prime even past the age of 33 or so.
So if a striker is playing during his peak period and banging in goals regularly, what the manager wants is a set of attacking mid-fielders who are also playing in their peak period feeding him the ball and creating chances. Behind them, he wants the central mid-fielders also playing at their peak, holding up play, dictating the pace and distributing the balls as needed. And finally behind them, he wants the defenders and the goal keeper to also be playing at their peaks.
Now imagine if the manager gets his wish. Imagine a team that has been playing with the same set of players for 2-3 years and all the players have started or just about to start their peak periods in their careers. Imagine all the players in the team have been playing a single style of football under one single manager who has created a specific role for each player to play in the team. Imagine this manager stays on for a few more years. And now, finally, imagine this team playing under these set of circumstances for the next 3-5 years.
What do you think is going to happen?
Now it becomes obvious. Every single team I mentioned at the beginning went through such a phase that resulted – not just coincided – in their most successful periods – winning consistently and amassing trophies all the while. Maybe there was one or two factors missing such as a constant manager. But for the most part, a consistently winning team essentially consists of a set of players – most, if not all, of whom are playing at their peaks and have played with each other for a while.
This is the pattern that is there among all the successful ‘teams’ during their most illustrious periods. In the next post, I will be discussing the current situation with respect to most of the big clubs and what is happening with them as it concerns the ‘peak period production’ of their players.
And as far as this year’s World Cup goes, there is mostly one team (and perhaps two) that is playing in such a set of circumstances and it is also the team I would bet on to win the tournament.
It starts with a ‘G’.
Saying that he was bored to death after watching the Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea match, local football fan decided that he wants all teams to play attacking football all the time. He said that his decision was largely influenced by how Chelsea ‘parked the bus’ for the entire game and didn’t let Atletico Madrid score a single goal, thereby gaining a very valuable draw in the away leg of the Champions League Semi Final.
“I cannot imagine how bad the game was. It was like watching paint dry. Chelsea just parked the bus and did not let Atleti to create any clear cut chances! They just could not breach Chelsea’s defense! That is just simply unacceptable from Chelsea! They should not be allowed to do that!” he said while expressing outrage about the scoreless draw.
The football fan now wants all teams to be required to play attacking football because “that is what is most entertaining and creates a lot of goals!”.
“It is not right to play a defensive game even if the team is playing away from home. Always attack attack attack!”
The self proclaimed Bayern Munich fan then went on to give examples of clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich who generally have a lot of possession and are always shown to be attacking the ball. “I was always supporting Barcelona. They were my passion. But then after last season’s semi final when they lost 8-0 on aggregate to Bayern Munich, I just started getting attracted to Bayern somehow. Now I just support Bayern. They are the best team in the world because they keep playing attacking football all the time! It is real great to watch them.” Digressing from the topic a bit, he then went on to criticize how fans who previously supported Chelsea changed their allegiance to Man City after City started spending and winning more titles.
When asked to elaborate about why all teams should play the same style of football, he said “I mean, who wants to watch teams with different styles of football and hailing from different football cultures – aerially dominating, long ball tactics, physical game play, counter attacking tactics, extremely defensive formations stifling the opponent’s attack, parking the bus – pitted against each other? Really, who wants to watch those styles of play going up against each other? All I want to see is two possession based teams who pass the ball a lot and create opportunities from through balls or cut-ins. Everything else is just boring!”
He went a step further and said that the players should not feel proud if they win by playing any other style of football and that if a free-passing team such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona loses, they should always feel proud of sticking to their brand of football. “Take the Barcelona – Chelsea semi final 2nd leg at the Nou Camp in 2012. I am sure that at the end of the day, all Barcelona players and fans were celebrating with pride how they never abandoned their philosophy and played with it right to the end of them getting knocked out! Never mind the fact that with practically 100% possession in the second half, Barcelona were able to generate only ONE meaningful shot on target with those tactics. I am just proud that they kept maintaining possession and passing the ball around aimlessly while Chelsea did not give them even an inch of space for a through ball. Chelsea do not deserve any credit for their performance that day at all – even if it was with ten men”.
Among recent games, he pointed to the way Arsenal lost 6-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. “Hats off to Arsenal for not at all changing any of their tactics or style of football while playing away against a top counter attacking team in all of Europe! Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit for sticking with his attacking free flowing possession based football away from home against Chelsea. The final score line doesn’t matter at all! The important thing is that Arsenal did not stop playing their brand of football right to the end. I am sure that all Arsenal players and fans were extremely proud about that and celebrated like they won a trophy or something!”
In the end, the fan said that tactics do not mean anything if it does not involve free flowing attacking football. “The only tactics that makes a game good to watch are those that get employed in a possession based attacking game. Everything else is just simply unacceptable. Shame on all the teams who employ other tactics to beat possession based attack minded teams! If you want to beat them, beat them with free passing tiki-taka football which is very impressive to watch. Otherwise, just don’t play and bore us with defensive displays stifling even the best attacking teams in Europe! That is just unacceptable!”
Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:
There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?
The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.
When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.
But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.
United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.
All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.
And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.
All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.
You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.
I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.
If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.
In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..
…well you get it.
No. Fernando Torres’ woes in front of goal are not going to be attributed to him appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated – and I don’t even think he has made it to the cover at all. This is about something more fundamental.
The Sports Illustrated cover jinx is an urban legend that states that individuals or teams who appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine will subsequently be jinxed (experience bad luck). A star athlete makes it to the cover of the magazine after having a remarkable season or a particularly outstanding performance. Following his appearance on the cover, his performances suddenly see a dip or his very next performance (after the outstanding one) turns out to be a really bad one. There are dozens of instances that corroborate this jinx, and there will no doubt continue to be many more in the future. And as much as this is a clear cut case of confirmation bias, I will argue later in the post that there is another fundamental principle underlying this urban legend.
Now let us look at Chelsea FC. For anybody who knows me even remotely, I am a well established Chelsea supporter – (you know that team in the Premier League that plays football with at least 2 different managers every year. The same team that went on to win the Champions League last season only to get knocked out in the group stage this season. Yeah, that one).
Being a Chelsea fan for close to a decade now, I have seen many many transformations in the team – thanks largely to a bankrolling AND trigger happy owner. I have seen many successful years and many unsuccessful years. However, the past couple of seasons have been particularly frustrating and energy sapping for any Chelsea fan. (Yes, we did win the Champions League last season, but it could have as well gone all wrong so easily). And the biggest factor in all of that has been Chelsea’s inability to field a striker who can score goals.
We all know the story. Fernando Torres comes in after a few scintillating seasons with Liverpool and for a hefty transfer fee. Didier Drogba, a fan favorite, is approaching his twilight years and will make way for Torres in the front line. It all looked good on paper. And then reality sunk in. Torres barely scored. His record of goal scoring was so pathetic that Emile Heskey began to sound like a better option. And this continues to this day – even after the departure of Drogba and with the infusion of creative midfielders like Hazard and Oscar.
But before we pass around judgments, let us take a step back here and go over recent Chelsea transfer history – specifically on the strikers. Chelsea has been widely accused of being the club that buys world class center forwards for big money, only to make them mediocre players as soon as they started playing for their new club. Even a hardcore Chelsea fan like me cannot deny the dip in performances of the TWO actual instances – Torres and Shevchenko. However, upon closer look, one sees a more fundamental principle at work here.
Torres and Shevchenko were world class strikers before they came to Chelsea, after which they suffered a terrible dip in form and are/were never likely to regain the top form that they displayed at their previous clubs. But ‘joining Chelsea’ was not the reason why their form dipped. The reason Chelsea even purchased them was because the club had a reputation of spending big money on players who were at the peak of their careers. Torres and Shevchenko definitely fit the bill then and their services were acquired for significant sums of money. But where does anyone go from the peak of their careers? There is only one way – and that is down. So when reaching the peak of one’s playing career is followed by going to Chelsea FC, the headlines are already written. A simple correlation is easily mistaken for causality.
Not only does this bring about an image of being a club that apparently spoils players’ talent and form, but more importantly, the team is now playing someone who is on the way down in his career. Add to this a change in the system of play, the psychological barrier that comes with the hefty fee and the intense media and fan scrutiny/expectations involved – and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. The player stops performing and the club’s results begin to go down in a spiral. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Because this is exactly what has happened with Chelsea’s striker position.
Torres was already on the decline at Liverpool. His performance at the World Cup before joining Chelsea was laughable and I personally rated him to be the worst player at the tournament. Spending 50 million in that situation was never a good idea. Didier Drogba, on the other hand, was brought to the club under none of the above circumstances. He was young (24-25), far from his peak, didn’t cost as much, and Chelsea built their playing system AROUND him. As a result, he gave his best years to the club and no wonder the club’s best years coincided with his career peak.
Demba Ba is not the solution. He is a temporary fix who is expected to be better than Torres. So what then is the permanent solution? Well, for one, it does not involve anyone whose name has either Falcao or Cavani in it – for acquiring the services of players like Cavani and Falcao in their current situation clearly falls under the same set of circumstances in which Torres was bought. (Yeah sure they may give a couple of good seasons but that is not the objective here is it?) And if Mr. Abromovich does not intend to repeat the same mistakes, he would be better off buying someone younger and who has not yet reached his peak.
Going back to the Sports Illustrated jinx, it is now quite easy to draw the analogy. A star athlete makes it to the cover BECAUSE he is at the peak of his career or at the least, a local maxima – and there is only way to go from there – down. Not only is this just a case of confirmation bias, it also serves as a textbook case of correlation being mistaken for causality.
This underlying principle deserves a closer and more detailed look – especially with regard to how football teams are built and its correlation with the success the team achieves. But that is a topic for another post – hopefully sometime soon.
At the unveiling of his statue in Old Trafford, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson bemoaned the changing scenery of English football. He was speaking to over 2500 fans – which included former players Eric Cantona, the Nevilles, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Edwin van der Sar, Peter Schmeichel and more – who had all gathered to pay tribute to the man who has arguably become the face of Man Utd over the past couple of decades.
In particular, he was visibly frustrated with the way Chelsea had taken over the mantle of the most hated club in England – a seat long held by Man Utd. He said:
It is particularly disappointing to see other teams take over a position that you have worked so hard to build for so many years. When I took over in 1986, it was never easy to become the most hated club in England. But I achieved and maintained that for more than a decade. But now you have teams like Chelsea and Manchester City – Chelsea in particular – who come out of nowhere without any club history and simply knock you off that coveted spot! This is unacceptable!
The manager spared no words to express his frustration over how the media was treating Chelsea in such a biased manner.
I can’t believe today’s media in this country. They have made it so easy for people to hate Chelsea. Anything Chelsea does, the entire media criticizes and paints them to be the bad guys of English football. That is unfair – especially as WE at United have worked so hard to be the bad guys of English football!
When asked to illustrate his strong claims against the media with specific instances, the United boss pointed to the way the media has portrayed and criticized the Chelsea owner Roman Abromovich over the years.
The media has portrayed him to be this trigger happy evil general who has insanely high expectations and yet, it conveniently overlooks all the money that he has pumped into the club. Compare that to our owner Malcolm Glazer whose sole objective is to use this club to make money for himself, and the media barely pays attention to that. Just the fact that the owner has not fired me should not shield him from media criticism.
He went on to talk about all the latest scandals and racism rows surrounding Chelsea and was particularly disappointed that he lacked players who could live up to the controversy that their Chelsea counterparts have courted in the past couple of years.
I have to admit they have more players capable of drawing controversy to themselves and the club than we do here. It’s a shame that we no longer have players like Cantona or Gary Neville who the media love to hate. Chelsea can boast of players like Terry and Cole who repeatedly get all the media’s criticism aimed at them and the club.
Even in this whole Clattenburg affair, there is so much vice and vitriol in the media against Chelsea, it is just completely unfair to us folks here at United! Think about it, the media has spewed forth so much venom over a club simply reporting a possible instance of racial abuse. Where is all this hate when referees give us undeserved penalties, or when they send off opposition players, or when they give me all the Fergie time I want? I mean, the referees practically play as our 12th player, and yet the media takes no note of it! This is outright biased and ridiculous!
The United manager also found time to point out how the media had reacted to Chelsea winning the Champions League. He compared that to how his team have been treated by the media during similar situations.
It is ridiculous to see the lengths the media has gone to criticize Chelsea winning the Champions League. Just because a team plays unattractive football and banks on a bit of luck on the way to winning the biggest prize in Europe, it should not make them subjects of criticism. I mean, here at United, we have been practically winning titles that way for more than 2 decades! Where is OUR fair share of hate and ridicule then?!?
Sir Alex Ferguson then spoke of his pride at having a statue of himself erected while he was still manager at the club. He claimed that he would remain the club’s manager longer than it would take for the statue to rust. Nobody bothered to argue his claim.
Before he concluded his talk, he brought the subject back to the media’s role and sought attention to the prevailing bias.
The media needs to take note of its unfair bias regarding all the hate being directed at football clubs. It is not acceptable that only one club gets all the attention when other clubs perhaps deserve it more.
This media bias will not stand, man!
In what could be the next biggest development in the history of football, ABSOLUT Vodka and UEFA have announced that the winners of the upcoming EURO ’12 and UEFA Champions League ’12-’13 tournaments will play ABSOLUT Football – a new brand of football that nobody has ever seen so far. This announcement was made on UEFA’s website and was confirmed by a spokesman of the Pernord Ricard group which owns the ABSOLUT brand.
UEFA’s official website carried a new posting outlining the rationale behind the new legislation:
After an executive committee meeting of UEFA, it has been decided that the winners of EURO ’12 and Champions League ’12-’13 will be based on the ability of teams to play the ABSOLUT brand of football. The objective behind this decision is to provide fans and spectators all across the world the opportunity to watch the most entertaining brand of football ever played.
The UEFA executives concluded that all teams must raise their games to include more entertainment aspects into it. And, as currently, the most entertaining and exciting brand of football is considered to be Total football – born in the Netherlands and currently played by the likes of FC Barcelona – it was decided that in order to be fair to all teams, even those playing total football had to raise their games.
However, after further investigation by this fearless reporter, new sh*t has come to light. It appears that the UEFA executives had a very controversial motive behind this decision.
Most of them were unhappy that Chelsea FC won the UEFA Champions League, for apparently deploying negative (read extremely effective) tactics to secure wins against the likes of FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munchen. Sources revealed that the members refused to consider the inability – of either Barcelona or Bayern Munich – to finish even 5% of all the chances that they created as a sign of the weaker team. This, as compared to Chelsea’s almost 100% finishing record, appears to have had no bearing on the executives.
One of the executives, who wished to remain anonymous justified the motive in the following way:
How can you have entertainment when all you are getting from Chelsea’s tactics is a scenario when one team is constantly on the verge of scoring the decisive goal and the other team is defending for its life – suffocating and frustrating the attacking team- only to provide the most dramatic finishes in the history of the game? That Barcelona game might have given people heart attacks. But then since Chelsea had deployed negative tactics, this simply cannot be considered entertaining, right?
In a related development, Websters dictionary publishers have agreed to use the above executive’s quote to explain the words ‘retard’ and ‘hypocrite’.
Johan Cruyff, one of the most vocal protesters of Chelsea’s tactics – and himself an ex-Barcelona player who was also involved in the development of Total football – had a few thoughts of his own:
What is the point in having all these different styles of football – from different leagues in different countries all across Europe – competing against each other in one tournament? Teams playing widely different tactics pitted against each other in a game of football is completely pointless! There simply cannot be any value in doing this! Everybody should try to play the same type of football – the type that is played at Ajax or Barcelona.
I don’t know how this ABSOLUT football will work but right now, the only way to win a tournament and deserve it is by playing total football. Every other style of play is inferior to Total football. Even if other styles of football aim to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses, or even if they culminate in the most exciting games ever played, those styles are still invalid and do not deserve to be rewarded!
This reporter initially suspected that Mr. Cruyff could have been stoned when he made the above quotes. Turns out, this is how Mr. Cruyff is.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Pernord Ricard group which owns the ABSOLUT brand shed more light on what this means to the company and also about how this is going to work.
ABSOLUT Vodka is proud to be associated with this new chapter in the history of football, where ABSOLUT Football makes Total football absolutely obsolete!
The methodology of playing ABSOLUT football, inevitably involves the consumption of copious amounts of ABSOLUT Vodka. Following this, the players take to the pitch and the game begins. However, once the game begins, this style of football will now require you to make use of the players of not only your own team, but also that of the opposition’s. The players will bounce the ball like a pin-ball machine and make it go towards goal.
We are absolutely confident that ABSOLUT football will provide the highest amount of entertainment in the game of football. Of course, the best way to enjoy a game of ABSOLUT football is to be absolutely drunk yourself with our Vodka! CHEERS!
When one begins to like and follow a particular sport, the first immediate, important and binding choice that he is forced to make is that of choosing a particular team to root for. Who you decide to root for, however, can and will go a long way in determining your mental state every weekend (and many mid-weeks) for the rest of your existence. Your expectations and aspirations will largely be a function of the team you decide to dedicate all your energy, passion and commitment to – week in week out – for the rest of your life. Not to forget how often you get to win the bragging rights or feel awesome watching THAT look on your friend’s face when his team loses (- very important)! Also to be kept in mind, is that there is strictly no jumping ship, and if you do jump ship, you will forever be treated as an outcast. So you see, making that one choice is perhaps as important , if not more, as choosing your life partner. Well, come to think of it, you can still change your life partner without being treated as an outcast! There is really little doubt that this one decision or choice really does go a long long way in dictating the level of happiness in your life.
When it comes to football (if you are in America, it is still football – the other game is Hand-Egg), the first tournament everyone talks about (and rightfully so) is the Barclays Premier League or the English Premier League – arguably the best league in the world, both in terms of quality of football AND the popularity. And when you first begin to watch the sport and realize you like it so much that you have begun to watch it week in and week out, you also understand that it is now time for you to pick a club to support. And one of the factors strongly influencing that choice is going to be – your friends circle.
Everyone likes to be accepted in their friends circle and nobody likes to be treated as the odd man out. And so, for the most part, any newcomer to the sport almost inevitably ends up choosing the team his friends have been supporting. This facilitates the newcomer to feel one among the crowd, allowing him to share the SAME feelings as the rest of his group – irrespective of whether the team wins or loses. And really, who doesn’t like to belong to a group with similar interests?
And when it comes to the BPL, there are really only so many teams you can support without subscribing to a higher risk of feeling crappy every weekend. As of today, those teams are Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and to some extent Tottenham. Any other team and, as pointed out, you run the risk of feeling depressed every other weekend for the rest of your life. So unless you live in England and near one of those mid-table clubs, or your great great grandfather did, it is highly likely that your friends support one of those few above mentioned clubs. And so will you.
Back in the day when I started watching football regularly (it was early 2003), I was surrounded by people who either supported Arsenal or Manchester United. At that time I tried to find out which club I would perhaps enjoy supporting. During my subsequent conversations with those fans, one thing became fairly clear.
There are many ‘reasons’ that are provided by passionate and over-enthusiastic football fans as to why one should support the club THEY do.
If you spoke to a Manchester United fan, you would learn that he supports the club for its ‘rich history’, great players, great culture of ‘winning trophies’ and also because they had the greatest manager in the world – Sir Alex Ferguson. He will also make sure to point out that United is the only valid club to support – again, for the same reasons – and that other clubs have no history whatsoever. And that this fact, for some reason that is never really mentioned, automatically makes ALL other clubs ‘unfit’ to support. And if you look around, you will find every Tom, Dick and Harry mouthing off self righteous praises in favor of United, completely convinced that all other fans are not supporting a ‘real’ club. Oh! And of course, you will also be subjected to that inevitable chant: “Glory Glory Man United!”
Now if you spoke to an Arsenal fan, you would be subjected to this inevitable lecture on how Arsenal plays the best, most entertaining, free flowing, passing football in the league. And that Arsenal is the only club that follows the sacred philosophy of investing and developing youngsters from their teenage and moulding them into world class stars. You would also be told about a particular Frenchman by name Arsene Wenger and his affinity to get young French teenagers into his squad. You might even get the impression that Arsenal is the proverbial underdog trying to make it big with limited resources. (And in all fairness, it is true to an extent). The Arsenal fan essentially tries to convince you that even though Arsenal does not have the ‘habit’ of winning trophies, it is still the ONLY club fit for supporting because of the way the club is run.
At the end of the day, you have two sets of fans, each supporting either United or Arsenal – and who strongly JUSTIFY why they do so. In all honesty, I haven’t met a single fan so far of either club who has not told me WHY he supports them. And perhaps THAT was the reason I never really developed a liking to either of them. I just could not wrap my head around the idea of having to justify my choice of team to support.
And so, back in early 2003, I never really liked either team, which meant I took turns deciding which team I hated more – United or Arsenal. (In fact, I clearly recall an event back in my Pre-University years (in 2003) when I was asked to participate in a class march which would feature a flag of our own design. And due to the fact that there were more United fans than Arsenal fans in my class, it was decided that the class flag would more or less resemble the Manchester United symbol. When I got to know about this, I simply refused to participate in the march – as a matter of general principle). But I digress.
Going back to 2003, there was this bunch of young lads just going about their business trying to finish as high as possible in the table. A spot in the Champions League was considered to be the target to aim at. And they calmly secured 4th place and eventually did make it to the UCL. These lads wore blue shirts and shorts and they had never heard of anyone by name Roman Abromovich. And neither had I. They just seemed happy playing their football and to have qualified for the Champions League. These young lads played for Chelsea FC and I was just happy supporting them.
When I was asked why I chose to support Chelsea, I realized I didn’t really have an answer. But then, in just a few months time, I would learn that the answer would be forced down upon me – whether it was true or not. And it probably had to do with a certain Russian going by the name of Abromovich who decided to spend a small fortune in building the club.
Sure, along with a billionaire bank rolling the club came good players, managers and even trophies. But the package also inevitably came with a branding. And the branding said that ALL Chelsea fans were ‘the new breed’ who were in existence only because they have a billionaire bank rolling the club’s finances. And then suddenly I was pushed into the tricky situation of having to JUSTIFY why that was NOT true!
Since then, life as a Chelsea fan has been fairly interesting. The Russian has not left and so hasn’t the branding. Sure Manchester City fans now seem to have taken over the spotlight – but I am still told that I am not supporting a ‘REAL club’! There have been a lot of ups and downs but an eventful ride nonetheless.
In my next post, I intend to write about how it has been since. All the arguments about which club is better – both online and offline- along with all the memorable and forgettable moments I had to go through and the subsequent not-so-amicable ‘conversations’ with fans of other clubs. And also more on the short term and long term consequences of the branding. All that in my next post.
Till then, KTBFFH!