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?
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!
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!
In a not so surprising development, Brazilian football starlet Neymar, who has been widely touted as the next big thing in football, has revealed that he has a short term memory loss condition. Neymar, 19, read out a pre-written statement at a press conference after he signed a new deal with Santos that would keep him at the club till 2014.
Today, I would like to reveal to the whole world that I suffer from a short term memory loss condition. I have been having memory losses ever since the first European club became interested in me.
Neymar has been scouted by all the big names in European football over the past couple of years. During all that interest, Neymar has repeatedly heated up discussion and gossip among the transfer rumors by declaring his interest to play for a particular club. The only problem was that that particular club kept changing every few months.
Initially it was thought that Manchester City had secured first refusal over Neymar, but that did not materialize into anything. However, what it did do was to act as the trigger for his condition. After City’s apparent first refusal scenario, Neymar simply could not remember what he had said previously. He elaborated about this in the press conference:
Around the time Manchester City got first refusal over me, I got to know that European clubs were really interested in me. It was around that time that I began to have lapses in my memory. I could not recollect what I had said in the press conferences about my preferred club.
This appears to shed some much needed light over the continued changing of his ‘preferred club’ in the past couple of years.
In November 2010, Neymar had vividly declared his love for Italian giants Juventus:
The proposal that I like most is that from Juventus. They have great worldwide appeal. Inter have prestige. Ronaldo played there and he is one of my idols, but I prefer Juventus. I say this without problems – I’d willingly wear the Bianconeri jersey.
Such strong words got the transfer mill buzzing and all Juventini to fantasize about the possibility of seeing Neymar wear the Old Lady’s jersey.
However, in a few months’ time, Neymar appeared to be wanting to play for Chelsea:
Chelsea’s a great club. It’s a dream of every player to play at Chelsea. If one day it happens, I will be very happy to come
He once even got Arsenal fans excited when he said (about the Emirates Stadium),
…the stadium is great; the pitch is too. The [English] weather I don’t like all that much, but I could get used to it.
In his press conference after signing a new deal with Santos, Neymar said he does not recollect making any such statements.
I told you I do not remember anything! I might have said all that because I did not remember which club I was interested in. Sometimes I might have even forgotten which club I was playing for!
Neymar had also made many statements declaring his love for both Real Madrid AND Barcelona calling them the greatest football clubs ever. His move to Real Madrid appeared to be getting closer and even looked like a done deal with reports all over the world claiming that Real Madrid had signed him for 60 mil Euros.
On that news item, Neymar provided some clarifications in his press conference:
It appears that I might have agreed a deal in principle with Madrid last week. But then I totally forgot about it and seeing that I had no recollection of the agreement, Santos might have made me sign an extension in order for me to stay here. But honestly, I cannot remember any of it so it is very possible.
The betting world is going bonkers over which club Neymar is likely to declare his interest for next. The bookies believe he will go in a totally different direction and say that PSG is his new interest.
It has to be seen if and when Neymar joins any club at all or if Santos will continue to trick him to sign contract extensions.
Unable to end his 6 year trophy drought with Arsenal during the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, Arsene Wenger has mooted the idea of a 1-Team tournament exclusive only to Arsenal. Speaking to reporters just hours after his side were defeated to an Obefami Martins goal, Wenger said, “This is getting more and more difficult day by day. I have come to realize that if we are to give our fans what they deserve, then we have to think in different ways.”
Arsenal have not won a single trophy since the 2005 FA Cup, having come close on many occasions such as the 2006 UEFA Champions League final and having stayed in contention for the Premier League title during most of the seasons as well. The fact that Arsenal have not won the Premier League for a long time despite being title contenders most of the seasons have led some critics to brand Arsenal as “the perpetual title contenders.”
When a reporter asked the Arsenal manager about his thoughts on the comparison, Wenger said, “I know we have always been strong contenders for the Premier League- always. Whats so new about that? Didn’t you already know that?” When pointed out that the comparison was supposed to be treated as a mockery, he quickly responded, “Oh! Is that why Sir Alex Ferguson starts laughing every time I remind him that we are still in the title race? Next time I will be careful.”
On the very idea of the 1-Team tourney, Wenger sounded quite upbeat. “This has never been done in the history of the game! We are all very excited. Yes I know that we have just lost one more Cup final and that we should be feeling bad that we have failed yet again. But the mood in the dressing room has quickly changed! I just now informed the boys about this idea and it has gotten everyone on their feet and raring to go!”
When asked about the exact format of the game, Wenger responded, “Well we are yet to work out the exact format. But the way I see it, there will be players from only 1 team playing. We will probably play 22 players on the pitch, but all of them will be players from Arsenal. We will call 11 of those players to be from Arsenal and the other 11 players to be from Arsenal. So no matter who wins or loses, Arsenal will eventually emerge as Champions! And more importantly, we will end our 6- year trophy drought! Isn’t this a great idea?”
The Gunners manager was also showing some consideration for the fans who have had nothing to brag about for a long time now apart from their passing style of play. “I really feel sorry for the fans. They have put their faith in the club for so long now having got back nothing in return. I think it is time that we give them something back. And I think the 1-Team tournament will be the best way to go forward. I am sure the fans will love to see a new addition in our trophy collection.”
Arsene Wenger did not have to think hard when he was asked what the new tournament would be named as. “Its a no brainer really. We will be calling this tournament as The Gunners Trophy. This of course, is in reference to the fact that Arsenal will be the only team playing in the tournament! Isn’t that so creative and original?”
Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas seemed to share the enthusiasm. “I have been here in the club for so long and have worked so hard. So I would definitely like to have some kind of a winner’s medal with me. The Gunners Trophy would be ideal solution to that. I just do not know what it feels like to be lifting a trophy with my hands. I really hope this idea goes through…and I hope that it happens for more than just that.”
When pressed what he meant by ‘for more than just that’, Fabregas revealed, “Well, think about it. The main reason Arsene Wenger is holding on to me is because he believes that I can win him trophies. Now if I help Arsenal win The Gunners Trophy, then I can convince him that my work here is done. And then he can make a lot of money by selling me to Barcelona. In fact, he will make a lot more money than winning any of the other tournaments! Isn’t that ironic?!!?”
Samir Nasri, the rising star in Arsenal, chose to look at it in a slightly different way. “It will be a very valuable experience for the young boys in here without any experience of big games.” He stopped for a while to think about what he had just said. Then he continued, “Oh wait. We are all young ones here without any big game experience. Anyway, like I was saying, this trophy will give us that necessary experience and will help us mature as players with big game experience.”
On the other hand, Sir Alex Ferguson was not at all amused when informed about this in a press conference. “What nonsense is this? Manchester United is the greatest club in the world. We are the only team that should be supported in England simply because we have a rich history and we win trophies!” When reminded of the issue at hand, he then composed himself and responded, “How can a team be crowned tournament winners if there are no other teams playing in there? Here in Manchester United, we believe only in winning trophies. Trophies aren’t everything to us. They are the only thing. We work so hard to win trophies. Thats why our fans are rightly called Glory Hunters. But the only difference is that we try to win trophies in which other teams also participate.”
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti had a different view. “It is actually not a bad idea. Come to think of it, if we can implement that same idea here in Chelsea, no manager will ever get fired! I mean, all Abramovic ever cares about are trophies. If we can have our own 1-Team tournament, then we can at least make sure that we land some trophy every year. At least my job will be safe.” Then he proceeded to call his agent and asked him to begin negotiations over a new deal saying that he will definitely be winning some trophies this year.
Shebby Singh, the expert on all matters concerning football and being smug (both at the same time that is), seemed to have some very strong opinions about this idea. Speaking to John Dykes and dressed in a suit which appeared to be part of his anatomy, he said, “John I think this is a very good and a very clever idea from Arsene Wenger. It is bound to be successful on so many fronts. Firstly, it will increase the confidence of the Arsenal players who do not know what it means to win something. Secondly, this will further help in the team gaining more big game experience which will in turn help in them performing better in the Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup where every game is a big game. Thirdly, this idea need not necessarily be restricted to just Arsenal. A lot of other teams can give it a try too.”
“Also John, the manager is really brilliant. He thinks so far ahead for the club. First he invests in youth and saves a lot of money that way while making sure that he has a good team for the future as well. Now this idea of his makes his team gain plenty of big game experience so that they go on to win other tournaments as well.” he continued, not realizing that he had just repeated his earlier point.
When John Dykes asked another guest on the talk show if he found anything negative about the idea, Shebby Singh interrupted, “Yes John. Like everything in this world, even this has a good and a bad part. You see Arsenal can finally begin to win trophies. I mean, Arsene Wenger may even decide to keep 2 or more The Gunners Trophy in a calendar year and Arsenal will win all of them. Even though the club might become more successful trophy-wise, it is extremely important that they do not become complacent. If they do, they will just become engrossed in that trophy and neglect all the other ones.”
The Arsenal fans are extremely excited about the prospect of finally getting to brag about some silverware after a long time. One enthusiastic North Londoner said, “This is the best news I have had in a long time mate! Now I can finally look forward to Arsenal winning a trophy BECAUSE they play awesome passing football! Take that up your asses all you other-clubs-winning-trophies-by-playing-boring-football! Now when can I buy the tickets?”
It remains to be seen if this idea actually transpires into reality. The FA have been informed about the plans and further developments are awaited. If approved, this could potentially create a revolution in the world of football.
PS: My previous posts on football fake news and Arsenal can be found here.
First of all, let me first fully clarify that I am NOT an Arsenal fan. In fact, I am a very passionate Chelsea supporter (right from the pre-Abromovich era if you are concerned). Now before you go all “Rediff-Comment”-ish over me and begin to declare me guilty of sacrilege, I first suggest you actually READ the rest of the post and THEN form whatever opinion you want. The objective of this post is not to be judgmental or pass comments on the Arsenal fan or the team or on Arsene Wenger. Instead, I aim to go into the typical Arsenal fan’s mind and see WHAT it is about the team that drives them to support it the way they do. And also, as the title suggests, I want to know when, if ever, the Arsenal fan experiences the Tipping Point. So Read on.
Of the many Arsenal fans I have come across over the past many years, most of them belong to one predominant kind. And that is the kind that I am going to be exploring in this post. And again, before you get all short tempered over me, let me assure you that I totally respect each fan’s choice for supporting whichever team they want to. I mean seriously, what fun would it be if everybody supported only the team that you support? But I digress.
So why do Arsenal fans support the club the way they do? But before that, I believe the question to be asked is what is it that drives an Arsenal fan to continuously support the team in spite of its inability to land silverware? The answer to this is a combination of many factors-the first of which is the brand of football they play. And I have absolutely no qualms in admitting that they play the most free flowing passing football among almost all of the Premier League teams (and perhaps next only to Barcelona in Europe). It is always a delight to watch a game of football being played with such fluid like motion and ease. Maybe there is a pass too many at the end of it, but lets not go into that. Now couple this brand of football with perhaps the most vibrant and productive youth policies in all of Premier League. And again, I do not contest it here. The Gunners’ youth policy has been in place for as long as I can remember and it has almost always generated players to watch out for. Add to this picture a man like Arsene Wenger- someone who generates some minimum respect among any football fan whether they like to admit or not. He is someone who has never lost his faith in the policies he has helped put in place. There is something about this man that makes people stop and listen to what he has to say. And my respect for him got cemented when I saw him in an interview with John Dykes. In response to what it is that drives him to keep going as a manager of a football team, this is what he said:
There are times every now and then when the team really comes together and clicks as a unit. Those moments when the team clicks and everything falls into place, the football that comes out as a result is truly beautiful. And it is that joy that drives me to keep going no matter what.
I havent quoted him verbatim but that is what he effectively said. And the way he said it, you know for a fact he means it. And when you realize that, there is really no way you cannot respect this man. And consequently, when you have such a man as the manager of the club you support, your support can only get stronger.
The combination of the brand of football, the vibrant youth policy in place since ages and having a man like Arsene Wenger as the manager of your team will certainly drive any football enthusiast to WANT to support a team like Arsenal. But these factors only explain why anyone would WANT to support a team like Arsenal. It does not, however, explain the WAY the Arsenal fans support their club. And frankly speaking, it is not too hard to understand the reason for this as well.
You see, times are changing in the Premier League and in Europe in general. There is a lot more money involved nowadays than what it was a few years ago. Transfer deals worth $25 million are pretty common place now and you have a lot of clubs ready to pay a lot more for key players. And so in an environment in which more and more clubs are ready to pay for key players to make an impact on their team’s performances, Arsenal remains one of the very few teams which still have their policies centered around youth academies, low player wages and low budget transfers and at the same time keeping their faith in this system to produce the results on the pitch. It almost gives one the feeling of a “David vs Goliath” situation: with Arsenal at one end making a title challenge with very limited resources-young players and a coach showing full faith in them- and all other clubs mounting a title challenge with significantly larger resources, bloated transfer kitties and player wages at the other end. And in fact, for some Arsenal fans, this almost translates into a good vs evil battle.
In the end, it essentially gives a feeling that Arsenal is the last remaining hope for earning success through, what the Arsenal fan sees as, the fair way. And THIS, is what I believe gives the Arsenal fan his/her identity. And taking this a bit further, one can even say that the Arsenal fan desires to win and feel good about the win BECAUSE of the way the club is run-which I believe is totally fair and good as long as the Arsenal fan keeps this passion to himself and does not judge other fans on the basis of the way other clubs are run.
Make no mistake. It is not all sugar coated as I may have described. I have also met and interacted with quite a few Arsenal fans who mistake their arrogance for passion and believe that Arsenal is the only club worthy of support because of the way it is run and the kind of football that they play. And I sincerely despise this. (Of course it would be totally unfair of me if I didn’t say that every club has supporters like these judging other teams by their own parameters). The way the club is run and the kind of football they play is a good reason for supporting the club; but it cannot and should not be the ONLY reason for supporting a team of one’s choice. I am not going to stereotype the Arsenal fan that I have described in the paragraph as I know there are many more genuine fans around.
The Arsenal story is almost like a fairy tale. It is not at all difficult to imagine a movie being inspired by any success Arsenal might come up with in the near future. Think of it:
One football club having very low resources and trying to be self sufficient challenging for the title along with a horde of other teams with a lot more resources and big name players; players getting injured every now and then but then they keep fighting and keep in pace with the other clubs; they lose their momentum somewhere in the middle and noone gives them a chance of success; but the coach sticks to his players and they mount a late title challenge and eventually upsetting all big clubs to emerge victorious!!
Definitely makes for one heck of a movie surely! Everybody loves to root for the underdogs. The point I am trying to make in all of this is that the reason why an Arsenal fan supports his club and the explanation as to the WAY he supports it is a combination of the way the club is run, the manager and the type of football that they play. Which brings me to my next question:
HOW MUCH LONGER IS THE ARSENAL FAN READY TO WAIT FOR THEIR NEXT SILVERWARE?
It has been what 4-5 seasons since Arsenal won anything? Every season, the Arsenal fan hopes to see his team win some silverware thereby hoping to reinforce their faith and belief in their players and manager and to also validate their reason for supporting Arsenal. But as has been the case for a while, there has been no returns for their support. And the situation does not look extremely promising this season either. But perhaps an Arsenal fan may differ here and I wont enter into a debate there. Either way, the question to be asked here is how long before the young, “talented” players with “promising potential” come of age and begin to make the necessary impact? Or in other words, when are the youth policies, the system, the very WAY the club is run, begin to pay dividends? Continued failure of the present system and crop of players to bring in silverware will no doubt come under criticism from the fans themselves. But I am not interested in the criticism. What I am interested in is something even more fundamental. Which brings me to what I have mentioned in the title of the post (finally!).
If the club continues to bring in no trophies, how much longer is the Arsenal fan going to wait till he calls for a change in the very way the club is run? How many more trophy less seasons is it going to take for the Arsenal fan to call for big name signings or proven players? How many seasons with no silverware is it going to take for the Arsenal fan to call for replacing Arsene Wenger? Or in other words:
What is the Arsenal fan’s TIPPING POINT?
Will the hope of the present players gaining more experience every season prove sufficient to keep supporting the club for the same reason they have been doing so far? Will almost-winning-the-title feeling prove enough to continue to support it forever? Even if star players who have been brought up in the club leave (Cesc for example), will the Arsenal fan continue to have faith in the system? Star players leave, new “talents” are spotted and are played without resulting in any silverware, they gain more experience and become good, and are bought by some high profile club, Arsenal then begins to look for new “talents” and the vicious cycle begins all over again.
So you see, what I am interested is right at the root of the Arsenal fan’s reason and pride for supporting his club. What I have written here can and should not be looked at as criticism. This is more of an enquiry and curiosity into the psyche of the Arsenal fan. I have not made any judgment or passed any unwarranted comments here.
And so if you still find the strong urge to post profane “Chelsea supporters have no right to say anything about Arsenal” type comments, consider yourself to be the lowest form of the football fan. Make no mistake. I will allow those comments! After all, if thats going to start a thread, my blog only gains in popularity!