Monday, 5 September 2011

Arsene Wenger: A hard look

Arsene Wenger seems to be running the wrong race! He is the best in the world at producing a profitable football club. Through a mix of smart expenditure and above average on-field results he has made Arsenal into a consistent profit maker. The unfortunate part for him is this is not something we judge football managers by- not only that, this is not even something we ought to judge football managers by. Results are what count the most.

What I care about as a die hard Arsenal fan is not value for money but about turning Arsenal into the best football team on the planet! Certainly when we were winning, it was good to point out how little we spent on our success, but without winning there is no argument. I do care that we play pretty football. I do care we have a nice stadium. I do care that we have made it to the Champions League a gazillion times in a row. But most of all I care to believe that Arsenal is capable of beating any team in the world- of at least winning a few trophies. The difference between the last 6 years (despite not winning trophies) and this year is that I don't honestly believe we can be the best in England, let alone being the best in the world. That is a step back.

 Let me lay my cards on the table. I have been a great supporter of Wenger and have extolled his virtues before (here). Arsene knows, we used to say and I firmly believed it. When he was under pressure in the middle of last season, after five seasons without a trophy, he said judge me after the season is over. So I did. We were two or three players and a lot of experience short of the best.

So what happens in the transfer window? Man U spends a net £43 million, Chelsea spends net £42 million, Man City spends net £52. Arsenal, they make a net £16 million profit! Even the two teams behind Arsenal out do them, with Liverpool at £34 million and Spurs at £13.5 million. In fact no other team other than Aston Villa make a bigger profit (£20.5 million). For all the sighs of relief among the faithful after the late splurge of spending after the 8-2 thumping by Manchester United, Arsenal have in effect exchanged Fabergas for Arteta and Nasri for Benayoun- both are down grades. The jury is out on Clichy for Santos and Park for Bendtner. The only real addition being Mertesacker, who despite fitting the bill, did not appear to be even among the top three choices for that position. Arsenal are better off from before the Man U game, but they are worse off since the end of last year. The five teams around Arsenal last year, are all stronger. It is a long season but three games in the conversation has already changed from winning the league to challenging for the fourth Champions League spot. That is Wenger's failing.

I was at the Stade de France in 2006 when we were leading Barcelona 1-0 with 10 men. It never crossed my mind that we couldn't win that match and be the best in Europe (and by extension the world). Fast forward to 10 days ago when we were visiting Old Trafford and I could feel a thumping coming- and I wasn't the only one. Despite having the same average squad age, the chasm in class between United and Arsenal- and believe me it hurts to say this- was huge.  And there is absolutely no amount of profitability that can compensate for that. Arsene knows, but he should know that his legacy will be measured by the number of trophies, not the numbers on the balance sheet. Time to stop burying your head!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

When there is a will...

We shall overcome. When there is a will, there is a way! My glass remains a quarter full.

On the face of it there is every reason to despair. It is not the first time a Pakistani cricketer has been accused of corruption. The evidence this time is overwhelming it seems, and the corruption seems to run deep through the team and its administration- deemed to be systematic. Pakistani cricketers were already on thin ice after the inability to play domestically following the Sri Lankan incident and the inability to earn like their peers after the IPL snub. Among all this, Giles Clarke (the ECB chair) had gone out on a limb to support Pakistani cricket by opening the "home of cricket" in what was dubbed "the spirit of cricket" Test series. What a slap on the face for him. Who will ever support us now?

The shame is painful for those who have to bear it. You see, supporting Pakistan cricket has always meant defending its players and their actions. No, we don't tamper the ball any more than the others. Yes, there is such a thing as reverse swing and we invented it. No, we don't have a penchant for getting in trouble with umpires. Yes, there is a language problem for our cricketers to properly explain themselves. No, the team is not full of born again Muslim fanatics. And now this! It throws a cloak of doubt over everything you ever believed in. It kills your will to argue with the English press, the Australian players and your Indian colleagues at work

Was it not already difficult to comprehend why it was so tough to raise money for the flood victims. More people affected than the Tsunami, Haiti, Katrina, Kashmir earthquake and every other recent calamity put together and the response has been more tepid than for any single one. It was making my blood boil when I read explanations like "they don't believe the money will get to the people due to the corruption". But not anymore. There is no anti-Pakistan conspiracy out to get us. We do it to ourselves- and only we are able to set it right. We cannot sit there for some benign foreign power to come and pluck us out of our misery- we have to do it ourselves. We cannot keep sweeping the muck under the carpet and expect the stench to go away. We have to deal with these problems of our own making and not expect any favours from others.

The world is full of countries and civilizations that have made a come back from far more dire situations than this: Terrorism, floods, cricket corruption. We shall do it too. There has to be due process, there has to be fairness, but there has to be total accountability and exemplary punishment for those found guilty. And this time, let a life ban mean a life ban. Cricket, floods, terrorism, we can and we will sort it- there is simply no choice. Ourselves, one step at a time. This is a time for belief, not despair. When there is a will... there is a way!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Viva la football!

Those of you who have followed this blog know my liberal use of Nike advertisements. In this football commercial they have, tongue in cheek, captured the spirit of the greatest sports tournament in the world!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The sweet agony of defeat...

 The famous image of "agony of defeat" from Wide World of Sports

To have loved and lost, is better.. than to never have loved at all. Or better even, than to have loved and won!

A loss, if truly meaningful, teaches you a lot more than any victory ever can. A defeat gives you cause to pause and contemplate, to question, to reassess what went wrong. How can you rise from it? But most of all a defeat gives you perspective, a measure to value all your victories. I have been on the winning side more than a few times. Winning the game, winning the points, winning the girl. But in sports like in real life, winning the girl doesn't feel half as good as losing the girl feels bad...

The thrill of victory gives an adrenaline rush, sends blood coursing through the veins, leaves you with a sense of elation. But the agony of defeat hurts a lot longer. The pangs come for days and weeks and sometimes months. The heaviness of the heart feels like someone is kneeling on your chest with their knee. Those who have ever lost anything meaningful, will know what I mean.

My victories have given me hope to be better, faster, stronger. But my defeats have made me who I am!

I am an Arsenal supporter and I am on the plane back from Barcelona!

Monday, 17 August 2009

9.58 Seconds...

I remember when the LA Olympics were held in 1984, the world record for the 100m stood at 9.93 seconds. Last night at the fastest 100m ever run in history at the Berlin World championships, 5 sprinters finished in a time of 9.93 seconds or better. The pick of the bunch- as predicted in the last post from 2 days ago- was Usain Bolt in an astounding time of 9.58 seconds. Not long ago bio-mechanists thought such a time was not attainable by humans.

Bolt's astonishing feat could be judged by Tyson Gay- who in coming second in a US record of 9.71 seconds became the second fastest man of all time, but still trailed Bolt by about two meters at the finish. Seven of the eight contestants ran in 10 seconds or better to make it the fastest race in history. But they were all catching Bolt's shadows, who uncharacteristically for a sprinter was dancing and blowing kisses to the camera before the race. A far cry from sprinters like Maurice Green and Carl Lewis who used to strut around and focus on their race. But it wasn't just his attitude that was radically different to the others, his time was too. It will be a long time before anyone catches up to this time... a long long time.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The World's Fastest Men!

In all recorded history, a human being has run a sub 9.80 seconds time for the 100m sprint (electronically timed and not wind assisted) on only 15 occasions. The 14 fastest times of those have been recorded by three men: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay. On August 16 of this year, the three of them are scheduled to meet in the 100m finals in Berlin and barring bad weather or wind, the world record of 9.69 seconds set in Beijing last year is surely set to fall.

All three contenders are of West African origin. Two of them have been born in the Carribean to parents of West African origin. You see where I'm going? What do Ben Johnson, Linford Christie, Donovon Bailey, Asafa Powell, Bruny Surin, Ato Bolden, Kim Collins and Usain Bolt have in common? Some of the greatest 100m sprinters in history- yes, but also all born in the Carribean. Careful not to extrapolate a different strain of Hitler's superman theory, I am never the less compelled to ask the question "is there a genetic disposition to fast running in Carribean men?"

Since the advent of electronic timing in 1976, every single 100m world record has been set by a male of West African descent, leading to un-empirical theories that suggest that Afro-Carribean runners benefit genetically from the slave trade, "with people on the western most parts of the Carribean being the progeny of only the fittest of fit slaves." While proper nutrition and state of the art coaching and facilities have their part to play in the making of world class sprinters, raw atheletic abilities are a critical ingredient.

So leaning towards the theory that it is some genetically inherited fast twitch muscles that make you move your legs faster, I researched the subject a bit and came up with the surprising result in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Research suggests that faster speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not faster leg movements. If you compare the fastest runner against a slower runner, there is virtually no difference between them in how fast one repositions the legs for the next step.

A sprinter achieves a world record by packing more force into each stride and covering nearly twice the ground with each step, not by taking less time to swing the other leg and arm into position. This is part of the reason world class sprinters appear so elegant--the stride is fluid and casual. By hitting the ground harder they are able to increase both stride length and frequency and therefore run faster. But they don't need any more time to swing the arms and legs than we do.

So its technique after all? I'm as confused as you are but at least that explains why the taller Usain Bolt is set to run the fastest any human being has ever run over 100m in Berlin in two days. You heard it here first!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Just not Cricket: This time it is personal

This time it is personal. Long before I realized I loved the game of cricket, I remember hiding a transistor radio under the desk mid-lesson just to hear the score of the test match. Long before IPL and Stanford and Bollywood stars and commercial contracts, I remember improvising our writing pads into bats and scotch tape around scrunched up paper for a ball. It was just what you did as a Pakistani kid. This time it is personal. When I was fifteen and learned how to drive a car, I remember racing around the same Liberty round-about the bus was attacked. When I was 26, I remember sitting in the same Gaddafi stadium watching the same Sri Lanka chase 241 runs to become world champions. Yes, this time it is personal.

It is not that blowing up school children in a bus or businessmen in a hotel was any less tragic or underlined the ruthlessness and pointlessness of these perpetrators of terror any less. But targeting guest cricketers from a friendly country just crosses the line at so many different levels in the context of Pakistani culture.

Cricket is the one thing our struggling country has been able to be good at on a global level and consequently the one thing Pakistanis have come to closely associate with their sense of self worth. Foreign commentators on the country's obsession with the sport always seem to miss this point. It is the one thing that has united a divided country, across age, across ethnicity, across political or ideological leanings. To attack cricket is to make a statement that these terrorists will pull out all the stops. They will attack children, they will attack teachers, they will attack women, they will attack indiscriminately, and yes, they will attack cricketers as well. Yes, this time it is personal.

I don't want us to just condemn anymore. I don't want us to use scape goats anymore, to point to "foreign hands", to make excuses for our own impotency and political bickering. I don't want us to justify why such a thing might have occurred or to be defensive about why it could be our own mistake and our own people who are involved in perpetrating it. I am, we all are, tired and frustrated and exhausted with this very real problem, our problem, created by us... only ever likely to be solved by us... but only if we acknowledge it and face it as our own... or we will be condemned to be what Frantz Fanon described in a different context as "the wretched of the earth". Yes, this time it is personal, very very personal.