The editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan says, "we're deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry". At the background you can read a banner with the self anointed, "THE GREATEST PAPER IN THE WORLD." You can't get more alternate reality.
David Conn's article in the Guardian focuses on Anton Zingarevich, the owner of Reading and the son of billionaire businessman Boris Zingarevich. The younger Zingarevich owns the club via Thames Sports Investment which is offshored in Gibraltar, a tax haven for owners who avoid paying capital gains taxes or stamp duty should they sell their shares for a profit in the future. It's a growing trend with the Glazer family moving their registration the the Cayman Islands, and it begets the question of tax fairness which has become one of the centrepieces of the US presidential elections.
Conn is a fine journalist and his articles are impeccably timed with a view to setting off a round of inevitable teeth gnashing and angst at the commodification of a slice of English history by outside investors with few qualms shafting the very system they are buying into. But there is little one can do apart from b and m. The fans want their clubs to win, spend money on high priced transfers who will do that, and end years of being born with a wooden spoon.
A few years ago, City's marquee players were Paul Dickov and Giorgios Samaras in a club that flitted in and out of the Premier League. Now, it's a club that pays Roque Santa Cruz to keep away from the Etihad while they chase the likes of Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli with stratospheric sums of money. It all worked out last season when City won their first top division title in 44 years.
Reading fans are the same too. They were a great little team to watch under Steve Coppell and that first Premiership season they overachieved with players like Kevin Doyle and Steve Sidwell. Second year they fell back to earth returning to the Championship. They fully well know the perils of chronically underfunded clubs. But under the new ownership with the promise of Roman Abramovich type of money they probably expect more. Parking money in overseas tax shelters by an owner with a fine looking wife is a mere technicality if fans can fulfill their desire for instant gratification.
The song is a haunting elegy to child abuse, a very serious matter. But a different Luka is hogging the football world's headlines at present and he's none too happy either. So here is the re-worded song.
My name is Luka
I work at White Hart Lane
I am on the TV a lot
Yes I think you've seen me before
If you hear something
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don't ask me what it was
Just don't ask me what it was
Just don't ask me what it was
I think it's all because of Levy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it's because they need me
I try not to act too proud
They want to keep me till I die
After that, you don't ask why
You just don't argue anymore
You just don't argue anymore
You just don't argue anymore
Yes I think it's going to be Real
I was ready to walk out last year
Well, if you insist this is what I'll say
40mil for me is chicken feed, hombre
But Levy, all you do is bitch and moan
With nothing gained, nothing thrown
Just don't ask me how I am [X3]
My name is Luka
I work at White Hart Lane
I am on TV a lot
Yes I think you've seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don't ask me what it was
Just don't ask me what it was
Just don't ask me what it was
And they want to keep me till I die
After that, you don't ask why
You just don't argue anymore
As a US based Gooner, one eagerly scans each summer for a sign the Gunners will make a stateside tour. In the past, this time of the year brings a tide of overseas clubs. And voila, on cue, fans here will get to see Chelsea, Real Madrid, AC Milan, PSG, Liverpool, Spurs, Roma, Swansea, Stoke, and Aston Villa playing fixtures all over the USA, raising their profile and doing a good bit of business through merchandising, sales, possibly even tying up some lucrative sponsorship deals.
Every team with an iota of US representation in the boardroom has made it over here. Except Arsenal. They have a MLS franchise holder as their majority shareholder and a CEO who was responsible for developing the league as one of its deputy commissioners.
On the face, the sort of impressive credentials and past associations which could be used to introduce Arsenal to a new market successfully and improve its commercial revenue. That is Ivan Gazidis's current buzzword. You don't have to be Man Utd to realize the huge potential of the US market.
Lets look at Roma in the Serie, one of the most exclusive leagues when it comes to foreign ownership but recently breached by Thomas Di Benedetto, president of a Boston based consortium who took over in 2011. There were no bones made about how this was an opportunity to promote Roma as a global brand. He naturally turned to the USA, where he hopes to set up five satellite centres to coach the club's style of soccer.
The club also signed up Michael Bradley, bolstering the midfield with his skill, but one of the benefits of having his name associated with the club would be to generate interest in such ventures and commercially develop them. Bradley with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey is amongst the most followed US internationals.
Here is John Henry on the importance of Liverpool's US tour:
"We need to be in the US and we know this area well. (Chairman) Tom Werner is a Harvard grad and we knew this would be a great place for the team to train. Liverpool is such a global club. Last year we were in Asia, this year we're in North America. We have to try to get out and see the fans."
This was the same John Henry who immediately got Warrior Sports, a low key US based sports apparel maker on board on a £25m per year sponsorship deal which could net them as much as an eye popping £300m after their previous arrangement with Adidas collapsed with the German company refusing to renew their contract. The deal was £10m a year better than the previous Adidas deal.
In 2010, just before the World Cup, Utd set their sights on Chicharito Hernandez, a 20 year old phenom from Chivas Guadalajara, signing him up for a pittance before he caught the eye in South Africa. One of the signing terms was to play a match against Chivas in which Hernandez turned up for his old team to a rapturous welcome. Three days earlier, at the MLS All Stars vs Man Utd match at Reliant Stadium, Hernandez's cross border popularity was palpable as he brought down the house with his goal en route to a 5-2 shellacking of the All Stars. It was one of the most heavily attended All Star games in all of professional sports, not just soccer. Its these examples, a confluence of skill and marketing genius, that keeps Utd aloft as one of the world's sporting brands.
Arsenal's commercial forays in comparison have been rather provincial. They never capitalized on the success of the 2004 Invincibles as a way of bolstering a valuable revenue stream, a strange oversight considering their drum beat of a self sustaining model. Their first international tour in twelve years was somewhat successful but with their most recognizable names missing in the second edition to the Far East, one doesn't know how far that will go. There is a danger that the Asian market despite its vast potential could also be unforgiving.
On the other hand, you have a ready made Arsenal brand in the USA in the form of Thierry Henry, whose legendary name could headline any potential Red Bulls showdown to draw in salivating crowds. Stan Kroenke's MLS team, the neglected Colorado Rapids could also enjoy some international exposure with a potential Gunners arrival. There are so many points of connection but Arsenal continues to fail to develop them.
As this article suggests, Arsenal's lopsided reliance on match day revenue can only bring so much but they lag far behind Utd, Liverpool. Spurs, and Chelsea in developing new markets. It appears that Arsene Wenger for all his fealty to the self sustaining model is one of the obstacles towards international tours. The Gunners sponsorship growth has been less stellar and overshadowed by the restraints imposed by the Emirates and Nike multi -year deals that are set to expire in 2014. Despite the presence of Gazidis and Tom Fox, a former sports executive at Gatorade as marketing head, the number of US based partners is limited. In contrast, Utd has exploited its US based strength in its list of 21 partners.
It's high time Gazidis, Fox, and Stan Kroenke made their connections work for Arsenal in a market they are most familiar with. And getting Clint Dempsey to the Emirates will not just be a goalscoring boon but it will also be a huge step forward in developing that market.
I would rather see Giuseppe Rossi on the pitch than see him as a commentator on ESPN. A zombie would have more animation. ESPN put out a panel of Michael Ballack, Alexei Lalas, Giuseppe Rossi with Bob Ley moderating to discuss the Italy vs Spain match.
Rossi as a US citizen, a NJ native, whose national ambitions saw him switching allegiance to Italy became a polarizing figure. His demeanour in the studio was that off someone who expected US fans to gang tackle him from behind any moment and then do unspeakable things to his pubes. He spoke when he was spoken to, his responses were pithy, and his face wore a deer in the headlights look. Asked about Fernando Torres, Rossi came up with the stunning revelation that "he lacked confidence." Good money was plonked on that one.
Rossi's dead pan monotone was no mitigation to Lalas's unhinged ramblings which included Spain "withering away", something about his 6 year old daughter blah blah blah, and then after Spain had dominated ball possession with something like 60% and played exactly like Spain was to inform the viewers Spain had played differently. Michael Ballack was a bit better except one got the uncomfortable feeling he was using Google Translator but at least he came up with the intriguing notion that the state of the pitch did not support the type of passing game expected from Spain.
The discussion predictably drifted to Mario Balotelli and Fernando Torres, two players who will always be in the spotlight, one who will not a raise an eyebrow if he's found behind bars and the other who plays as if he's trying to get out of them. But that was an easy route to follow. There should have been more discussion of the tactics, the unconventional formations used by both teams, and players not named Balotelli or Torres.
Was Vincent Del Bosque's reverting to a more conventional set served by his selection of Torres after relying on no striker in the first half and only midfielders? It would appear that no material advantage was achieved after the striker squandered three golden opportunities created especially by the midfield.
The only goal came from David Silva's brilliant outlet that unlocked the Italian defense for Cesc Fabregas to slip through for the equalizer. Should Del Bosque have given Fernando Llorente or Alvaro Negredo a chance? On the other hand Cesare Prandelli's bold move to use Daniele De Rossi in the unfamiliar role of sweeper paid off and the Roma midfielder was magnificent keeping Italy alive after some very timely tackles and blocks. There could have been a discussion of Antonio De Natale, so vastly underrated as a striker whose lack of national appearances has never been commensurate with his domestic output. There was no acknowledgment of Andrea Pirlo or Andres Iniesta (absolutely stone cold magnificent) in driving their respective attacks. Did Jordi Alba and Emanuele Giaccherini, respective greenhorns acquit themselves well on this huge international stage?
There is so much scope for improvement and one hungers for some semblance of informed analysis that is not forthcoming because who ESPN puts out there seems to be dictated by expediency and image. Get some writers who do this for a living, even if they have not played one single league game or look like they've never bathed for a year.
Lets characterize this match as one that you would not choose to introduce anyone to the sport of soccer. It was a match thick with overall incompetence and incoherence. Still in those misconstrued passes there was something oddly compelling in the same train-wreckish way Sarah Palin flunks the most basic of foreign policy questions. Spurs can claim to have one of the Premiership's most sure eyed passers in Luka Modric but he was afflicted with the same disease affecting Rafael Van Der Vaart, Gareth Bale, Assou-Ekotto, Scott Parker, giving the ball away time and time again.
The main point of contention was a clear Phil Bardsley handball off Adebayor's header and at the other end Parker also guilty off the same. Both were not called. Aaron Lennon came on late in the second half and put in a nice cameo that almost resulted in a goal but Van Der Vaart flubbed the chance. Sunderland stuck to its water tight defense and an occasional flash of ambition on attack.
Both teams dropped points but this surely hurts Spurs more.
Ivica Olic got both of Bayern's goals as Franck Ribery stamped his authority on this game. French goalie Steve Mandanda was put up a magnificent display in a losing effort. It looks like a Bayern vs Real semi-final unless Apoel pull off a miracle. Marseille go back home to a tattered domestic season with Didier Deschamps's coaching future in jeopardy.
The former Arsenal midfielder is enjoying a renaissance at Barca where he now scores goals regularly through headers, a hitherto unknown phenomenon.
He continues to blossom in the bastion of greatness aided by an unsurpassed system and a perfectionist coach. But Arsenal is never too far from his mind. He felt every bit devastated as did every Gooner when AC Milan humiliated us at the San Siro.
"It's been painful because I want them to do well as a club, and they're my friends and then there is the boss, who I admire so much and who I'm so grateful to."
In an interview with the Guardian which leaves one a bit misty eyed, he also makes clear that the path forward for the club is to recommit to Arsene Wenger, his mentor and guide through the formative years in football.
"The boss is very strong and he believes in the club so much I am sure he will find a means to bring Arsenal back to where it belongs."
Such loyalty is hard to find nowadays. Fabregas will always be a class act.
Transfer windows are always silly season but they pale in comparison to the sort of collective psychosis and paranoia engendered by El Clasico.
The hysteria before tomorrow's Copa De Rey semi-final first leg has gems like if Mourinho plays Pepe in the midfield then Real has a winning record in the Clasicos. Barca counters with Puyol as being a lucky charm with the Catalan defender participating in five of their winning encounters and the only time they lost he was out with an injury. The big question is whether Guardiola is going to shake hands with Jose Mourinho? If Mourinho wears white with rhinestones then the handshake is on, if he wears a black trenchcoat and devil's mask then it is eternal bitterness and rancour between the two men.
Barca are now jumping on the referees. Yesterday, Xavi got into the act, accusing the referees of harming them with adverse calls. Iniesta and Valdes also climbed on the blame the referees bandwagon. A blatant hand ball by Raul Rodriguez ignored by the referee in the Espanyol derby which could have resulted in a Barca penalty has triggered outrage. More dismay ensued as Iniesta was booked for diving in the Real Betis match while the midfielder felt he had been fouled.
All sorts of fouls that have not been called has left Barca questioning this season's refereeing. Last year it was good, this year they are being victimized. Accordingly, a complaint has been lodged with the Liga's technical committee.
All of this is perfectly timed just before El Clasico at the Bernabeu tomorrow. We all know what happened in the first encounter last season when all hell broke loose with Real going all industrial and Barca diving like narcoleptics.
Guardiola, the consummate diplomat refused to be drawn into the refereeing controversy (its amazing how Barca manages to get players to shill for them) saying in his four years he had never made it an issue. In fact, he had no idea who would be officiating the match.
Jose Manuel Pinto is starting as goalie for the Blaugrana. Pinto is famous as the goalie who simulated a referee's whistle in a Champions League match in 2010. The Merengues may not have the services of Angel Di Maria who was knocked out in yesterday's training session.
AC Milan were the better attacking team and should have been deserving winners but the crossbar came to Inter's rescue. Soccer is cruel. Javier Zanetti proving at the age of 38 years he has a full tank of gas busts down the right and then diagonals all the way towards the direction of Diego Milito. What should have a simple collection for Ignazio Abate turns into a comedic air ball with Milito plundering the unexpected offering to finish perfectly as his slanted shot hits the far post past Christian Abbiati to nestle in the net.
Wesley Sneijder's career is on the wane. The Argentinian Ricardo Alvarez was a starter ahead of him. At the other end Alexandre Pato looked like he was just happy being in Milan after escaping the PSG transfer scare as he did nothing really to justify his presence. Inter turned in a fine defensive performance; if not in the same calibre as the immense performance against Barca a few years ago, good enough to stop whatever Milan had to throw at them including a very good Stephen Al Shaarawy.
A word of warning to Arsenal. Kevin Prince Boateng will be an immense player in their Champions League encounter. He has a wicked long range shot and plenty of movement in midfield to pose a myriad of problems. Boateng's ascension to trequartista is a story of dreams with his career rescued from the wreckage of Portsmouth's fiery descent to bankruptcy.
Can we say Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the most over rated striker in the world? Pretty please.
When does one go from saying that a single instance is happenstance, two is a coincidence, to three or more is a bloody epidemic? Add ankle injury to the list of eventualities an Arsenal player must face including taxes, lack of titles, departure, and death. Or so it would appear. Throw in a gratuitous red card too.
Thomas Vermaelen is out for six weeks after undergoing surgery for a achilles tendon injury of his left ankle. This is the rather optimistic picture presented by his father. In reality, it could be three months or even more.
Last season a similar injury to his right ankle required surgical intervention after his return dragged out eight months. Vermaelen showed no after effects back on the pitch. He had three stellar outings before the Udinese second leg where he suffered the present injury problem diagnosed as an ankle tendinopathy. Which is better than a tear but could become a chronic problem.
He joins Craig Eastmond, Abou Diaby, and Jack Wilshere in the foot and ankle injury list. Arsenal lead the list in injuries afflicting this anatomical structure. In the present side, seven other players have spent considerable periods of time out with ankle problems. Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin, Robin Van Persie, Johan Djourou, Alexander Song, Tomas Rosicky, and Kieran Gibbs. These are not squad players. They are the line up. At this point, these injuries are not a matter of conjecture as much as a parliamentary inquiry or the subject of medical research.
Our best centre back is out which means Per Mertesacker given his experience has to assume the mantle of organizer in chief before we can say schnell. He will partner Johan Djourou or Laurent Koscielny in another rendition of defensive refurbishment. A further prolongation of our long standing defensive banes of never having the luxury of a settled pair in the heart of defense.
What does this mean for Vermaelen? For the uninitiated the achilles tendon is the vital bio-mechanical link between the calf muscles and the foot. The tendon helps in "pushing off" the ground when we walk, run, or jump. Any event that compromises the integrity of the tendon or its attachments results in disruption in these cornerstones of physical functioning. A centre back like Vermaelen relies on intact ankle and foot structures to generate the explosive power to elevate himself above or around to deal with a Christopher Samba setpiece threat. It allows him to accelerate into a sliding tackle that would take the ball away from Luis Suarez. Or help an unsighted, out of position Sczeszny with a last minute goal saving toe poke.
David Beckham who suffered a complete tear of the achilles tendon but came back after 7 months to fit right into the Galaxy attack shows no ill effects. He's the high profile set piece man in the lower gear MLS which is just what the doctor ordered. Vermaelen has no option but to go back to the grinding wear and tear of his job responsibilities and the unflagging pace of the Premiership. Unfortunately, this is looking to be a recurring pattern of injury time outs that further compromises Arsenal's shaky back line. A winter transfer would be the obvious remedial action but this is Arsenal where such considerations are secondary to the bottomline.
England overcame World War II buoyed by the bulldog spirit of Winston Churchill, the perfect choice for a war time leader. Yet, it was Clement Atlee who was voted to rebuild an England recovering from the war's aftermath and the decline of empire. 50 years later these two men rank in the list of greatest leaders. Two very different personalities but both provided the proper leadership needed for their country for their times. Those who believe Wenger's departure will be apocalyptic will be well advised to remember this example.
Arsene Wenger led Arsenal to heights never touched before. It led to the cult of AKB for all the right reasons. But something happened on the way. He got too close to the board and co-opted their message. There was no firewall. No separation of pitch from boardroom. Before long he was opining on the shareholding fight and the composition of the board. One doesn't quite know when the shift from managerial duties to a mouthpiece began but the drift has been going for long. It's now a cozy relationship without expectation.
Wenger's present avatar is now one of fiscal responsibility. His transition to an activist has been a natural fit because of the club's own belief in living within its means. It also means putting aside a wishlist which could pose a serious potential conflict of interest with the austerity that is being practiced at the Emirates.
Look at Roberto Mancini's frustration at his board (an entity that can buy the world fifty times over) at their perceived foot dragging on Samir Nasri. Today, Nasri delivered a stinging vindication of Mancini's desire to have him on the board. Manciini's first responsibility is to deliver City's first Premiership title and not a philosophical point. Sir Alex provided Wenger with strong words of support but he's never laboured under the illusion of being any more than the manager of Utd even after a record 20 titles. Juan Mata wasted no time in making an impact after Andre Villa-Boas showed the requisite alarm in not having a wide game. Ditto for Kenny Dalglish with Luis Enrique for Liverpool.
Arsene Knows F**k All (AKFA) might be a bit harsh but there are chinks in the armour.
Arsene Wenger might finally bring in a late cavalry charge to add quality to the midfield.
Yann M'Vila the highly rated holding midfielder from Rennes is a £15million target, although there are reports of Rennes denying any such link.
Further upfield Arsenal is linked with Lille's Eden Hazard once again to provide the creative spark. His transfer fee is in the region of £20m. Another player in the same role on the short list is Marvin Martin, Sochaux's eye catching attacking midfielder who may come at a more reasonable price.
The usual linkages to Phil Jagielka are still doing the rounds.
The caveat is all of this will have to hold till after Wednesday because a major attraction playing for Arsenal is the prospect of Champions League participation. If they are able to overcome Udinese then Arsenal goes into negotiations for potential transfers with the upper hand. If they are eliminated then it becomes a tougher sell as personal terms and the transfer fee in the absence of a direct appeal figure more prominently.
Wenger has reiterated he wants to buy, but the difficult part is who to buy. He says he's bought quality in his recent signings but it is potential quality and not experience. Plus the jury is still out on whether his recent signings of more experienced players have proven successful. An intelligent ideologue like Wenger is probably going through some analysis paralysis and yet the pressure to act has never been greater.
There are other positions that are uncovered where Arsenal could do with strengthening. One is at left back where the options after Kieran Gibbs is very limited with Armando Traore also out with an injury. Wenger missed a golden opportunity in Luis Enrique who signed with Liverpool and then subdued Walcott in the weekend match. And Arsenal need a genuine target man in front who can take the pressure of RVP. Bendtner is unsettled and Chamakh shows no appetite to be that player.
It's hard to believe we're just three matches old and already Arsenal wears the scars of a full season. The weak of heart need not apply because we really do not how this will all end. A spectacular supernova implosion or a gradual decline into a red dwarf?
The summary: Arsenal were further depleted with yet another defender limping off, the second match in a row a player was sent off, three 19 year olds making their debuts, a comedic own goal which was actually offside, and the genie of Titi Camara that had lived in a bottle for 11 years till Aaron Ramsey decided to rub it on his chest. Yes, include Luis Suarez into that mix. Because he made the difference between another goalless draw and the a 2-0 scoreline in favour of Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish might be rubbished for every other transfer but Suarez makes him look like a genius.
I suspect Arsene Wenger loves these spectacles. It's very Moliere. He sent in Samir Nasri who actually spent time away from Twitter to put in a decent shift. Rumours are that he might not be singing Blue Moon quickly enough for his liking. We shall see.
This new Arsenal will make George Graham perk up with interest. They don't score goals and they look ugly. I sort of forget the number of forays made in the first half that found no one in the middle. No one. Van Persie had to go off his orbit to find the ball because Ramsey is no Fabregas. And there is no one to give him company up top. Andy Carroll may be a lump of clay but compared to Marouane Chamakh he's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
Wenger said something about "focusing on the players we have". I don't think Arshavin got the memo. He is a shadow of the player who spent his earlier career terrorizing Liverpool. There appears to be no desire to even try and fill the vacuum left by Fabregas. As a reminder: Arshavin is Arsenal's most expensive signing at £16.5 million. His tongue in cheek comments on his website attract more attention than his exploits on the pitch nowadays.
It's the defense that's gathering all the encomiums. Thomas Vermaelen looks like he's making up for that missed season. Carl Jenkinson playing out of position looked game for the toe to toe. Miguel Ignasi settled after his early jitters. Bakary Sagna was his solid self. Which brings us to Emanuel Frimpong who looks like he could tear a bunny rabbit to bits and send its uncle the bill to clean the mess. The best player in the middle at 19 years but also one who looked most likely to go out of control. Which is what happened and Arsenal's afternoon quickly turned to loose sewerage.
Everyone is baying for new signings. But Wenger always the contrarian, thinks differently. His history boys will make it one of these days.
Headmaster: There's a vacancy in history.
Tom Irwin: [Thoughtfully] That's very true.
Headmaster: In the school.
Tom Irwin: Ah.
I for one welcome the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Full disclosure, Fabregas is my favourite player at Arsenal and wear his no 4 jersey proudly to all the matches. You will find fewer fans more bereft when he leaves. And yet, there is a sense of overwhelming relief when he finally signs on the dotted line which brings this whole exhausting and none too edifying saga to closure.
To a generation of fans, he will first and foremost be an Arsenal player even as he looks to spend the better part of his career matter at Barca. There is an indelible image of Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini (another player who Arsenal fans cherish) wrestle the ball away from Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra after an epic struggle and moments later Emmanuel Eboue laid a beauty of a cross that Thierry Henry got his head onto for a 2-0 win against Man Utd. That goal was not just a goal as much as it was the infinite possibilities of what the Gunners under Fabregas could accomplish if they set their mind to it.
That was in 2007. For Fabregas the cast of characters who could share in those magical moments melted away in front of his eyes over the years. Even as he grew in stature to become one of football's leading lights one sensed a feeling of loneliness on the pitch and even despondency with each year bringing little success. On the pitch he had his best season in 2009-10 despite struggling with injuries and the additional responsibility of team captain. Who can forget Fabregas and his heroics in the dying minutes of the first leg of the CL quarterfinals against Barca? Taking a penalty with his broken leg and immediately after the adrenaline surge had worn off collapse in pain.
A year later his failed backheel against Barca was described less charitably as a moment of subversion. It was clear this was a deeply unhappy player who had been persuaded by Wenger to stay on with promises that this year would be different. It turned out to be the same. Their close father- son relationship was further damaged with Fabregas's strong insinuations in a Spanish publication that Wenger would have been fired if he had been in La Liga for his lack of success. A shocked Wenger insisted his captain was probably misquoted and Fabregas did backtrack even as he left the essence of his accusations intact.
That backheel embodied the increasing ambivalence felt by fans towards Fabregas. He is Arsenal's most gifted player by far, yet at the same time, his questionable half throttle performances were becoming more obvious, the result of injury or more cynically, by design. Would Wenger, by a miracle manage to keep him on for another year, expect his protege, the 16 year old stripling who first came to Arsenal in 2003, to leave aside his sense of betrayal and perform as if nothing had changed?
With all the water under the bridge the chances of Fabregas Twittering a la Joey Barton about his sense of frustration with transfers and lack of faith in his coach would be a far more realistic possibility. Further shredding every shred of dignity. At least we're spared that unseemly outcome and he departs with the very best wishes of every fan proud to call themselves Gunners. He goes to a club where "All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others". Animal Farm analogies aside at Barca he would be unburdened by the crushing expectations of pulling a rabbit out of the hat.
Now there is no recourse but to give Arsenal a badly needed shot of rejuvenation. Even the most die hard AKB fans will have to acknowledge that the present status quo is untenable.
The latest offer tabled for £33m for Cesc Fabregas has been rejected by Arsenal. The actual amount was £28m with over £5m in variables. That figure comes from bonuses based on appearances made and titles won. This is still about £7m short of the price the Gunners are demanding for Fabregas. They are also clear they want a clean deal without backloaded payments.
Peter Hill- Wood on Barca's bid. "The offer is not close to what we are looking for. It is very simple from our point of view. We have told them what we want and we are holding to it."
"Barca are offering variables depending on all sorts of fantastical things, but we are not interested in that. We want them to pay what he's worth."
Tomorrow is also the deadline for filing the list of players appearing for the Champions League playoffs which according to reports Fabregas is resisting because it could mean being cup tied. However this might be moot given he's been ruled out of the Newcastle opener because of match fitness issues. He might be entered but there are practically very little chance of him playing the CL playoffs till this is all resolved.
The problem really is Fabregas's valuation comes from the understanding he wants to go back to his boyhood club. What Arsenal should do at this point is if his transfer does not work out is to declare it open from next season and negotiate with the highest bidder. Then we'll see whether Barca wants him or not.
FC Porto reports Andre Villas-Boas has resigned. The check for €15m needed for his buyout appears to be in the mail. Chelsea should announce his hiring in the next few days.
Will AVB's first locker room gesture be to embrace John Terry? You've to get in good with the Chelsea captain otherwise as Jose Mourinho found out things can get quite sticky. The other thing is the rumours surrounding a Falcao arrival. Which would mean an exit for Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka.
Simon Kuper's fascinating article in the FT about how the data revolution is slowly changing the face of soccer. There might be a time when quants will emerge from their gray shadows and take their rightful place on the cover of Four Four Two.
Michael Lewis's book Moneyball made famous Billy Beane's use of statistics to transform the underrated Oakland Athletics into giant killers. Some of the more savvy soccer managers read the book and wanted to know if it could produce similar results. It led to a number of clubs like Chelsea and Spurs brainstorming Beane on how soccer data could be used to improve performances and make the correct transfer choices.
Damien Comolli now at Liverpool first crunched numbers in 2005 while at Spurs with his input directly responsible for the hiring of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, and Dimitar Berbatov. He had befriended Beane as had Mike Forde, Chelsea's performance director. Both men kept up the contact with the Oakland A's manager whose passion had now turned to data crunching and analyzing soccer matches.
Comolli and Forde were following in the footsteps of Arsene Wenger and Sam Allardyce who were pioneers in the use of data. Wenger used computer programs in Monaco and brought his mathematical background to Arsenal changing the guts and glory ethos of George Graham. Big Sam used his data points to forge Bolton into one of the toughest defending units while relying on set pieces to score goals.
Claude Makelele is cited as a prime example of how statistics can go beyond the human eye. He was let go by Real Madrid as Fiorentino Perez was unimpressed by the holding midfielder's lack of pace and technique which resulted in faster players overlapping him. The CEO also believed he lacked any meaningful distribution skills.
Makelele went on to spend five fruitful years with Chelsea while Real's fortunes nosedived. Statistics later proved that Makelele was one of those players who thrive when the opposition has the ball. More than anyone else he was responsible for snuffing out attacking moves because he would raise his intensity levels to extra-ordinary levels.
The football data revolution is catching on and it might be one way to keep smaller clubs competitive by hiring smart quants to decipher how to deal with their wealthier opposition. The challenge is to make statistics smarter, i.e., correlative, to find factors that can significantly impact outcomes, in this instance, goals. For e.g., total distance covered does not really influence matches but the distance run at top speeds does. Which made Thierry Henry so lethal. Soccer's free flowing nature makes gathering discrete data points challenging but a new generation of computer programs, motion capture software, and analysts are overturning these precepts. Unleash the quants.
The world's oldest football competition will be sponsored for the next three years by the "King of Beers". The competition is to be grandiosely re-branded as the FA Cup with Budweiser.
The FA of course gets some serious business. For the more finicky it's a measure of the beer's quality when the Budweiser ads generate more buzz than the taste. Here is ratebeer.com's take on its flagship product. Six of the 10 worst rated beers in the world are made by Anheuser Busch.
The less than ringing endorsement from the beer cognoscenti has not dampened Anheuser Busch's appetite to team up with other global brands of which there is no bigger behemoth than FIFA. Budweiser is proudly touted as FIFA's beer for the last 25 years which is a lot of water under the bridge. Maybe the association with Sepp Blatter is apt - the self styled "King of Beers" meets "The Emperor with no clothes." True that.
Simon Kuper's new book "The Football Men" tries to take us beyond what we know of the football superstars on TV and media.
Some insights. Most of them glorify their family turning it into a warm cocoon which is a reaction from a later life governed by mercantilism and ulterior motives. Growing up they know very little outside of football. Certainly, school holds no charm for them and only Frank Lampard is mentioned as having a remote interest in academia.
Professionally, they undergo a "culture shock" when they sign for clubs with a global following. Suddenly their life and locker room is filled with people who are removed from their culture and upbringing. It leads to a sort of separation anxiety with lingering suspicions. In Steven Gerrard's case he gives voice to his grudges that foreign players are basically cheats and they foul, dive, and whinge too much.
Perhaps it is their early turning to the sport that gives them their precociousness. But most of them instinctively realize that football carries far more weight than a misplaced loyalty to their boyhood club. They're able to break with their past fairly comfortably which invariably leads to much angst amongst fans who denounce them as traitors. In Ashley Cole's case it was because of Arsenal's recalcitrance to offer more than £55,000 a week in salary that proved to be the breaking point.
Stardom though seems to bring no real joy. In Carragher's case his idea of relaxing is to soak in a hot tub after a grinding match. And Rooney's favourite hobby is sleeping and sports betting. Kuper also mentions the lack of self awareness and insight most of them seem to have barring Carragher and Gerrard. For Lampard the sight of Roman Abramovich's yacht has aspirational value and puts into perspective his lack of personal wealth.
Nationalism is over rated too. Most of them expressed disappointment in failing to take England further in 2006 but it was almost always compared to the anguish felt if the same had happened to their club. The period of mourning if it could be called that was very brief. This lack of emotion is at odds with the widespread belief that England will eventually win the World Cup.
The FT has an excerpt >>