More often than not, the sleepless nights are about the heartbreak, the disappointment, the anguish and the despair. They’re about the anger and disgust for the punditocracy and the hacks who consider it open season on Arsenal.
You can almost taste the bile from the disdain and contempt in which Arsenal is held in the footballing media circles from Sly Sports to the BBC, from Talk Spite radio to the tabloids. There’s a macabre-esque enjoyment of Arsenal’s agony in every sense – and when we say it’s a conspiracy, we’re called paranoid.
Today though, there’s so much to say and write about such an amazing day for the spirit of Arsenal football club. For that however, I’d like to encourage you to visit ACLF where my friend Yogi has written a wonderful piece that captures the emotion and captures the moment. As George our resident pedant puts it, for all the days of anguish that Yogi has kept our sanity, it’s days like these that he deserves the stage to express the magic of the moment.
I have chosen today instead to focus on Arsenal’s most influential unsung hero, Mr Laurent Koscielny. There’s more than enough analysis all over the internet and the media of the now legendary shafting of the heathen horde at Stamford Bridge.
You see, the problem with the English football establishment is that there’s a collective determination to exercise cultural incompetence of breath-taking magnitude. Take the lack of understanding of the fundamentals of football business and finance. English football is the only place on this planet where people still think it’s OK to spend the GDP of most developing countries just to chase trophies.
It’s either a brazen and reckless disregard of the laws of economics as they pertain to football, or spectacular incompetence from a collective that has the IQ of a fence post. It’s the sort of culture that equates high spending to quality, notwithstanding the fact that the rationale for the market pricing is fundamentally flawed. How can it be justifiable for example for Andy Carroll to cost more in transfer fees than Thomas Vermaelen and David Silva combined.
So when the Arsenal scouting system pluck Laurent Koscielny from the wilderness of the French league, he is considered a pariah since he doesn’t conform to the text book definition of a Premiership defender. It’s almost like it’s a crime that they don’t know him so he can’t be that good. Koscielny’s not only fighting the PR battle against the football media and pundits, he’s had to contend with undeserved criticism from Anti-Arsenal Arsenal supporters.
Yet this brilliant young man has something that a lot of defenders don’t have. He is tenacious, dependable, perceptive and applies himself with finesse. He is a dogged defender with absolute class when it comes to the art of intercepting, one on one defending and recovery defending. He is exceptional in the air and excellent in working with the ball on the ground.
Koscielny is also silky in offence and has an uncanny ability to convert defence into attack with one touch football. A very confident player with the ball, he links up very well with the midfield and is perhaps one of the best ball playing defenders around.
The fact that people still talk about Arsenal needing quality defenders without paying Koscielny any respect for what he is currently doing is an insult of the highest order in my humble opinion. If Koscielny isn’t one of the best defenders in the league, I don’t know who is.
In yesterday’s post match punditry by Sly Sports, the punk Jamie Redknapp had the audacity to suggest that Laurent Koscielny had now arrived after that performance against Chelsea. As I was reminded, Jamie was probably the only person in the country who didn’t notice Lionel Messi in Koscielny’s pocket when Arsenal beat Barcelona with panache in perhaps the greatest match of football ever played in an Arsenal stadium.
From the first game that Koscielny played at Anfield, it was so obvious that the boy oozed class. And I gather it’s not just the class. I know a few female Gooners who are willing and ready to copulate with the guy and bear his children.
Granted, he has made some mistakes – but point out to me a defender in the league who walks on water. The media even hail Sideshow Bob at Chelsea as the second coming of defensive messiahs. That’s David Luiz in case you’re wondering who Sideshow Bob is.
If Luiz was that good – why the hell didn’t he play to stop the horror show at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Even after they wax lyrical and go sycophantic about Luiz because he cost £24m while Koscielny cost a few bob according to them, you can’t hide from the fact that Laurent Koscielny stands head and shoulders above the Brazilian defender. Everything they say about Luiz, you can say that about Koscielny with compound interest.
Let’s not forget, Fernando Torres might as well have been sitting on the bench yesterday, that’s how effective Koscielny was. He’s done it to Messi, he’s done it to Rooney and he’s done it to Drogba – and folks still think of this guy like a step child from the wrong side of the rail tracks.
And yet, Gooners around the world are debating who will lose their place in central defence to accommodate the equally magnificent Thomas Vermaelen.
I think people are missing the point. The question is not who will partner Thomas Vermaelen in central defence. The more substantive question is out of Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Djourou, who will be Laurent Koscielny’s preferred partner.
My sense is that Vermaelen and Koscielny will be Arsenal’s first choice central defensive pairing, but if you take it that there will be suspensions and injury as well as the need for tactical changes to counter different opposition – there’s enough games to go around for everyone.
The most exciting thing for me is that Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Djourou are either 25 or 26 years of age. The central defensive solutions at
Arsenal for the next 8 to 10 years are on solid ground, notwithstanding the fact that young shining lights like Ignasi Miquel and Kyle Bartley are on hand to complement the squad depth.
Dont forget, if you haven’t yet, follow Stone Cold Arsenal on Twitter and join the growing community. We’re trying to find out where Bruce “We’ll beat the crap out of Arsenal” is hiding.
It’s been an interesting few days going walk-about, and meeting new folks while working in what I’d describe as a “pulling-your-teeth-out-without-a-local-anaesthetic” type of economy. You know the kind of economy that demands that you bend over, grab your ankles and doesn’t offer you the courtesy of using lubrication while shafting you in the most uncomfortable fashion.
“We’re heading to the dog house”, Joshua reminds all of us round the table discussing how best to stop our client from having to fold its tents and go to the wall.
To which I remind folks that whatever needs to be done should be done by Monday night so I can make my way back home. I have a very important
European engagement on Tuesday night with an organization in Germany that specializes in the kind of artistic expression I normally indulge in at the home of football.
“Since when was football an art”, comes the retort from Steve across the table.
See, you have to forgive Steve. Not only does he have the personality of a puff adder, he resents that I call Wengerball and what Arsenal does as art. Personally, I think he’s a closet United fan, but he pretends he doesn’t give a hooting funt about football.
“Europe is fucked anyway. How long will they pretend the frigging elephant in the room is a hippo”, Joshua eloquently brings some order to the table.
And it makes you think. Greece is way past staring at the abyss, and they’re at the point where the abyss is smiling right back at them before it swallows the whole country into a very dark place. Ireland and Portugal like most other fairly mediocre economies were propelled by the smoke and mirrors of a European political plot hatched in Maastricht to create the United States of Europe. A plot which has back fired spectacularly with the impending collapse of whichever is the lesser of two evils, the Eurozone and its single currency, or the European Union in its current form.
The amazing thing is this though. The football establishment still thinks that everything is normal and that what is happening around them will not affect their existence. You only have to listen to the illiterate punditocracy jizzing and sycophanting about the amount of money being spent by a cabal of filthy rich individuals, or in the case of Manchester City, another country’s sovereign wealth fund.
When talking about Everton, a club that pretty much has to ask Barclays Bank for permission to pay the bills – the solution offered is that they should go to the middle east and look for a sugar daddy because that’s the only way to survive.
This kind of “chocolate tea pot” reasoning is what has contributed to a culture of recklessness when it comes to football finance. The expectation is that the only way of working through the challenges of the game is by spending money you don’t even have to buy your way out of it. We’re constantly told that “it’s the way the world is now”. Accept it or take the highway. If you don’t have money, you can’t compete.
The hacks get bemused when Arséne Wenger suggests that football is pretty much going to hit a cash crisis in the very near future. You can almost see their rolling eyes scream out “Wenger should just stick to managing Arsenal and buying the big name, big money players he needs to compete with City and United”.
Mind you, Wenger is a guy who has a masters degree in economics, and it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that he actually has a clue about what he says regarding the economy. As they famously say, the tide is coming, and only after it has left will we see those who’ve been swimming naked.
It’s not even about the Financial Fair Play rules. Clubs will find loopholes around that. They won’t be able to cheat the economy though. I hear people say that clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid or even the debt riddled Man United will never be allowed to fail. There’s an Asian tycoon or Arab billionaire waiting in the wings to save them.
The thing is this though, it really doesn’t matter how luxurious and state of the art your yacht is. It could be the world’s most expensive and the world’s most fanciful boat. If you don’t have a lake or an ocean to prounce around in, then it’s pretty useless.
If the economies of Spain and Italy collapse – and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility – the super clubs in these countries will come tumbling down like a house of cards built on a foundation of smoke and mirrors. Ireland, Portugal and Greece are the proverbial warning signs and even though they represent a small percentage of the European economy, they’re the biggest red flags in town.
Italy alone represents 23% of the European economy and it’s pretty much unsavable by the patch up “rescue” packages being pushed around by Germany and France.
And people ask me why I love Arsenal so much. The answer – Arsenal is an oasis of sanity in an orgy of excess.
We get another opportunity to enjoy a new European adventure for the 14th consecutive season. We get to play a great team like Borussia Dortmund in an electric atmosphere.
And this is the thing to remember. Because of the foundations that Arsenal has built, we will continue to enjoy being at the high table of football for a very long time to come. While others figure out how to get out of their financial quagmire – well, they’ll probably try find a sugar daddy – we’ll be straddling the European landscape with our brand of scintillating and exciting football.
What more can you ask for?
Last evening, there was a captivating debate on ACLF about the extent of racism in football. Yogi’s joint has this eclectic mix of fascinating characters who occasionally take a spin outside football and indulge in profound discussions about politics, police states, the economy and many other colourful topics.
What struck me about the discussion yesterday was the level of understanding and ignorance in equal measure when it came to the reality of racism in football. It was a discussion triggered by the suggestion by former West Bromwich defender Brendan Batson that affirmative action was needed in
English football to open up opportunities in management for blacks and other ethnic minorities.
So, in the sporting world’s rendition of General William Sherman’s 1865 special field order No. 15, is it time for English football to start handing out the
“40 acres and the regulation mule” to managers of colour?
The redistribution of arable land to freed slaves was an effort to give them a chance to make a living in recognition of the clear disadvantage they already faced. Even as far back , that representation of affirmative action was deemed necessary to try and redress inequalities stemming from generations of slavery, despite its revocation after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
And here we are nearly 145 years later, and the “Rooney Rule” (nothing to do with that other one from Manchester) is seen as the only viable mechanism to break the establishment’s stronghold on the status quo when it comes to the lack of black managers in football.
Racism, like with most other “isms” is an emotive subject on any given day, and one commonly misunderstood characteristic is how racism manifests itself. It doesn’t have to be overt or explicit for it to exist. And in most cases, it is subconscious, subtle and hidden under the surface.
We’ve seen the numerous high profile initiatives and campaigns in football like “kick It Out” that in my opinion, are feeble and toothless PR exercises for the establishment to show that it is doing something. Only this week, the England football team were training with the “Kick it Out” bracelets to show the media and the world that they were sensitive to the racism experienced in Bulgaria during the fixture last week.
I know it’s feeble and spineless because it’s not nearly enough and not gutsy and deep enough to effect any changes. Footballing authorities are more interested in spending time witch-hunting banned managers for misdemeanours like sending signals to the bench from the stands via mobile phone, instead of tackling clear cases of racism.
It was only recently that Sergio Busquets of Barcelona blatantly abused an opponent with explicit racist slurs and FIFA and UEFA concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence. Gil Grisham from CSI would have built a case against Busquets from the TV footage even without leaving his sofa.
But it isn’t just the racism in the stands and terraces, and the racism on the field of play. When it comes to management, officiating, and the board room, the trend continues. It’s shocking that out of the 92 registered association football members, only Chris Hughton at Birmingham and Chris Powell at
Charlton are black.
At the highest level of football, we’ve seen the likes of Paul Ince, Ruud Gullit and Jean Tigana take charge of top football clubs, but is that nearly enough?
I don’t buy the argument that there aren’t enough black or minority professionals capable of doing the job at the highest levels. The fact that not many are even pursuing the opportunities in management is symptomatic of the fact that they are not likely to get the chance to manage at a high level, even if they were extremely competent and capable.
Nobody’s advocating for not giving the best man or woman the job. In an ideal world, the best candidate triumphs. But idealism and reality are two parallel universes. The reality is that the footballing establishment still live in the stone age and represent values and principles that are out of step with the modern world.
There’s a lot of noises about change, and a lot of noises about inclusion and diversity. They say “but, can’t you see how colourful the Premier league and the football leagues are? We have black, Asian and Hispanic players happily plying their trade alongside white folks”.
The blunt truth is that despite the player diversity numbers, racism is still alive. It’s taken a long time to get to where we are, but there are still tangible cases of racism towards players. My sense is that it got to a tipping point where it was impossible to ignore the talents of exceptional black players and that’s the reason barriers started breaking.
Sweden in the summer of 1958 was probably not prepared for a black 17 year old Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), but history will suggest that the world will never forget him. Pele spectacularly announced himself on the world stage despite the “hostile” conditions towards black players.
Much more work has to be done in other areas of football, whether in management and coaching, or in the board room. As much as the establishment might want to rationalize or justify what is happening or what initiatives have been put in place, not nearly enough is being done.
If we need to hand over footballing’s equivalent of 40 acres and a mule, then it needs to happen. It’s criminal that opportunities for minority professionals in a game of such a high percentage of minority players is almost non-existent.
This isn’t about handing over jobs to disadvantaged folks for the sake of political correctness. It’s about recognizing that we’re not even starting from a level playing field and we have to do something drastic about it. It’s about getting them to the table. Those who are good enough can take care of themselves from there.
Don’t forget, we’re getting into this tweeting thing now. Join me on Twitter.