The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Burnley

I only caught the last 20 minutes or so on a dodgy internet stream, but my god the First Division playoff final was tense there at the end! I didn’t see Burnley’s goal…in fact, I didn’t see Sheffield United’s red card either (a sub came on in the 58th, and handballed in the 72nd and 78th to get two yellows…what a dork).

But, I did see Burnley’s defense stand up magnificently to the bombardment of hopeful long balls that Sheffield fired into their penalty area in hopes of a lucky bounce (or for one of their mob to actually win a 50-50 header, something that never did happen). Of course, the problem for Burnley is that very few Premiership sides are going to opt for that tactic, even down a goal late on. In the 70th and 80th minute, most Premiership sides are still going to try and play their way into attacking positions, so it remains to be seen if they can cope with the higher level of technical skill.

Still, manager Owen Coyle has done a praiseworthy job leading a club from a city of 70,000 people into the top flight of the English game. With little in the way of resources, Burnley had that shocking run in the FA Cup last year, well and truly beat Arsenal’s kids in the League Cup this year, and made a great run this season to get into the playoff positions.

Well done to them, and I wish them well next season.

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Other Soccer | Leave a comment

UFC 98

More on this later, but for now all I have to say is that the wrong guy came out to dancehall music on this show.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | MMA | Leave a comment

Here’s a Stunner

Unable to induce anyone in MMA with any power to care about him, Roy Jones agrees to fight Jeff Lacy on a tiny little PPV. There might have been a time 5 years or so ago when this was a good fight; now, it’s two past-it journeymen scrapping for short money on a no-buys show. Jones’ career, a hall of fame-worthy one, is ending in a slow, sad descent into irrelevance to the mainstream, and while he’s likely to beat Lacy, that doesn’t mean there’s meaningful money in him fighting Anderson Silva or Nick Diaz; at this point, Roy’s fooling no one about where his skills are at.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | Leave a comment

Random Thought

You know, you could make a solid-ish case based on the playoffs so far that the three best players still active in the NBA this year are Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard, and you could also spend hours looking before you’d find a column or article noting their combined zero minutes of college ball. Can’t imagine why.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Other NBA | Leave a comment

Idea Is Unrelated

“”I often have asked people to name one bad thing that WAMMA has done for the sport. And when I ask that question, I never receive a straight answer. Instead, I would be told about all the ways that WAMMA could possibly hurt the sport.”

– Sam Caplan, leaving WAMMA

Here’s the thing about this: it’s not even a seriously answerable question from the POV of people who laugh at WAMMA (like me). For instance: replace “the sport” with “your health” in the above quote, and “WAMMA” with “wearing a coat made out of bananas”, and it comes to about the same thing. The objection to WAMMA isn’t that it’s going to hurt the sport; it’s that the idea of undisputed champions cross-promotion is preposterous hogwash given how the sport is actually organized. Brock Lesnar is not fighting Josh Barnett or Fedor, unless something substantially changes; we’ll never know exactly how Kid Yamamoto pre-knee injury would have done against Faber and Torres; we’ll never know precisely how Gegard Mousasi would do in UFC at this point in time or maybe ever, or how many UFC fighters would do in a non-drug tested environment and fighting in a ring, etc. etc. The reality of MMA right now is that it’s a small collection of mostly discrete fiefdoms zealously defended by paranoid, hyper-aggressive showman-promoters who have a greater chance of dying from meteor strike than they do of co-promoting and exchanging fighters. This is not likely to change soon, especially not when greater than, say, 60-70% of the world class talent is all in one promotion which stifles the chances of “dream fights” across promotions developing to the point where cross-promotion would even be financially tempting. Coming up with “rankings” that don’t take this and the reality of different regulatory and sporting environments into account isn’t “unbiased”, it’s make-believe.

The idea of WAMMA is to try and measure the unmeasurable based on a limited range of opinions for the sake of handing out meaningless belts that draw no money and signify nothing. A UFC title (Strikeforce, etc.), like it or not means something: you beat the man who held this before, and are clearly one of the top handful of men in your weight class. A WAMMA belt means a bunch of people held a vote and decided you were really neat. “But Fedor!” you say- well, Fedor was the man before they handed him this thing, he’ll be the man if they go out of business tomorrow, and the belt has nothing whatsoever to do with his man-being status. In this as in most things, Fedor is a special case. The real test case is the only other belt WAMMA sanctions currently, the lightweight “title” held by Shinya Aoki. Now, Aoki is a great fighter, this is not in dispute; but what does this title actually mean? He’s never going to defend it in the ring or cage against many of the top contenders (the top 3 are all UFC fighters), he “won” it because a bunch of people voted to hand it to him, it means dick to the public in his country or any other… it’s a banana coat. It’s not going to hurt you; it’s just a goofy affectation which serves no particular purpose and makes the person wearing it look very silly.

Or, you know, “lol dewd uf c si teh suxxors, dana whit snot a real fightr fuk him lololo”, whatever makes you happier.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | MMA | , | Leave a comment

Scrilla, Cheese, Dough, Bread, Loot, Cash, (Fabulous) Moolah

From Le Grove today:

“Let me move swiftly on to Peter Hill-Wood, Peter the shareholders didn’t make Arsene look a chump, you did, and you have been for several seasons now, you have said many times you would let Arsene buy who he wanted to, Danny said if he wanted to buy a player for £30 million he could, the next statement then comes from Arsene who says he has no money, well you know what?

SOMEONE IS TELLING PORKIES, YOU CAN’T BOTH BE RIGHT!”

Leaving aside how this is phrased for the moment, the basic point brought up here stands, I think; as Arseblogger also pointed out recently, the story from the club about available funds for players varies wildly depending on who’s doing the speaking and when they’re doing it. I’ve been running through in my mind various ways to make all the ends meet on this one, and I come back to two essential points:

1. The only realistic way to square the competing stories with an underlying reality (which is to say, to assume there’s no falsehoods involved) is to assume that at one point finances were excellent due to proper planning, and that at a later point the financial and economic crisis walloped the club such that no amount of planning, proper or otherwise, could have kept things at the intended level.

2. Point 1 is still almost entirely impossible to square with the movements of Arsenal shares in the same time frame. Alisher Usmanov, who knows what runs through that man’s mind or what his motives are; I don’t know him or his business well, and so will not speculate. Stan Kroenke, however, I do know something of from following various American sports in which he’s a team owner, and let me tell you: while he’s not generally one to underfund or chisel every thin dime out of his teams, he’s very much interested in making money and runs none of his teams as public charities. For him to be rapidly increasing both his financial stake in the club and his practical involvement by taking a seat on the board clearly indicates that he believes- knows, really, since he obviously has full access to the books- that there either is or soon will be a great deal of money available to Arsenal.

The second point is the one I can’t get away from. American billionaires who make most of their money off sports teams generally aren’t big on the idea of throwing tens of millions away on foreign teams which they don’t expect to turn a profit. And Kroenke is not a looter; if there’s profit and he’s making the calls, there will be reasonable (if not unlimited) money for players. His Nuggets and Avalanche have never really had much difficulty coming up with large money to retain their stars (Marcus Camby trade aside). So why aren’t we seeing more of that money in the team? Two possible reasons:

1. Arsene Wenger simply doesn’t want to spend. A questionable and uncertain idea- obviously he spent for Arshavin; equally obviously, you have his quotes about not “killing” Denilson, Song et al. with experienced players, so it’s difficult to really grasp Wenger’s full thoughts in this area at the moment. The summer will tell us a lot about whether and how much truth there is to this reason (of course, much the same was said last summer).

2. There’s very little money right now, but there’s a reasonable expectation of much more being available in the short (<5 years) term. Korenke is not a pump-and-dump short term owner; when he buys a team he holds onto it, having held the Avalanche and Nuggets for 9 years and his half of the Rams for 14 (per Wikipedia), so he may be buying in the expectation of near-term future value. It is possible that those in charge of the club including Wenger see themselves as having stuck out the worst of the financial pinch from the stadium and built a strong foundation in the time, which they know they'll soon be able to seriously augment- but which they can't say publicly for fear of undermining their negotiating positions for transfers or essentially admitting that it'll still be some period of time before Arsenal will compete again with the clubs above them, which is a great way to kill ticket and merchandise sales. The irritation rising to contempt which they sometimes display for criticism (not always without justification) would tally well with this explanation; after all, what's more irritating than knowing you're right and about to be proven so, yet being unable to effectively answer criticism for fear of causing problems which would upset long-laid plans?

And yet, neither of these explanations covers why the story seems to switch back and forth and has for years. I think the only inarguable conclusions which can firmly be drawn are that there is now or soon will be substantial money available, and that there's much more to this story than has been publicly disclosed to this point.

It should probably be said as well that, while a lack of total transparency from the club is to be expected and is defensible, the shifting sands and switching stories from the club on many matters- and this more than any other- have a great deal to do with the degree of fan discontent at the moment. For your team to suck is one thing (which Arsenal do not); for them to be very good but just below the best is another, which is sometimes worse since it has more disappointment to it; but to believe that the people in charge of the club or team are playing you for suckers or lying is quite another altogether. I don’t know if people in the club are lying as such on these matters, but I do believe that it’s extremely and understandably difficult for the majority of fans to avoid intense frustration with the incoherence and mutually contradictory quality of much of the official word on these matters. For my part, I’ve been and still am a fan of teams with ownership vastly less competent than Arsenal’s (Isiah Thomas and Jim Dolan’s Knicks, take a bow!), and while those teams have all driven me nuts in their own special ways, none have made me quite as frustrated as Arsenal. When the Knicks were flagrantly disorganized, I knew why; I could have described in minute detail (and did!) what had gone wrong with the team. With Arsenal I simply don’t have anything like a good idea what’s going on with the club, and worse, I’m not sure anyone really does. Believe it or not, that’s actually worse than having Zach Randolph on your team*.

* Arsenal fans: think of a 300 pound Eboue with less effort and interest and more arrests, but as the focal point of the team.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Real Wenger

There’s not enough in it yet to merit serious discussion, but I will say: right now this smacks of posturing to manipulate public opinion in order to achieve control behind the scenes. It’s a trick that’s been done many times over in analogous situations. Here’s the real bottom line however: no one is bigger than the club, no owner, no player, no manager. My major concern if Wenger were to leave would be whether the people calling the shots in that scenario would have the ability and courage to hire a serious substitute. I’m not concerned that only one man can do the job.

May 17, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Unbelievable

There’s apparently some reports floating around out there that in what has to be considered a shocking development, Liverpool are apparently going to file a formal challenge to the results of the League this year- accusing United of deliberately earning more points from games played than the Scousers in an attempt to undermine their title bid. There’s apparently some off-the-cuff quotes from Benitez out there decrying this “shocking” and “immoral” new tactic. God knows where this will go; I can’t imagine they’ll overturn any results, but there might be an investigation, and there’s even early word that Bayern Munich are looking into making similar claims. Incredible stuff.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | Other Soccer | , | Leave a comment

No Sale

I recognize that a huge amount of what I write here about Arsenal has focused on the fans more than the team of late, but there’s a reason for that: I could write about the potential of a 4-4-2 formation using Bendtner and Arshavin in these next two games, but the odds of that or any other such tactical wrinkle meaning much for next season is very minor, and this season remains over. The state of the fanbase and the media covering the club, however, is guaranteed to be a major issue all through the summer and into next season, and most likely will remain so until the club once again begins to achieve in a way which will reduce the pressure and disaffection of the moment. So: this post at Gunnerblog, let’s talk about it.

Generally speaking, I like Gunnerblog- it’s mostly well-informed, mostly restrained and not prone to wild swings here and these after every result, usually knowledgeable and well-written. This post, however, is not. Counteraction follows.

“Something I feel he was trying to say but never quite managed to capture was that we as a club would benefit from being more insular. We live in a world of media saturation, whereby we are all incluenced by an external perception of the club. When that is negative, it is easy to succumb and feel similarly. Some clubs battle negative perception all the time – I’m thinking of Chelsea, primarily – but their fans can at least point to trophies. Of late we have not had that defence, and that leaves us as fans feeling vulnerable.”

This paragraph entirely lives or dies on whether you believe the negative perception of current affairs at the club is driven primarily by external coverage, or by actual dissatisfaction produced by the independent judgments of fans. I tend to believe that the vast majority of it is produced by the latter; most would characterize, for instance, my writings as very negative, and I’m several thousands of miles away, almost never read the English press, and get the majority of my Arsenal opinions from very pro-Wenger blogs. Moreover, even if you concede the argument that the negativity is external and media-driven, so what? What can or should be done about that? The same media attention which makes Arsenal potentially or actually one of the richest clubs in the world also produces the environment which is so decried, to to complain about such without acknowledging the concomitant benefits is a bit disingenuous. At the risk of recycling, albeit facetiously, one of the most irritating rhetorical techniques of football fans, if the media attention bothers you so much no doubt there’s a third division side somewhere nearby which would appreciate another fan. You may have to do without the artistry of Arshavin bought with horrible media dollars, but them’s the breaks.

“In an ideal world, we would not give a toss what the media think. We would not care what the fans of other clubs think. In an ideal world, you could argue, we would not even bother to look at the league table. “

We would in fact not even bother to play games, secure in the knowledge that ours plans and style are so good as to not even need testing!

“But trophies are transient – as soon as they are won they are given up again. “

I call bullshit on this. Most fans of most clubs can give you an off-the-cuff recitation of everything their club has ever won, some of them down to what year, in which stadium, on whose goal to clinch it. If you wish to appeal to something essential about a club beyond the present team and circumstances, you must reckon with the fact that history- counted in wins and losses- is a monumentally important consideration along that line. Moreover, I detest this argument because it’s a way of half-assedly arguing that results and performances don’t really matter, only how you play the game, without taking responsibility for really making that argument. In any major sport in the world which I know well other than football, I believe that argument is horseshit full stop. In football it’s more nuanced since football is the most ruthlessly capitalistic and hierarchical of sports, but to argue that one of the richest clubs in the richest league in the world shouldn’t be held to standards of success is a far cry from acknowledging that, say, Millwall probably won’t win the Premier League any time soon.

“The values of a club – the spirit, the style – are more significant. As Arsene himself mentioned, Liverpool have not won the title for two decades, but they are doubtless a great club. Being true to our culture and our heritage ought to be more significant than any statistic.”

One might as well say that Arsenal ought to return to their traditional club values by selling young and foreign players, buying old English defenders, and fielding a team of alcoholics who win 1-0. Who’s up for that? And of course the easiest answer to the Liverpool example is that in that time frame they’ve won FA Cups and the Champions League, giving their fans moments of brilliance like Istanbul which will live in the memory of the club forever. And why were they even in a position to do so? Because they’d been winning things for years beforehand, building a fanbase who paid for those teams and a reputation for players to live up to. Fans will always- I mean ALWAYS- choose that path over the other. For example, in hockey: I’ve been a fan of the NY Rangers since 1992, a period in which they’ve won one championship and spent many years as one of the worst, most embarrassing, most ineptly run teams in the league. Would I trade that for, say, the St. Louis Blues’ run of never winning a title, but being very good almost every year? Like fun I would. This is what kills me about these kind of arguments: they’re just not well-thought out, so much so that they smack of someone trying to convince themselves instead of trying to convince others- a rationalization for what’s happening to Arsenal more than a defense.

“I know that reeks of idealism and is a philosophy that is almost entirely alien in results-driven modern football”

Basic rule of being a thinking sports fan (also applicable to politics): when someone makes a vaguely-worded appeal to “past values” or a vaguely-worded denigration of “modern values”, ask them to specify what time period they’re referring to, and to show their work. Or in short: in which era was football not results-driven? I’m reading a book on football history at the moment, and all of the early chapters on the 1880-1910 period are an endless litany of supposedly amateur clubs paying good players under the table, instituting no-show jobs for ringers, stealing players away with better offers, etc. Things just don’t change that much.

“Arsene once famously said, “Everyone thinks he has the prettiest wife at home”. At the moment we Arsenal fans are slagging off our missus and lusting after a few voluptuous but ultimately cheap tarts.

And you know what – if we got them, it’d only be a fling. Like Arsene said at the Q&A – if he spent £70m on a player, people would be happy for two months, and then the despair would creep back in with a stronger hold than ever. And everything that he had worked so hard to build would be irretrievably disturbed.”

So get Arshavin, Nasri, Gallas, Adebayor, etc. and the rest bought with dirty transfer money out of the club, no? Isn’t that the inevitable consequence and implication of this argument that transfers “disturb” what the manager builds? I think that’s the charitable reading, because the less-charitable version is to read all of this as a giant strawman which conflates all objections to current Arsenal policy with demanding 70 million pound players, which is an utterly stupid argument. Plenty of people who support the manager and want him to stay also want him also to buy reasonably-priced experienced players, a collection which ranges from many message board commenters to Arseblogger to Arshavin himself. Plenty of people who hate the manager and want him gone yesterday, like pretty much the entire authorship and readership of Le Grove and most of Gunnerblog’s own commenters I suspect, ALSO just want a few reasonably-priced experienced signings. In fact, in all the Arsenal blog reading I do, I doubt I see more than 5% of “what we need…” posts having to do with players in that price range, mostly idle daydreaming about David Villa. In short, you can read this argument as either wildly excessive anti-transfer posturing, or else as a total misrepresentation of actual criticisms.

“But it seems to me that Arsene believes that trophies must be the fruits of a club’s ethos, not the defining factor. It’s a view that I’m inclined to agree with. “

But what if that “ethos” is both fundamentally foreign to the club’s own history both recent and less so, and fundamentally not competitive in the circumstances in which it’s being deployed? Was youth and attacking without regard for defense the ethos of the club when Tony Adams captained the team to the double on Wenger’s watch? Was not spending for transfers the ethos when Wiltord, Reyes, Arshavin, etc. were all bought for substantial chunks of change? Precisely what ethos are we talking about, anyway? I’d be much more prepared to take arguments about the innate spirit of the club seriously if there were answers to these questions, but I’ve yet to see any.

“One shareholder suggested that the club’s motto ought to take more prominence, and I can’t agree more: Victoria Concordia Crescit – Victory Through Harmony.”

There’s a difference between harmony and conformity. Arsenal are not a democracy, have never been, will not be, should not be; but it’s a bit much to ask fans to give money, time, and the care of their hearts to a club over which they have no direct control, AND demand that they not even have an opinion if it differs from that of whoever’s in charge at the moment. Wenger’s certainly not going to delegate any meaningful decision-making authority, so it’s really meaningless to talk about harmony when the club is essentially autocratic on the fooball side. And incidentally, one might add that those who want to take such a motto seriously should deliver victory if they’re going to demand harmony.

“This is a difficult period for this football club, as we all knew it would be when emabarking upon the Emirates adventure. Arsene is the best man to have at the helm, and we need to rally behind him.”

As always: the fans were sold on the Emirates plan as a way to compete with the best in Europe; now they’re told that there was always going to be a time when there was a “difficult period”, so- which was the lie? There’s been several reports of Wenger interviews in the last 18 months featuring quotes along the lines of it being over a decade before Arsenal could spend serious money again, which Wenger’s greatest defenders dismissed at the time as made-up, all lies. If they were, then what’s the holdup? If they weren’t, what does it say that the club doesn’t feel they can be honest about the actual situation? More importantly, if you acknowledge that moving to the Emirates was going to cause a difficult period at the club presumably because of restricted funds for a time, you’re implicitly acknowledging that having more money is the goal and that austerity measures (like a youth policy) taken to get to that point are precisely that and not immutable aspects of the club ethos- which invalidates half the argument in this blog post! Preposterous.

As for “rally behind” the manager, I ask as always: what does that mean? If it means not to criticize, well, a quick look through Gunnerblog’s archives will tell you that the work perhaps should begin at home. If it means cheering the team in the stadium, there’s certainly been a great deal of that lately. Most likely I think the author didn’t know what he meant when he wrote that. Such is the fate of the Arsenal fan right now, worn out and at the end of his or her rope with the team, the season, the board, themselves and each other. I have a great deal of sympathy for frustration with the negativity around the club- there’s a reason I stopped writing about them for a few months- but I differ strongly with the idea that the negativity is somehow false or illegitimate. Many fans can be hysterical and over the top in their expressions of criticism, but the basic cause for those reactions is the policy and attitude of the club and manager, and the consequences thereof. No amount of demands for unity or harmony or rallying around the manager will assuage that; only progress and victory.

Quick pick is for a 1-1 draw today, and as it happens, I actually really do like the Bendtner/Arshavin pairing idea. Hopefully it happens.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Change?

“It’s not like we need to sweep right through the club with a new broom. I don’t subscribe to that theory at all.”

– East Lower

“Equally though, I didn’t see before last night why we should fear next season that much and I don’t see why the events of last night should change that opinion…I am realistic about where we are but also optimistic about where we can be.”

– Goodplaya, following the Manchester United 2nd leg

“There are those who think the manager has taken the club as far as he can, that a change is needed. I don’t go along with that but I strongly believe Arsene needs to look at the balance of his squad, as I’ve been saying for a couple of seasons now the balance is wrong.”

– Arseblog

“Reaction, and over-reaction, has started.”

– Goonerholic, following the Chelsea game

“There is plenty of work to be done in the coming months and years, and I still believe Arsene is the right man to oversee that.”

– Gunnerblog

So far as I can tell, that’s the current state of thought from 5 of the largest and most influential Arsenal blogs, most of whom seem to speak to each other on a regular basis, refer to each other in posts, appear on the Arsecast, etc. Right now none of them appear to believe that anything fundamental needs to change at the club, by which I mean: the board, the manager, the basic attack-first/defense-maybe and young-player-centered team construction. My hunch is that there’s an element by which, due to the familiarity, each of those blogs mutually reinforce each other in that opinion; and you could potentially make the argument that because many of those blogs have semiofficial sources within the club, they’re incentivized to maintain that stance in order to continue to receive a form of privileged access (it’s common enough in mainstream journalism). My suspicion is that nothing at the club will really change until these blogs are convinced for one reason or another that it’s time for a massive change, and when/if they are, all of them will go at once. Something to keep an eye on.

Incidentally, I’m not going to write anything about the shareholders meeting scenes, specifically. It’s brutally obvious that right now Wenger doesn’t give a fuck what fans think, half the fans don’t give a fuck what Wenger thinks, the other half don’t give a fuck what the first half thinks, and everyone involved is saying the ugliest stuff they can think of to get a rise out of the others. It’s basically pitched at the level of internet trolling. There’s nothing like reasoned debate in it, no one brings up facts, and the whole thing spirals into a miasma of witless recriminations. Who needs it?

May 15, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment