Sunday, February 28, 2010

Layer 257 . . . The Philosophy and Economics of Football; Arsenal and Emotional Intelligence

Yesterday Arsenal closed the gap to 3 points from Premiership leaders Chelsea, and 2 points from Man Utd.  All three have played 28 games. Arsene Wenger said some time ago that he thought Arsenal could still win the Premiership this season. Do I give a damn? Yes - slightly.

I read somewhere this week that England's Premier League clubs have more debt than the rest of Europe's clubs put together.

Portsmouth FC were officially declared bankrupt this week.

We've had fake sheiks, fake billionaires and people like the Glazers who somehow managed to buy a prestigeous club by borrowing loadsa cheap money and then making the club itself liable for its repayment. This is all bullshit. I hate the Premier League, and the people who run it.

It's a vile state of affairs. In Germany, for example, clubs are still owned by the supporters, as are Barcelona and Madrid. The cost of tickets is such that the children of less well off families can still afford to go to matches, and in fact buy season tickets without too much sacrifice. Does this matter? Yes it bloody does. I don't really care too much about prawn sandwich eaters going to matches, just as long as the pie and chips eaters can also still afford to go. In other countries they don't, generally, pay players insane amounts of money, and they don't generally buy them for ridiculous amounts.

The Premiership stopped being interesting at the point where the richest clubs bought up all the best players, and were themselves bought up by fat cat billionaires. Yes - there have been exciting matches, and incredible levels of individual skill - but so what? Who cares apart from the hard core supporters?

What neutrals want to see is clubs nurturing their own talent, not borrowing massive amounts of money in order to snaffle up the established stars. Personally I hate seeing the so-called Championship clubs being denuded of the talent they've raised themselves - enticed away by the bribes that are successfully offered by the biggest clubs, or even the moderately big clubs, in the Premiership.

Arsene Wenger has been castigated by so-called afficionados of the game for refusing to give up on his youth policy and for insisting that the young players he's trained and raised himself should be allowed to play in the first team. Most people laughed when he said his team could still come top. Well they're not laughing now. Chelsea and Man Utd must be crapping themselves.

What's more, Arsenal have done so well in spite of having key players like Van Persie and Walcott out with long-term injuries.

The thing I really like about Arsenal, though, is Wenger's philosophy of the game.

On the Internet coachkev wrote this:

"Arsenal uses a 4-4-2 system. Wenger is constantly working to refine this system on the levels of both group and team tactics.

The team's defence is very attack-oriented. They attack their opponents early with a midfield press that alternates between a diamond formation and a back four. This tactic represents a calculated risk that the coach and his players are willing to accept (since most of the players are English and French, they have been playing without a sweeper since they were children).

Wenger demands aggressive, ball-oriented defence from his players and cultivates it with lots of practice games in tight spaces. When Arsenal gets the ball, its attack is very forward-focused. Square passes and runs parallel to the endline are to be avoided.

However, contrary to the "typical English" playing style, Arsenal relies mainly on short passes in the opposition's half - until they get close to the goal, where every player is encouraged to take risks and go for the goal with confidence and determination. Errors are allowed, but playing carelessly and losing the ball is forbidden.

Wenger places special emphasis on communication within the team. Every exercise is accompanied by shouts and commands that are loud and clear - aggressively so, if the situation requires it - and successful plays are greeted with cheers and applause. Players are expected to be actively engaged with one another and to cooperate in building team spirit, morale and enthusiasm for the Arsenal style."

"Actively engaged with one another." "Spirit". "Cooperate". "High morale". "Enthusiasm." All words  and concepts associated with emotional, interpersonal and spiritual intelligence.

Alex Thistlewood wrote this:

The club has become a preeminent destination for talented youth the world wide, and has established a footballing ethos the envy of every team in Europe but Barcelona. Arsenal is a club unique in their philosophy of bringing along a cadre of players who grow up together and want to win for each other, prizing an attacking style, while competing at such a high level. It’s an almost unprecedented venture in modern football. In terms of finances and talent, Arsenal is better positioned for the future than any other club in the League, and perhaps Europe.

Chelsea have been inconsistent this season, and I'm sick of reading about the antics of John "The Penalty" Terry, who's crap this season, and Ashley "Text Sex" Cole. Lampard's generally been off colour. Cech had a very poor start to the season and is now injured. Joe Cole hasn't regained his former brilliance. The replacement goalkeeper's called Hilarious. Balack must surely be ditched soon. I feel sorry for Drogba and Anelka, who've been superb. And who gave JT his tragic haircut? Vanessa Perroncel? Has he looked in a mirror?

As for Man Utd - they've had lots of injuries to their defenders, and have done very well in spite of that. But they're also inconsistent. Their defence has been pretty crap. I feel sorry for Rooney, who's been brilliant all through the season, and has really grown up this season. I hope he gets the player of the year award.

On Match of the Day just now even Alan Hansen said he's becoming an Arsenal supporter. They're a team that's greater than the sum of their individual parts. Man City did them a huge favour today by humiliating Chelsea 2 - 4. It has to be Arsenal's season. What a story that would be.


"Polymath James Riordan can list Professor of Russian Studies, international children's author, translator, Radio 4 broadcaster, editor, sports historian, sports coach and Moscow Spartak footballer as just some of his hats.

One of his aims at Worcester is to combine work in both sport and children's literature, cooperating with the Children's Literature, Literacy and Creativity Reseach Centre and the School of Sport and Exercise Science."

Jim Riordan has watched Portsmouth for 66 years but has seen them wrecked in just a few seasons.

Pompey embodies the passion, hopes and companionship of a working-class community and the fans will not let their club die

by Jim Riordan

My Pompey are going to rack and ruin. The club are so deep in debt through mismanagement that they have had to sell everything saleable, from the 112-year-old stadium to half-decent players. Today, administration. Tomorrow, oblivion?

As one of the oldest fans (I saw my first game at Fratton Park in 1944: having first pick on servicemen such as Ted Drake, we won 9-1 against Crystal Palace), I'm lucky. I witnessed the double-championship years of 1949-50 when Portsmouth were probably the best team in the world. I followed the club from First to Fourth Division and back, then down again under Alan Ball. Less than two years ago I "lived the dream" of winning the FA Cup. But that dream turned into a nightmare. Who is to blame?

The oligarch who cut off all funds? The chief executive who paid himself an alleged £1.4m a year, which we couldn't afford? The manager who asked for more, and more, and more?

Or are the Premier League and FA responsible? In their rush to rake in the millions that TV brings, they have perhaps turned a blind eye to what has been happening at our club. Dick Turpin would be more fit and proper than some of Pompey's recent board members.

A football club is far more than those that run and ruin it. The club represent the community, thousands upon thousands of fans throughout the world. Like virtually no other club, Pompey embodies the passion, hopes and companionship of a tight-knit, working-class community that regards the club as theirs. In desperation, these real fans sing "Portsmouth till I die!" and "Please don't take my Portsmouth away". So when the FA does FA for FA (Fans Always), remember that we will not let our club die.

These are not empty words. Fans have formed the Pompey Supporters Trust to bring together fan groups from up and down the country and try to gain a voice and an ear. Such is the eagerness to help that in less than three months the trust has gained well over a thousand members (at £5 a time) and generous financial support from all over the world, especially Australia and North America. It has its own bank account and website. Trust members are more than willing to take part in talks about the future of our club. But we have also drawn up our own Plan B for forming a new club if things go pear-shaped in administration. This has involved negotiations with local football clubs, coaches, builders etc. And agreement on a ground share with a local club, Havant & Waterlooville, increasing ground capacity to accommodate an estimated 8,000 core support from Pompey.

The new club would recruit players from academy and Football League cast-offs, and a manager with extensive local knowledge. If that means starting out again in, say, Conference South, so be it. At least the club would be run by and for real Pompey fans. I may not see top-class football again in my lifetime. But I'd like my children and grandchildren to have the chance.

Comrade Jim


Barney Ronay is one of the Guardian's best writers.

Do the press want a World Cup disaster?

Thanks to John Terry we have a narrative for England's World Cup failure, with a villain, sex and a tempting notion of hubris

This week brought the World Cup abdication of Wayne Bridge, who has decided his position in the England squad is "untenable", a brilliantly grave and high-minded use of a word you might more normally associate with elite public office rather than sitting next to Aaron Lennon on a coach and occasionally standing up to do some special jumping on the touchline. It's a shame for Bridge. As a quite-good left-back he will be a loss. On a personal note I'll miss him because he's part of a dwindling band of sportsmen who resemble the kind of skinny, beaky, moist-eyed, old-fashioned 1970s-style youths you might have seen shouting something out of the window on the top deck of a bus, or hanging around near some swings in 1981.

My first thought was that this is not the right move for Bridge. You should always go to the party. Get out there. Even though you know it's going to be painful and you're going to spend the whole evening "being fabulous" in a slightly hysterical way, laughing too loudly and ultimately making an exhibition of yourself on the dancefloor by appearing to be too into the lyrics of I Will Survive. It's still much better than spending June on the sofa eating Galaxy and watching Midsomer Murders through a haze of tears and snot.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect has been a swell of support – including one entire radio show devoted to the subject – for the idea that the Bridge/Terry affair is part of a conspiracy by The Press to stop England winning the World Cup.

One theory is that The Press can't help it. They're like a veteran indie band called Stumbledork or Deathfinger or Bogusfringe. They only know one song: and it's a really depressing one (whereas I imagine in Germany the press are more like a triumphant old-school hair metal franchise, all fist-pumping spandex positivity).

The point is that The Press have only two stories here: England win the World Cup or England don't win the World Cup. One of these is a lot more likely, and so The Press is already diligently turning it into a coherent story, with a villain, some sex and a tempting notion of hubris. The Press now has a narrative for failure. We have a story arc, even if it's the same one – debauchery, decadence, pitfalls of celebrity – as last time around.

It's also worth noting there really is no such thing as The Press, no brotherhood of red-faced, sherry-stinking men and women gleefully tossing Wayne Bridge's roughly scissored scalp about like an office stress ball. There are just individual red-faced, sherry-stained men and women, jammed together out of necessity. The England team itself is like a vast, creaking, timber-lashed raft of the Medusa, with its own laptop-clutching parasite crew scattered across its back, huddling, fighting, building tiny shelters, hacking bits off, carving their initials and generally servicing their own petty short-term needs.

England won't win the World Cup, because other countries have better players. And when they don't it's all going to be about Terry. This is the only story left now: The Man Who Shagged Away The World Cup. From a purely press angle Bridge has carried out a passive-aggressive act of self-immolation, a World Cup suicide bombing. It's quite clever really.



Owen Gibson wrote this in The Guardian:

Curious Links In A Twisted Chain of Ownership

When Sacha Gaydamak bought a 50% stake in Portsmouth from Milan Mandaric in 2006 he set in train a complex sequence of events that ended yesterday with the formal announcement that it had become the first Premier League club to go into administration.

Throughout his tenure there were questions about whether he was merely acting as a front man for his billionaire father Arkady, who was convicted in his absence in France last year on charges of illegal arms trading and sentenced to six years in prison. He fled to Moscow.


by David Conn

Portsmouth's collapse must prompt football to examine itself

The Premier League rejects the idea that this is a major embarrassment that should prompt a bout of soul-searching. Portsmouth's collapse is due to rank bad management and overspending, they say. That is true, and it is the administrator's job to decide whether the problem results from even worse practices than that. But as far as we know, Portsmouth did nothing against any rules; they followed the accepted Premier League model for a club – overspending, beyond the club's true means, financed by loans from an owner and banks.

Portsmouth's core problem at the end of Sacha Gaydamak's ownership last summer was that he, who had passed the fit and proper person test and satisfied the league he owned the club rather than his father, the now convicted gun-runner Arkadi Gaydamak, had become simply not rich enough. Then the overspending became unsupportable and Pompey, three owners later, have collapsed.


Stoke City announce they are debt-free

Stoke City have announced that they are externally debt-free on the day that Portsmouth went into administration.

Figures announced for the year 2008-09, the club's first season in the Premier League, show the Potters made a net profit of £503,000 at the end of the last trading year, after transfers, and had an increased turnover of £54m – up from £11m in their last season in the Championship.

Stoke's manager Tony Pulis, who counts Portsmouth among his former clubs, said: "This is a great testament to the Coates family, who have put so much into the club.

"The chairman, Peter Coates, has been a fan since his boyhood and he knows this club inside out. He and his family have put so much into the club.

"This is a family club, run for the fans, and by local people. There should be an inquiry into how Portsmouth has been run."

The Coates family have already invested £17m, interest free, and plan to inject another £24m. Pulis said: "It must be unique for a club like us to be free of external debt, and that underlines how indebted we are to the Coates family.

"The most important thing about this club is that it stays in existence, and we have had success on the pitch to match the investment."

Arsenal announce £35.2m profits and slash club debt

Arsenal have announced that they have slashed their debts by over £100m after making pre-tax profits of £35.2m for the six months ending 30 November, 2009.


Manchester United fans prepare to show their true colours at Wembley

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