Sunday 30 October 2016

Ainsley Maitland – Niles Though

 If I was a decision maker at Arsenal, I will never let Jack Wilshere leave even if he is unable to walk let alone play football. I look at Jack as Mr. Arsenal. Yes he supported whatever team he supported before he was 9 years old but since then he has been Arsenal through and through and I think no club should ever let players like that go if they are good enough for the squad or the 1st team. I guess it is a different matter if the player wants to go. 

The rise of players like Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom and Ainsley means I am somewhat less emotional about Jack. Yes Alex is now a first team staple and I believe Chuba is a guaranteed starter in the EFL if fit and Ainsley has had 3 huge appearances already this season. But none of these 3 are yet to attain Jack’s status in the English game or in the affection of the Arsenal fan base but they are getting there. Alex, Chuba & Ainsley joined the Arsenal academy at age 6 and looks like barring injury at least Ainsley and Alex will have long careers with Arsenal. 

Ainsley wont be a surprise to Arsenal watchers. He played in the Champions League & Premier League 2 seasons ago. He was on loan at Ipswich last season and yes he has some personal challenges (we can’t choose our relatives) but you can tell Mr. Wenger likes & trusts Ainsley. 

I was surprised to see him at right back for the EFL game versus Reading. This was at a time when many were wondering what will happen if Hector Bellerin became unavailable. Ainsley was fabulous in that match. I was also thrilled to see him as Elneny’s midfield partner in the Reading game and he came on for some game time at  the end of yesterday’s match versus Sunderland. Considering he is only a year younger than Alex Iwobi, I am hoping this is Ainsley’s year. 

Collectively these ‘young uns’ are a further testament to Arsene’s legacy and football philosophy.


I was at the Emirates to watch the EFL Cup game against Reading. I love the EFL cup games and Arsenal FC’s ultra low pricing policy for the Cup games. For the price of a typical Premier League match, at least 4 adults can watch a League Cup one.

It appears the pricing policy created a pitch invasion problem a few seasons ago but I didn’t witness any at the Reading game. What was noticeable was the low decibel compared to say the Ludogorets game the week below and my experience of the singing during Premier League matches. I think the League Cup crowd definitely need to crank up their volume.

Back to the issue of footballing philosophy.  One of the long lasting criticism of Arsene Wenger has been the fact that his Arsenal Team only ever play in one dimension. I dare say, I have participated in this criticism. I have been hurt many times by some of the losses the Arsenal Team have experienced because we chose to play the Arsenal & Arsene way.

In the last couple of seasons, as the criticism of Wenger has grown especially in the social media sphere, I have come to accept that Wenger will not change his style of play and rightly so. I have come to the adult & matured conclusion about beliefs and value systems.

I have my values and beliefs, most of them derived from the Christian way of life. None of them motivates me to harm my fellow man (except when my team defeats his club side by a huge score and I am left with no option but to gloat or when I rib the hell out of his team at the end of a bottom spanking like Chelsea versus Manchester United recently) 

From that perspective, my value system and beliefs is not wrong and is not to be changed because others don’t like it even if they were distant relatives or supporters. Same with the Arsene Wenger’s football value system and beliefs. It is not a right or wrong matter. This is the way Mr. Wenger wants to play football. Yes it comes undone sometimes but that’s football. You can’t always win and there is no mathematical equation yet to determine the outcome of football matches. Even the great Messi losses football matches.

So why am I bringing this up. It was the way Jaap Stam set up his team against Arsenal. It is instructive to note that he was only appointed in June and this is his 1st gig as the number 1 man at a football club. For someone who was a top defender, it is remarkable and praise worthy that Jaap has decided that his team will be a ball playing side.

Yes they lost to a 2nd string Arsenal side but they were not outclassed, outplayed or disgraced and could potentially have levelled the match before Oxlade – Chamberlain’s 2nd goal or even taken the lead at some point in the match.

Jaap has made it clear to disaffected fans that this is his style of football as a manager and he is for all intent and purpose staking his managerial career on his football philosophy.  I think we need more of Jaap in football management.

This is not to say that other managers like Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce who build their reputation on well organised / well drilled defences are not needed. Tony & Sam are also in their own way true to their football philosophy. But young managers like Jaap making their own way in the football management world and choosing to play expansive football put lie to the fallacy told by Jose Mourinho boot lickers that the only way to amount to anything in football is to win ugly.

On the same subject of football philosophy is Pep. He has had a few subtle dust ups with the English press. I guess the football press in England are a bit like the crowd in the time of Jesus Christ. “Hosanna today and crucify him tomorrow”. If the football pundits in the English media were running the Betting Companies, they would have paid out on Pep and Man City winning the Premier League this season after only 5 games.

In the space of a few weeks, the English Press have gone from ‘Crown him’ to ‘he is washed up & has been found out’. Of relevance to me though is  Pep’s comments that he will be sticking by his football philosophy. They are his personal football belief system and he is entitled to them. They have worked for him in the past and they continue to work for him. It is not the place of interested or even keen enthusiasts like us fans to question the footballing philosophy of managers.  Managers pay the price when their philosophy don’t deliver results.

Personally it still hurts when Arsenal go to the Nou Camp and get beat and you wonder maybe if we had “parked the bus’ the results would have been different. At which point, I remember Sir Alex playing Pep’s Barcelona twice in Champions League Finals and not changing his system and same with Pep Guardiola versus Barcelona a couple of weeks ago. I can bet my bottom dollar Pep is going to do the same again this midweek at  the return leg in the Etihad. Sir Alex is a genius and Pep is already a great manager but they stick with their football philosophy in challenging football circumstances.

My take, I think the Wenger critics on his lack of Plan B playing style should lay off. We all have value systems and beliefs and we infinitely live and perish by them. The only manager struggling at a top club as we speak is perhaps the only manager who has no football playing philosophy. His philosophy is to win at all costs, to be fair he has yet to jettison this philosophy and who are we to tell him otherwise. The philosophy has worked for him in the past but lets see if it works going forward.

Sunday 23 October 2016

DWIGHT YORKE & The Issue of Black Managers in Football

I wrote this article on the subject of Black Managers in football   about 18 months ago. I was filled with righteous fervor when I wrote it and to a large extent, I still feel the same way.

However, something happened on Tuesday October 18, 2016 that has led to a re – examination of my stance. My patience was sorely tested when Dwight Yorke was interviewed on The Alan Brazil Show on Talksports Radio about comments he made the day before on the issue of Black Managers not getting a chance in football.

As you might have noticed from my old column, I think there is something of a problem with the representation of ethnic minorities in football management but nobody has yet advocated for affirmative action / positive discrimination in the appointment of football managers until Yorke piped up with his comments on radio.

It was a car crash of an interview. If that was his interview for a volunteer role in a football club talk less of a managerial role, he flunked it badly. He couldn’t explain himself, couldn’t justify why he should be starting his managerial career at a top club and claimed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink got lucky in his managerial career.

To top it all off, he only applied for the Aston Villa job via a text message. I wonder if he included an emoji in his application. We can be grateful he is not on Twitter as his application could have been restricted to 140 characters. If you want to listen to the interview, please listen here

I was disgusted while the interview was on in real time and I think Talksports have been kind enough to edit out the unpleasant part of the interview as Dwight came across as someone who had a massive entitlement chip on his shoulder.

Yorke’s claims are as follows:
He has played at the top
He has won trophies
He has played with many great players who go on to get opportunities to manage
He has not been given the same opportunities as some of these players he played with
He has talked with other black players and they feel the same way – many feel they have been discriminated against even for Media punditry roles
He wants to start at the top
He won’t drop to lower divisions to get a job
He thinks the time when managers’ start at lower divisions is gone
He thinks managers only get one opportunity now and might or might not make it if they fail with that one opportunity
He thinks people like him have far more experience and exposure to start at the top
He references Steve Bruce, Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate getting opportunities while others of different color don’t get the same opportunity

It is very clear that Dwight Yorke obviously doesn’t appreciate the fact that the skills set he possessed as a player has absolutely no bearing on his ability as a manager. He should realize that even if you have the skills set to be a football manager, your personality and other attributes might make you more suitable for the number 2 role.

He doesn’t understand that just because you have now been presented with paper certificates doesn’t mean you walk into a job. Passing written exams and practical tests in flying colors doesn’t automatically translate into on – the - job competency.

His comments about the time frame of a manager’s career wound me up so much. Here he was on National Live Radio saying that ‘I know my tenure is likely to be short so I will rather start at the top and if I fail miserably, at least I know that I have managed at the top’. If I was a club owner, this is exactly the type of manager I will not be employing. A prospective manager who has come prepared to fail. You can’t make stuff like this up.

If I may offer advice to Dwight. He needs to be aware that the nature of club owners are changing. Club owners like Milan Mandaric are increasingly becoming rare in the world of football. Clubs are moving towards the corporation model and some have very bright people holding the reins. Tony Xia of Aston Villa appears to have a doctorate degree and has attended many top schools in the world.

So Yorkie, if you want someone like him to employ you, make the effort, hire professionals and get them to put together a proper polished pack introducing Dwight Yorke the manager and person to the club and what you are bringing to the proverbial table.

A club proprietor is not your mate and you are not asking to join a kick about at the Hackney Mashes, you are contacting a prospective employer who might likely give you a leg up to the 2nd or 3rd phase of your career.

I hope other ethnic minority managers will learn from Dwight Yorke’s recent misadventure. Build your networks, cultivate football club owners and those within their circle of influence. Let us see how much of a football brain you have either on TV / Radio football shows or football columns online or in newspapers. Do not be afraid to take the plunge at lower league club sides like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Do not be constrained by reduced opportunities in the UK, go and make your luck in Europe and other parts of the world.

And if you ever feel you need to voice your frustration on radio like Dwight did, please don’t come across like a TWAT with a sense of entitlement.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Football = Religion

I come from a religious background. My family and friends are all religious. Whether we remain practicing religious people is a different matter though.

Growing up, I was fascinated with the similarities between religion and night clubbing especially as a popular musician back then used to sing gospel type songs as part of his live performances every last Friday of the month. It salved my conscience for not going to church on the Sunday.

Increasingly as football has dominated my adult life, I have started to notice the similarities between football and religion.

Obviously the stadium is like a Church. Both attract large hopeful crowds hoping, praying even for a positive outcome at the end of the football service (match).

As an Arsenal fan, I notice the obvious prayers from a Mesut Ozil, the sign of the cross from an Alexis Sanchez and the other superstitious signs from a host of other Arsenal players. Incidentally, players of the opposing team are rendering the same prayers, making the same sign of the cross and doing their own pre game superstitious rituals.

The same happens with fans. But I wonder. Who will God listen to? 

It’s a bit like church. Two people at the end of an adversarial contract both attend the same church and pray for contrasting outcome and both hope their prayers will be answered by the same God. Tough. Very tough.

The role of Arsene Wenger or any football manager is clearly like that of the High Priest or in Pentecostal Churches, the Pastor. His word is law. Many look up to him. Even people perceive him as a miracle worker. 

Like many churches with long standing Pastors, many of the followers grow weary when their long promised miracles (trophy wins) don’t materialize. They decide to go other churches (Man City or Barcelona), they become cold and unmotivated (the “I wont buy Arsenal merchandise until Wenger leaves”) or become apostates (Wenger Out Brigade).

The timing of football matches is also a big similarity for me. Church is usually weekend service and midweek service. Same with football especially if your club is in Europe. I guess this is something Liverpool fans are presently unable to relate with.  Sadly for that once great club.

In today’s world, it is common to criticize religious people for believing in a God who does not exist.  But I wonder about football fans that believe in their team in a game where the deliberate act of a bent official or the mistake of a well-meaning referee can change the outcome of the match.

I wonder which is worse, believing in something that does not exist or allowing your mood, weekend, life, relationships to be affected by something that is totally out of your control and in increasingly frequent circumstances, fixed by football administrators, footballers on the take and criminal betting gangs.

To be fair, this allowing your whole life to be affected thing is what religious believers do too.

The dislike for opposing fans and opposing club sides is something common in religions as well. While not making light of the fate that befall apostates as mandated by some radical preachers, you can imagine the ribbing & vile abuse people who change clubs get on social media. – Plastic fans, flip floppers and worse. Somewhat denied a voice or an opinion.

By extension, adherents of one religion are confident that those who don’t worship with them are likely to end in one form of purgatory or the other. Same with football fans, the hellfire of football relegation is definitely reserved for their traditional football opponents.

Modern day football is also increasingly like modern day religion. Modern day football fans want it here and now. Their team must get that 3 points today, their team must top that champions league group (obviously not relevant to Manchester United fans at the moment), their team must win that big shiny trophy today. Same with modern day religionists, their God must answer by fire today. He must answer right here and right know. Their miracle must come today.

If the miracle delays, no attendance in church just like the football fan, no trophies, support withdrawn, no more visits to the stadium.

To be fair, I am struggling to see any similarities between the Wenger Out Brigade and any set of religious people I know. Often when worshippers start to slag off the High Priest as the WOB do, they are either taken to Tower Bridge in medieval times where their judgment is short and sharp or ostracized to somewhere as dreary as Burnley. Or the less dim witted amongst them are quick enough to read the signs, move away and form their own commune.

I guess the WOBs are fortunate we live in modern times or the High Priest would have locked the gate of the Emirates against them and banish them to everlasting social media appearance where their flip flopping opinions is converted to some reality show as a lesson to us faithful. I guess we will just wait and see for that time to come.

I believe football fans especially fans of less popular clubs and religious people deserve medals. I just wonder what kind of sainthood we should confer on people w ho are both football fans & religious. I think God will be kind to them especially if they support Tottenham Hot Spuds. They have strived for over 20 years to keep up with the Joneses and at each attempt, the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. Their experience is clearly proof that God exists and that he has a blinding sense of humor.