Sunday 26 February 2017

Lessons From The Umpteenth Ranieri Sacking

As an Arsenal fan and a Wenger admirer, I wasn’t sold on the Leicester Premier League win last season. Yes it was a fairy tale as we have been told for the one millionth time but the fact that Arsenal defeated Ranieri’s team home and away despite some skulduggery from the referee especially in the match at the Emirates meant Leicester winning the Championship wasn’t really a big deal for me.

13 years ago, I disliked Ranieri intensely. He was the man who prevented Arsenal & Arsene from wining the Champions League that year and sparing the whole world the egotistic narcissism of Jose Mourinho.  If you think egotism and narcissism cannot be combined in one person, you clearly do not know Jose Mourinho.

When Ranieri was sacked by the arriviste Chelsea owner, although I found the decision weird, I didn’t shed a tear for Claudio. His subsequent sojourn in club and international management prior to his appointment at Leicester turned him into something of a laughing stock.  When he was appointed at Leicester, every single person (pundit, commentator, friends etc) I have read or heard from thought it was a disastrous appointment. One well known journalist even said Leicester will be relegated last season for appointing Ranieri. I think the owners only appointed Claudio because they thought he had less of a baggage than Nigel Pearson.

Did Leicester & Ranieri win last season’s league fair and square? My emphatic answer is NO. Their win was very much one that was signed off in the EPL Executive Management suite and by the PGMOL Leadership. The EPL needed something exciting, something new and shiny, a fairy tale to sell their wares to a wider audience for more money. They needed to sell this ‘anybody can win the league’ Disneyesque story and Leicester fitted in perfectly.

You might have noticed that referees didn’t take a stand against Jamie Vardy’s diving until the West Ham match on April 17 at the King Power when Referee Jon Moss (the PGMOL ‘go to man’ for special jobs) sent off Vardy for simulation. This is something the ever so ‘nice’ Jamie had been doing for 2 seasons. By this time, Leicester were already 8 points clear at the top of the table with other competitors a distant second.

Spare some time to again watch the Manchester City v Leicester City match at the Etihad (a year ago this month) and see the blatant fouling by the Leicester pair of Huth & Morgan. They got away with murder in that game and got away with the same murder the whole season until the PGMOL changed their guidance this season and Huth & Morgan the 'best' central defence pair from last season became a pair of spectators.  

To be a somewhat open minded, misfiring Man City, lethargic Arsenal, addicted to the past Liverpool & a forever unreliable Totteringham played their part in helping Leicester win the Championship. At least Arsenal played their part by defeating Leicester home and away but what did the others do. Zilch.

So yes. Ranieri was crowned a champion for the first time in his almost 40 years coaching career. Arsene Wenger haters used this to beat up on Wenger not realising that Wenger achieved the same thing Claudio just achieved 4 years into Arsene’s Managerial career. Wenger haters also didn’t realise that the fact Ranieri could ever win a Premier League title signposted the possibility that Wenger could bring back the league winning glory days.

Less than 10 months after achieving the unbelievable, Ranieri has been fired, he was let go ignominiously. The football punditocracy have been apoplectic in their hysterical condemnation of the firing of Ranieri. The same people who criticised his appointment, who were dismissive of the appointment of Pochettino at Southampton, Marco Silva at Hull etc. are now criticising the firing of Ranieri. Why anybody pay our so called pundits serious attention fails me.

Personally, I think the day Ranieri won the league with Leicester and collected all his bonuses, he should have walked away.  There was ever only one way to go from that point and it was DOWN. Similarly with the players as well. You have to imagine Kante’s decision was inspirational and Vardy and Mahrez were too sentimental to remain. The same with the club who did not buy new players of the same calibre with some of their key performers in the title winning season.

It would appear the Leicester owners did not expect their team to win the League again this season but they didn’t quite expect a relegation scrape and fearing the dreaded drop, they pressed the sack button and let Ranieri go. The sad thing is that Ranieri’s sack does not guarantee survival.

I wonder if the losses to fellow relegation scraper Swansea and to a League 1 Millwall made up of only 9 outfield players were the final straw that meant Ranieri had to go. Some newspaper reports indicated the decision was made before the Seville game while more recent reports suggests that the sack decision was made after. The latter appears unbelievable as all match reports suggested that the players played the  game of their life in the 2nd half of that Champions League match in Seville. Maybe that 2nd half performance in Seville was inspired by knowledge that the owners had already sacked Claudio. Who knows. I don’t know but it is instructive that many had speculated about Ranieri’s firing before the owners pulled the plug. So much so that he was given the dreaded vote of confidence.  

What I however find strange is the wailing when Ranieri was then fired. Results were piss poor. The title defence was the worst of its kind in modern times. All of the 'superstars' of last season had disappeared. One season wonders the lot of them.

Ideally you will imagine that a manger who wins an unprecedented title should be allowed to manage the whole of the next season irrespective of the threat of relegation as long as he hasn’t deliberately lost the dressing room through his egotistic narcissistic ways like Jose Motormouth and that the results are understandable although not welcome. That wasn't the case for Ranieri. Did Claudio lose the dressing room? Did he fall out with his backroom staff? Did the players shop him? 

In case the pundits and their sheep are willing to eat some humble pie and be balanced in their opinions, they should realise that no manager goes from hero to zero in one season or vice versa. Claudio was a good manager before he came to Leicester despite what the pundits said when he was appointed, he remains a good manger despite the sacking irrespective of this season's results. 

I have been advocating in my writing and in conversation with friends that a number of factors must come together to help you win the league and some of these factors are totally outside your control.  

For long, pundits and sheep - like football fans have pushed the ‘only winning matters’ narrative. Now a manger that has stopped winning is fired and there is an outpouring of outrage. Pundits need  to chill and take several seats. They have created the environment where owners & fans buy into the ‘sack the manager’ philosophy. All you need to do is have a bad run of results and their is some shyster pundit even in the national media advocating for a change of manager.  

Pundits claim Ranieri’s sacking is a sign of what is wrong with football but lead a baying mob to force Arsene Wenger out of Arsenal because he has made consistency look effortless. SHAME ON YOU PUNDITS.

Friday 17 February 2017


You have read the reports especially after the match against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. “Arsene Wenger snatches candy from kids”. “His team can never do it again”. “They don’t have mental strength”. “He needs to go now” etc. Overreaction I call it.

Apart from the fact that I am still hurting from the result. I am also incensed primarily at the Arsenal fans without a single sense of history. Those whose horizons are limited to any team currently winning the league or the nearest trophy. Those whose sample size for comparing Arsenal and Arsenal is severely limited. The ones that really annoy me are the “Wenger used to have it but he no longer does”.

Funny old game football. Its not like we have gone to Munich before and lost 5 – 1 after beating the same team 2 nil at the Emirates. Its not as if Petr Cech wasn’t the goal keeper on the night as well.

When will people stop behaving like sheep, lapping up every nonsense from the media and pundits who clearly have a job to do and bills to pay. Click Click Click is the new Baa Baa Baa. Sheep the lot of them.

Let me help you out. For me, today, tomorrow and forever, The Invincibles will be a touchstone to Arsene’s INVINCINBILITY. TO HIS MAGIC. TO HIS IMMORTALITY. FOREVER. If any other manager were to achieve that in my lifetime, he can only but be accepted as a junior member into that special class of one, exemplified by Arsene.

To those with short memories, you might want to consider this.

The Invincibles were Arsene’s best team. The best team in England. Arguably the best team never to win the Champions League. They lost Nil 3 to Inter Milan at Highbury. Below is how the good ole BBC, ‘always looking to stir up shit’ reported the match

“Arsenal's Champions League campaign got off to the worst possible start as they were humbled at home by last season's semi-finalists Inter Milan. The Italians destroyed Arsenal with a spectacular first-half display in which they scored three times and could have had more”

Sound similar to the stuff spewed out after Wednesday night. But guess what that same team that was destroyed at Highbury went to the San Siro and stuffed Inter’s backside with 5 unreplied & sumptuous goals. That is football. You win and you lose. You get the highs and the lows. It is unrealistic to expect only highs.

At the time of that loss to Inter, Arsenal had the miserable record of 6 European Cup /UCL home matches without a win. I will hate to imagine the riot on the streets of North London if Arsenal were to dare have that type of record today. The meltdown on Arsenal Fan TV will be reported in the North Korean media & on CNN Breaking News.

In 2001/2 when we won the league, we lost 4 nil to Blackburn in the League Cup. In the 2000/1 Champions League Group stages, we shifted 3 unreplied goals against Shakhtar Donetsk and broke an 18 year record as we had never lost by such an heavy margin in Europe. In the 2nd group stage, we shifted 4 against Spartak Moscow and managed to squeeze into the knock out stages courtesy of the Head to Head rules.

So if you started following Arsenal yesterday or you deliberately blocked of some of the historical result in your Wenger hatred, there you are. Fixed it for you.

Wenger’s Arsenal record in the Champion’s League & its predecessor competition include the following 10 Round of 16 exits , 4 Quarter Finals, 1 Semi Final & 1 Final appearance.  The recent exits at the Round of 16 are what appears to be at the forefront of the mind of many. As for me and apart from the Monaco exit, I put all of these exits to a combination of bad luck and skullduggery from officials. We have been unfortunate to meet giants of European football, teams that were significantly better than us and when fortune could have favored us, the referee intervenes by sending one of our players off at the Nou Camp.

Good teams get bashed occasionally. Bad teams get bashed often. Bayern Munich has lost by a similar margin to Barcelona under the great Pep Guardiola.

So I am sorry, please miss me with your doom mongering. I still believe in Arsene, Arsenal FC and also the players who are committed to the cause.

We have not won the league for many reasons in the past 12 seasons. There was a time when the unity of the squad was threatened by a few players who are no longer with the club and because of financial issues. The players obviously have a path to play and if the stuff we are reading about the current squad is anything to go by, a disunited dressing room is unlikely to do well. The management of any group of people is challenging as anybody who has the remote chance to manage personal or professional relationships will tell you and there are may factors that can trip up the best. What happens if your best player is at the crux of the problem and clearly has a few people behind him?

Definitely, people can talk about 12 seasons without a trophy all they care but for me, we were simply unfortunate last season to come 2nd to a team that performed exceptionally well. A team performing the feat of a 100 lifetimes in one season. A Team who will never repeat the same feat in 5000 years. This season we are playing 2nd fiddle to a team that has gone on an exceptional run and equaled the feat set by another of Wenger’s team.

The fact that Wenger and his team can be competitive is evident by his performance against other teams. This season can still end like last season with Arsenal coming 2nd or in the event of an exceptional collapse by the current leaders, Arsenal can profit and win the league in extraordinary circumstances. I am holding to this dream until it becomes mathematically impossible.

In this 12 seasons that many keep harping on about, only 4 teams have outperformed Arsenal and Arsene – Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City & Leicester. In effect, there have been 15 failed clubs and managers in the Premier League in each of the last 12 seasons. Arsene’s one failure to me is the fact that he has made consistency appear too easy. He has created a sense of entitlement in Arsenal’s fans. Our people now expect Caviar & Champagne with every meal.

To juggle memories further, none of the critics who are mouthing off now gave Arsene & Arsenal a prayer  at the start of the season. Pep & Motormouth were going to knock everybody off their feet. Klopp will give the Anfield choir renewed hope. Conte will bring some Italian magic  with him and Pochettino is a better manager than Arsene.

On head to head aggregate results & goals for & against, Wenger has outperformed Conte this season.  At the moment, there is not much of a difference between him and the others. Yes it is so tight that we might fall out of the top 4 for the first time in like ever, but there is also a very decent chance we might still win it or end up 2nd. 

If you think Arsene has failed. Please allow me introduce you to 18 other failed managers in the Premier League.

Just so you know, those who are determined to force Arsene out, will soon turn on the owner and the Chief Executive. Which will be great if their protests genuinely achieve the  desired results of helping Arsenal win a league title or the Champions league but all we see is the negative effects on the pitch.

They have tried to force out some of the wonderful talents amongst the playing squad, they are trying to force out the manager, they have tried same on the owner. When will they stop? Where will they stop?

The manager knows what the issues are better than any one on the outside. The Chief Executive is savvy enough to know what is going on within the playing squad and around the club. If the Chief Executive, the Owner & the Board are satisfied that the team is performing to expectation and pre - set targets, as fans we should get behind that decision and back the manager and our players on the pitch.

Confidence plays a huge part in playing and winning football matches. Do not ruin the confidence of our players and moan that they are not winning football matches.

So please stop the doom mongering and the negativity. Nail your colours to the mast. Rally round one of the greatest manager of all times in Arsene. And support the team.

Sunday 12 February 2017

Arsenal Fan TV – Right or Wrong?

The subject of Arsenal Fan TV was all over ‘normal’ TV & social media last week.

Arsenal Fan TV is not new. I first noticed them outside of the Emirates 2 seasons ago but paid them no heed. Their website said they have been around since 2012.

I started to pay some attention last season when I believe it attracted more crowds. After some matches, I stayed behind and tried to reason with some of the principal characters in the hope that the engagement might reduce some of the vitriol they spewed on air.

Some of the people I engaged with off camera appeared reasonable but were soon back on the camera after the next setback mouthing off at the club and spewing the same line. I quickly concluded that this was all about the camera. It was all about grabbing attention.

A while ago, many traditional Arsenal fan groupings especially on Social Media were very critical of Arsenal Fan TV and ridiculed some of the things the owners did. They were offering overseas fans an interview for a fee, selling merchandise and taking them on a tour of the N5 area. I disagreed with their critics as I felt they were been bullied.

Many people are taught to aspire to find a way to turn their hobbies into an avenue to make money. I thought fair play to the owners of Arsenal Fan TV for achieving this.

However I think the commercial success and the hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers has left the owners / promoters of Arsenal Fan TV with an inflated sense of personal worth.

Unfortunately the club is also culpable as they have occasionally given them a platform through the club’s media channels and also by tolerating some of the after game rowdiness at the stadium premises.

It is sad that someone / some people who claim to love a club cannot obviously see the negative effects of this Fan TV platform. The platform is fanning the embers of hate towards the manager and the squad. Some of the well known & regular faces line up week after week taking pot shots at the manager and their next victim amongst the playing squad. One day, they are fan boys and posing with the Manager and the next day the manager is the granddad of Judas.

Yes, you are allowed to change your mind and opinion about anything but why is it that your opinion flip flops according to results and the Arsenal position on the league table? Did Arsene Wenger change his footballing philosophy from game to game or is it that you don’t understand football enough?

As far as I am concerned, the manager remains very popular amongst a majority of stadium going fans. The last time a cross section of myopic fan groups tried to protest against the manager, the silent majority burst out in simultaneous praise of the manager in The Emirates during a crucial match.

If Arsenal Fan TV promoters genuinely consider themselves as fans, they will modify their approach and back every single one of the club’s decisions and the club’s football manager and all playing personnel without exception. We should be fans first and our overriding aim should be to support the club. Trying to drum the manager out of the club is disgusting and there is no way a true fan will want to do something like this. The fact that we spend many thousands following the club and pursuing our passion is not enough to be vitriolic and unreasonable in our comments.  

In my opinion, Arsenal Fan TV has become a reality show. Every single one of the regular wants to be a social media celebrity. I wonder if the appearance of Heavy D on BIG BROTHER UK is the motivation for this. It is no longer anything to do with the club. "It is my opinion, it is my right, If you don’t like it you are an arselicking Arsene fan boy who supports Arsene FC" is the usual retort from those who oppose the Manager.

Fans having a voice is good. But what sort of voice are you having? There is a reason why most societies discourage hate speech because not all voices deserve to be heard.

I am 100% certain of one thing, if the promoters of Arsenal Fan TV don’t reform their offering, it will soon die a natural death. Big Brother UK was a very popular show when it started. In a short space of time, its followership has fallen off the cliff. It is fine if you are only after short term rewards but if you want to build a sustainable platform, it is time to revamp what you are offering. 

Are fans interested in tactical analysis? Responses to perceived referee bias? Improving matchday atmosphere inside the stadium? Improving access to tickets? Social side of following Arsenal FC? I bet they are. These are areas that could be of interest, not every time WengerOut or wishing some calamity on the club and the manager.

Personally, I think there is now a gap in the market for the Anti Arsenal Fan TV FAN TV. Let some of our other Arsenal Fans with large celebrity following launch a competitive product to show that the current version of Arsenal Fan TV does not represent us.

Sunday 5 February 2017

Who Actually Owns A Football Club

I wrote this in April 2016 towards the end of last football season. The protests by the Aston Villa fans was in full flow and Arsenal fans were in open dissent following the loss at Old Trafford & at home to Swansea.

My return to this topic is motivated by a phrase I keep hearing from so called pundits and people who should know better. I have heard several comments that football club owners are guardians, holding the club in trust for the fans and the community.

I am actually baffled by this and wonder how come this notion has become so pervasive. I am staggered that a large number of fans actually believe that club owners own the club in trust.

It is a season to demonstrate for fans of Charlton, Coventry, Blackburn, Blackpool, Nottingham Forest, and Leyton Orient etc. They want the owners to get out of their club. Including clubs that were almost dying and could potentially have been liquidated if not for the hard cash of some of these owners.

At the moment, the protest at clubs like Arsenal against the owners is somewhat passively aggressive. With the loss to Watford & Chelsea this week, some disgruntled fans are baying for Arsene Wenger’s neck. The next negative result if it follows a poor run, will lead to the same fans demanding that Gazidis & Kroenke be frog jumped to Tower Bridge and guillotined.

So who really owns a football club? The fans? The community? The shareholders? Sky Sports (the Paymasters) or a combination of all of these?

The fans are usually very vocal in their claim to ownership. There will be no club without us is what you usually hear. There will be no atmosphere. The fans are the club.

In some clubs, the owners have been so exasperated and have come out to state clearly that they will accept reasonable offers to sell. Some like the Blackpool owners are more combative and have indicated they are going nowhere. 

As an Arsenal fan, I am more concerned about my club and I note that Stan Kroenke has been silently classy in view of the many hostile comments from general and celebrity fans. There has been no tantrum and no flipping of the bird at fans either by the club ownership and or management.

Taking a step back and focusing on Arsenal. The club that is Arsenal today was first formed by a group of munitions workers in today’s Woolwich, South East London. When that club went into voluntary liquidation, Sir Henry Norris bailed the club out and owned the shares. He had to leave the club following some issues with the FA and by the end of World War 2; the shares were in the hands of William Hill – Wood & Sir Bracewell Smith.

At that time, owning the shares was seen largely as a charitable exercise to provide recreational entertainment for the working people of North London. Eventually the shares changed hands many times and today we have the two major shareholders in Stan Kroenke as the controlling / majority shareholder and Alisher Usmanov with under a 3rd of the shares.

At current share price, the club will be valued at close to or more than a £1b. It is very interesting to note that up to 1945, the shares wasn’t worth much, however the growth of football as a global sport, the financial muscle of Sky and the on - the – field success achieved by Arsenal has resulted in those shares appreciating to a figure close to £1b.

So what part of the club do the fans own? Yes fans have contributed to the success of the club. The atmosphere in the stadium will be rubbish without the fans. Perhaps more appropriate to say more ‘rubbisher’ seeing as it is challenging to rouse the fans during games.

The rise of the Club from those pre Herbert Chapman days of financial challenges and little success could potentially not have happened without the fans and a great manager like Mr. Chapman but at some point, all of that become somewhat irrelevant. Why?

With or without solid on - the - pitch success, a club can now earn in excess of £100m pa from the riches of Sky Sports. Yes the fans especially the fans from further afield, the non-stadium going fans and the advertising companies are responsible for these riches. A club like Arsenal can now afford to give away free tickets to generate atmosphere and push the burden of commercial revenues to fans that don’t believe the club is beholden to them because their grandfathers were ardent supporters and used to pay 'tupence' to watch matches.

I will try to use another analogy. I have watched a few local shops grow in the area where I live. I have shopped there without fail week in week out. My hard earned pounds, that of my family and my neighbors have helped this local shop become successful. The shop owner now has a house of his own and rides the latest Mercedes Benz. Guess what? We (me, my family and our neighbors) own this shop because without our patronage of this local shop they could never have been successful.

I do wonder why football is the only asset where people genuinely hold on to this myopic view that fans / supporters of the business own the club. Yes as fans we are key stakeholders. Like we are also key stakeholders of Tesco, Sainsbury etc. The club should take our (the global family of fans) wishes into account just like Tesco and Sainsbury take our wishes into account when they decide shop format and goods to stock and perhaps opening times etc.

But please quit the delusion of ‘we own the club’. If fans want to genuinely own a club, get organizing fast. One pound from each member of that fan base is £11m. It might buy Leyton Orient. £10 pounds per 11 million members is £110m and this might buy a premier league club at the bottom of the table. While an average of £100 per 11 million members can potentially put a sizable bid on the table for Mr. Kroenke to consider. 

Kroenke Out is not for social media alone. Do something tangible if you really want your club back.