Monthly Archives: January 2012

SKY GAZERS DELIGHT: NAIROBI SUMMER 2012

It’s late January in Nairobi, at the height of summer in this corner of the world. Nairobi is located a degree below the equator hence experiencing southern hemisphere summer which starts from December 21st to March 21st. As is the norm in summer, daytime skies are almost always devoid of clouds, a blue hue hugging the horizons from sunrise to sunset.

The phenomenon of the sky sans cloud cover extends into the night to the delight of sky gazers. This year, the sky gazing experience has taken a spectacular dimension, with a rare pile up in celestial traffic easily visible through the naked eye. Just after sunset, Venus can be clearly seen in the western sky. That Venus is the 3rd brightest celestial object in the sky (after the sun and moon) and the brightest of the eight planets makes it easily identifiable in the night sky. The planet is visible for about an hour after sunset, slowly descending into the western horizon and getting brighter before setting.The image below shows how you can identify Venus on the evening of January 26th 2012.

Venus and moon on the evening of January 26 2012. (Image c/o Earthsky.org)

Joining Venus in lighting up the evening sky is the solar system’s largest planet Jupiter. Jupiter, the fourth brightest heavenly body, has been clearly visible in Nairobi right after sunset for the better part of the past three months. Look out for a bright object directly overhead after the sun sets. With Venus setting an hour after sunset, Jupiter monopolizes the western half of the sky before setting at around midnight.

At around 11pm, the third planet visible without aid rises in the eastern sky. Mars is approaching its closest position relative to our planet Earth in two years, making it seem brighter and redder than usual. This is the best time to view the red planet. Mars is visible throughout the night, perching itself low in the western sky just before sunrise.

To add to the excitement, Jupiter and Venus are heading for a spectacular conjunction reminiscent of the famous smiley 🙂 phenomenon of December 2008. Each day, Venus climbs higher up the sky taking a longer time to set than the previous day. As such, Venus is seen for a few more minutes each day than the previous day. The opposite is true for Jupiter as it descends down the sky, visible for fewer minutes than the previous day. To put it simply, the distance between Venus and Jupiter at sunset reduces each day as the ‘edge closer’ to each other. This will culminate in the two planets visually appearing to be next to each other or even ‘colliding’ with each other.

Illustration of Venus and Jupiter conjunction, December 1st 2008.

Those are three planets effortlessly visible and including earth, four of the eight planets in our solar system seen through the naked eye. I don’t know about you but seeing half of the solar system in one night is something to get excited about. Add this to the fact that the greatest concentration of stars and constellations in the sky (including the famous Orion and the brightest star Sirius) is visible in southern latitudes makes for the some of best sky gazing experiences I have indulged in. With the moon being two days old and setting soon after sunset, tonight would be a good day to make your sky gazing debut soon after the sun sets. Seize the chance. Enjoy.

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Categories: Astronomy | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Schadenfreude

Cry baby JT is gonna retire without the Champions league. Aaaah....bliss.

One of the most intriguing aspects of being a football fan is the joy you get from seeing a rival going through a rough patch. The kind of sadistic joy that Germans coined a word for; schadenfreude. Such emotions are usually triggered by the fear, real or imagined, that said rival will deny success to your team in a winner takes all sport. That, plus the repulsive persona of the poster boys of these teams serves as fuel for the burning hatred.

Over the last fifteen years of supporting Manchester United, it has become second nature to hate whatever team challenges us for top honors. And Liverpool. Apart from a few occasions, it has largely been a period filled with much joy out of seeing the enemy fail.

With two of my most hated rivals in the doldrums, now would be as good a time as any to indulge in some schadenfreuede.

Steven Gerrard is a player I hate with as much passion as Liverpool fans adore him. He is a physical embodiment of Liverpool FC, a dinosaur trying to stay relevant by virtue of success in a long gone era. You see Gerrard is no spring chicken, cruising towards his 32nd birthday with a big monkey on his back pointing and laughing at a big failing of his.

In a recent interview, Gerrard confirmed what he and Liverpool fans fears most as he approaches the end of his football career; the lack of a Premier League winners medal for a club legend. Said Gerrard in a November interview: “It’s something I think about almost every day. I always think about the dream of winning it – or the disappointment if I was never to win it.”

“To have played at Liverpool for 14 or 15 years by the time I finish and not win it would be hugely disappointing. It would be an awful shame.”

And therein lies the source of so much joy for Reds around the world. As I write this, Liverpool are struggling in the league as they are 14 points off the top of the table past the halfway stage of the season. The return of Dalglish was supposed to mark the return to the days of glory but has been typified by their consistent mediocrity. With United a force to reckon with at all times and City looking stronger with every passing season, the likelihood of Steven George Gerrard lifting  the league trophy is looking slimmer with him being in the winter stages of his career. Somehow that thought creates a warm fuzzy feeling for me and countless reds worldwide as the bastard slips into oblivion.

Speaking of slipping, the father of all cry babies offers another avenue to indulge in some sadistic bliss. Step forward John Terry aka The British bulldog. I don’t need to go into details as to why I hate this repulsive thug of a player. The hatred I feel for the guy can only be matched by the joy I get whenever I remember his Russian escapades in May 2008.

Fed by the obsession of the club owner to win the Champions league, Chelsea have tried all tricks in the book to achieve this end. They came so close to finally achieving this dream only for their dear leader, captain, legend to bottle it. The delight United fans got from that day was immortalized when a terrace chant at Old Trafford was quickly put up, mocking the Chelsea captain for his fuck up at the most crucial of times.

Viva JohnTerry, Viva John Terry…could have won the cup, but he fucked it up..Viva John Terry’ sing the United fans, forever reminding him of his failure.

Gerrard’s inability to lead his team to the title was never in doubt given how poor the team has been in the last two decades. For Terry however, it seemed a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he is going to lead his team to European glory given the strength of the team under his leadership and the several near-misses. But as Jonathan Wilson puts it in Inverting the Pyramid, success is a nebulous quarry. Luck retains its place in football, and success can never be guaranteed, particularly over a thirteen game continental tournament. With an ageing squad and a manager trying to find his feet in a new league, Chelsea are as far from winning the European cup now as they have ever been at any time during Roman’s ownership of the club. Again, JT as they call him is no young turk in football terms. Like his team, he has become slow and ineffective and hopefully soon enough, irrelevant.

Steven Gerrard and John Terry; one club men, club captains and legends. Bar a miraculous upturn in fortunes, its looking almost certain that both will  bow out of the game with much regret having missed out on what they wanted most. In another part of Northern England, one Ryan Giggs is challenging for what would be his 13th league medal with two European gongs and numerous other medals.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned Schadenfreude as the most evil sin of human feeling, saying famously “To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish.” At the end of the day, I guess we are all devils. Red devils.

Categories: Sports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Six years and waiting –The Arsenal’s Fan Dilemma (Kenyan perspective) Part II

Has Le Prof overstayed at Arsenal?

The second part of the series looks at Wenger’s misgivings and whether his presence is hindering on-pitch success.

By Arnold Njue

When he came to England in 1996, he completely changed the way football is played . He reformed the training and dietary regimes, ridding the club of drinking and junk food culture and brought in dieticians to explore the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

He changed Arsenal football club . He endeared Kenyans to the team who in turn filled pubs and restaurants to watch Arsenal.

He is the best Coach Arsenal have had and you could bet your money that he might be the best ever Arsenal manager. Yet the question still remains, why has Arsene Wenger failed so spectacularly in his last six years of managing the club.

In Part two of this series, l would  like to highlight the observation I have made since the good old days of winning trophies, what changed along the way and why Wenger’s methods are not working anymore.

1.   He does not teach defense

When he first came to England ,Arsene inherited a defensive unit of David Seaman, Lee Dixon , Nigel Winterburn , Steve Bould , Tony Adams and Martin Keown . These defenders with the proper scientific methods and diet introduced by Le Prof formed the backbone of his first league and cup double in his first full season in charge. It is noteworthy that all of his titles winning sides have had a core of experienced defenders who helped the team overcome training ground deficiencies or lack thereof . (Vito Mannone, the 4th choice Goalie currently on loan  said that sometimes he plays midfield in training!)

Ever since the 03-04 title winning team, conceding goals from corners and free kicks has become the norm rather than exception. You cannot win the league without a measly defense.

Some positive developments after being thrashed 8-2 by United is that the defence now trains together, though am yet to see the improvements on the pitch .

 2.  His stubbornness is surreal

 When Arsenal reached the Champions League final in 2006, Arsene managed such a fete with the help of one Martin Keown. His input in the defensive aspect of the game helped Arsenal go ten games to the final without conceding a goal. One of the revelations was that of playing a right footed central midfielder Mathieu Flamini as a left back. When Keown got all the plaudits for that achievement  Wenger by design or circumstance quietly let Keown’s contract run out so that he could resume working alone .He does not share the platform with anyone else ; he is a complete control freak. He has made Arsenal the biggest’ “Phrench” club in the world.

3.  Rewarding Failure

Arsenal’s wage bill was £111 m pounds while that of our bitter rivals Tottenham was £ 67 m in 2010. The media portrays him to be a wheeler dealer but the truth is he hides behind a facade. In order to have a happy go lucky dressing room, where nobody knocks on his door complaining, Wenger pays ridiculous wages to players who are average. For example Manuel Almunia, Fabianski, Denilson, Diaby , Squillaci, Bendtner, Carlos Vela and Lukasz Fabianski  are all on £50, 000 a week plus (allegedly). To put that into context, that’s more than the wages of Luka Modric at Spurs . There is also another bunch of well-paid young players who get their contracts renewed, sent out on loan and have no resale value because no team would touch them with a 9 foot pole .

All this unnecessary recurrent expenditure negates all the ‘saving’ he does by not buying expensive world class players, making his mantra of building a team without overspending a fallacy.

4.   Transfers

Did you know that during deadline day Arsene was attending a coaching clinic in Switzerland as he left the dealing to Ivan Gazidis, the CEO back in London? Did you know that Yossi Benayoun came to Arsenal without undergoing a medical? Or that we missed out onXabi Alonso because of £2m , missed out on Yaya Toure because of dilly dallying, or worse still, missing out on Ibrahimovic because he wanted to take him on trial! (Yet he could keep  Jeremie Aliadere at the club for 8 years where he only made 8 EPL starts). These are some of the transfer howlers that have been made but you know the old cliché, no one is without blemish including football managers.

What is inexcusable is the quality (or lack thereof) of his squad since Arsenal last won a trophy in 2005. Wenger’s squad is never big enough or strong enough, so he never gives himself the tools to do the job. After the 8-2 humiliation, Wenger began changing and accepting the fact that you cannot have youth without experience. Relying on cheap young players without established players won’t work. How he has gone about recruiting senior players is still questionable given he added quantity on the cheap and not necessarily quality.

Its intresting to note that Wenger was the only Premier League manager to have made a profit on transfers as of 2007; and between 2004 and 2009, Wenger made an average profit of £4.4 million per season on transfers, far more than any other club. That Arsenal makes more money selling players than what they spend on players contrary to all top clubs is maybe an indicator that the profit motive has superceded success on the pitch as the prime indicator of success at the club.

Essentially, Arsenal is a business whose mission is (1) respectable failure (2) making a profit. No one can achieve these two objectives as well as Arsene does hence being indespensible to the board.

5.  Change of playing Style

4-4-2. This has been the hallmark of all Arsenal trophy winning seasons and marked ArseneWenger‘s foray into the English game. The type of 4-4-2 that Arsenal played was  basically having overlapping fullbacks during attack , box to box midfielders ( who had an extra responsibility on their shoulders knowing that they had to work extra hard for each other and for the team) .

With this kind of setup, the dynamic four as I would call them  i.e. the right winger attacker ( Freddie Ljungberg) ,the left wing attacker (Robert Pires) and the two strikers (Henry, Bergkamp) would roam freely interchanging positions in attack. No tika taka or shaq attack or whatever the Catalans call it . The midfielders in this regard would be the likes of RemiGarde, Emannuel Petit, PatrickVieira, Ray Parlour and to a lesser extent Gilles Grimandi and later Edu and Gilberto . These were hard grafters and not playmakers passé. The playmaking/creativity job was left to the aforementioned dynamic four and the fullbacks (Winterburn, Sylvinho, A.Cole, Lee Dixon, Lauren or Van Bronckhorst). With this kind of system, fullbacks could end up with 5 to 7 assists per season and a few goals.

The wide midfielders became goal scorers of note especially Ljungberg and Pires .In the last 6 ‘barren’ seasons, goals from midfield have dried up like a seasonal  stream in Ukambani . For example the following wing attackers; Sylvain Wiltord (though sometimes used as a striker scored 32 goals in 104 appearances), Marc Overmars (25 goals in 101 appearances), Ljunberg (46 goals in 216 appearances ) and Robert Pires (62 goals in 189 appearances). Such figures are now a pipe dream.

The goal drought from midfield is alarming. The main reason for that is that after the ‘invincibles’, Wenger introduced 4-3-3. Out went flair and hard men, in came the small nimble injury prone footballers with no tactical nous or fighting spirit.

He also started building his team around a player read RVP and Fabregas before him. Intrestingly, the change in formation coincided with the move to Emirates stadium from Highbury. Since then, the trophy cabinet has been reduced to useless piece of furniture at the stadium.

6.   Four High Quality Strikers

Arsene Wenger once said that to compete for honours you need to have 4 quality strikers. With this in mind ,the title winning sides had four strikers (two main with the others beng rotated).

For instance, the title winning side of  97/98 had (Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicholas Anelka and Christopher Wreh). In the 2001/02 season, we had Henry, Bergkamp, Wiltord and Kanu; and in 2003/04, Bergkamp, Henry, Kanu and Reyes.

Currently, we only have one striker doing the business of getting goals. The only other out and out striker Chamakh has not scored a goal in since 1980. Park Chu Young could not get into the under -18’s team if they had injuries. One would hate to imagine what would happen if RVP got injured.

7.    Hard men with Team spirit

Few people know that Lauren and Vieira had a huge disagreement between themselves after a draw against Rosenborg in 2004 in a European game they expected to win. It took the intervention of police to stop them. I’m not encouraging violence here but the passion to win and only win was evident in this generation of players.

Martin Keown once told off a new signing at a corner during a match telling him to “Play like you are playing for the shirt, this is the Arsenal”.

The teams of yesteryear had leaders all over the pitch. Lauren, Lehmann, Parlour, Vieira, Bergkamp, Petit, Adams, Gilberto, Sol Campbell (before he decided to eat lots of potato chips) to name but a few.

Gone are the days when Arsenal had players who could give as good as they got, on and off the ball.

I am not saying that players should disagree or fight but the will and passion to win and the team spirit supersedes all else. They would never just lay down and go through the notions even when a match was already lost. Whether such mental fortitude is present in the current set of players is doubtful. If fingers are to be pointed, most would point to Le Prof as he is the overall head of the team.

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In conclusion, there is so much to address at this beloved club of ours. Clearly Arteta, Mertesacker and Benayoun have brought about some fighting spirit, have enough experience to mould the younger players (or those who care atleast, stand up Sczesceny and Wilshere) to make Arsenal compete for 4th or 5thplace.

This is the State of affairs at AFC from a Kenyan perspective. Things might get better, things might get worse especially as billionaire owners continue buying into the EPL with limitless spending thereafter .Personally, I think bar the Emirates cup, Arsenal will never win another trophy with Le prof as the Manager! Of course I may be so wrong but only the future will tell. In the mean time, we diligently continue our duty as supporters hoping for better days.

Categories: Sports | 11 Comments

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