MAN UNITED 2011-12 SEASON REVIEW

Overview

So that’s that then. Man United will finish the season trophyless for the first time since 2005 bar a catastrophe for City on the last day. To say the least, it has been a pretty dire season by United standards. Our gameplay has been more functional than pleasant, efficiency being the keyword.

There have been extra ordinary highs such as the 8-2 win against Arsenal but more often than not, turgid affairs have been the order of the day. The regular three points kept the belief that we stood a chance (as it still does) but truth be told, entertainment has been little and far between.  It has been a gallant effort by Sir and his boys as they have maximized on whatever little resources availed to them to give the championship a go.

In hindsight though, our current position doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The parsimonious Glazer regime has hampered United’s ability to compete despite the best effort of the team. The three signings by Manchester United last summer were nowhere near enough to fill the gap existent following the departure of several players.

David de Gea was a direct replacement for VDS, a signing that was not out of choice. The fact that several clubs had their bids for Phil Jones accepted by Blackburn forced United’s hand as they had identified Jones as a future signing. His unplanned move has been reflected in the way the United management hasn’t figured where to use him best. This, as much as his versatility has been a reason as to why Jones has played at center back, right back and central mid at different spells this season.

Ashley Young’s signing epitomizes United’s transfer strategy in the Glazer era; players available on the cheap due to contractual reasons. It is arguable that we needed a central midfielder more than we needed a winger like Ashley Young. The fact that he was a quality English player available on a cut deal made United move for Ashley Young, instead of going for a central midfielder who was needed more. Young has been a good signing but his arrival signaled the close of summer business for us.

Those three signings were deemed enough to augment a squad that was already lacking in quality and later, numbers following the departures of VDSar, GNev, Hargreaves, Brown, O’shea, Scholes and in time Gibson. This meant that as much as we spent 50 million pounds, we went into the season without achieving squad balance with our central midfield lacking in quantity and quality. By October, the paucity in midfield options saw Rooney played in midfield for a number of games including a European tie.

Man United have largely won the easier fixtures without getting out of gear two but we haven’t looked convincing enough in the big games. We have surrendered easily in some of these matches and looked shaky on other occasions even when winning. Big games call for big players and few United players have stood up to be counted when the going has got tough.

Our transfer strategy has seen us concentrate the squad with players that have ‘resale value,’ a term synonymous with players under 26 years of age who can be sold for a profit, and senior players above 32 years of age. The only players in the 26-31 bracket are Carrick, Berbatov, Park, Vidic and Fletcher. Fate had it that the latter two would miss most of the season through injury with Park and Berbatov being non-features. Only Carrick would feature prominently.

It is arguable that in football, a player reaches his peak between the ages of 26 and 31. It is during this age bracket that a player finds the perfect balance between physical ability and mental maturity, with younger or older players lacking in either the experience or youthful vigour respectively to perform at their very best. It is therefore logical that the more of such players in your squad, the higher your chances of success. As it is, United’s squad is full of talented kids who will be world beaters in a few years and older players who despite their ability and experience, cannot be called upon in every game.

There are some instances where previous United teams with enough leaders on the field would not have let the game slip from their hands. The 4-4 draw against Everton comes to mind as an obvious example. Naivety was also evident as United tried to chase the game despite being 1-4 down in injury time against City. A team with older heads would have accepted the loss at that point and avoided the humiliation that ensued.

The fact that we didn’t address our central midfield was truly shocking. At best, it was short sighted and at worst negligent. Our central midfield has been crying out for reinforcements for several seasons before last summer and the departure of Scholes and Hargreaves meant that we were due at least one central midfielder if not two or three. That we brought back the ginger ninja mid season showed how ridiculous it was not to sign a central midfielder last summer.

Looking forward to next season, it is important we look at certain areas of our squad if we are to remain competitive both at home and in Europe. Of utmost importance is the signing of at least one central midfelder or two if Pogba leaves. We have been crying out for midfield signings for several years and continue to do so. Even with the return of Scholes, our midfield has not been good enough to compete against the very best. The mooted transfer of Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund to United would be a good start to our summer business. A destroyer to complement the midfielders we have wouldn’t go amiss either. It’s been a while since we had a midfielder who would crunch into tackles and terrify the opponent Keano-style.

Patrice Evra has been a consistent figure in our defence for over five years but his performances have began to tail off in the last two years. Personally, I’d have Fabio played more regularly with Evra deputizing but since that doesn’t seem to be on the cards with Fabio’s planned loan move, a left back to provide competition to Evra is required.

It remains to be seen whether Fergie will be able to convince the owners to fork out the amount required for transfers to keep United competitive. Without necessary additions, there is the nightmare scenario that City will deny us titles regularly, starting with the league title on Sunday. In the mean time, we can all concentrate our energies into hoping the Glazers disappear to whatever hole they came out from.

Game of the season: Man United 8-2 Arsenal

A day when all that could go right did exactly so. Its one thing hammering any team 8-2 but metting out such punishment to one of your biggest and loudest rivals is another story. Despite the poor quality of opponent on the day, this is one game reds worldwide won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Worst game of the season: Man United 1-6 Man City

Not just the worst game of the season but the worst in my time supporting Man United and beyond. Writing about it seven months later gives me the same sick feeling. The less talked about, the better.

Goal of the season: Ashley Young vs Arsenal 8-2

For his first season, Ashley Young has scored some amazing curlers. None has been better than the first he scored against Arsenal during the 8-2 demolition. The technique to curl the ball from outside the box and place iot in the top corner is a difficult one to execute and the fact that he’s scored several similar goals shows that its not a fluke. Other notable goals include Fletcher’s in the 1-6 debacle, Welbeck’s goal against Everton at Old Trafford and Nani’s goal versus Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Player of the season: Wayne Rooney

It’s a tricky one choosing the player of the season as different players have proved crucial at different times of the season. The mature performances by Johny Evans in Vidic’s absence and his recovery from the 1-6 low point makes the Irishman a viable candidate. Michael Carrick has been a pillar of calm and consistency in the heart of our midfield. So too has Valencia in the wings with consistently impressive outings, particularly in the second half of the season. Paul Scholes came back to steady the ship and soon went about doing his magic, his return coinciding with our most productive spell till the late season slump.

Ultimately though, Wayne Rooney shades it with his overall contribution that includes 33 goals in all competitions. He has largely had to play number 10 in a 4-4-2 formation this season behind Welbeck or Hernandez and to still finish the season with such a high return speaks of his undoubted world class quality. Infact, I’d go as far as proclaiming him the best player in the world after those two La Liga freaks.

Rooney’s return to number ten has seen him get involved in build up play more often while still exhibiting ruthless efficiency when infront of goal hence getting the best out of the player. His contract saga is now behind us and Rooney remains central to United’s fortunes now and in the future.

Worst Player of the season: Park Ji Sung and Michael Owen

A tie between Park and Owen for this one. Park has had his appearances few and far apart which has not helped his game as he ages and loses the physical ability to maintain his high energy performances that made him a key squad player especially during big matches. He has only managed 18 starts this season with nine of those starts coinciding with a loss for United. A fan favourite, the former South Korea captain is likely to leave in the summer. He will be remembered fondly by the fans.

Michael Owen has had a worse season than his prior seasons at United, something which seemed impossible given how poor his previous seasons were. He has been largely missing with just 3 starts this season (none in the league) and offered little on those few occasions he has been called upon to play. The ultimate low in Glazers frugal transfer policy of cheap/free signings, he is likely to follow Park out of the door and will not be missed by many.

Young Player of the season: Danny Welbeck

Young players often endure unproductive spells during their formative years of pro football (through loss of form or injury) as part of the growing up process. Phil Jones, De Gea, Cleverley, Smalling, Rafael and Fabio have all had such unproductive spells for different reasons this season despite some promising outings.

The stand out performer among the younger players has been Danny Welbeck. Welbeck returned from a season-long loan in Sunderland and came back having matured physically and his perfomances proved equally mature and impressive. Welbeck has formed a good partnership with Rooney, nailing down a starting spot for club and his form sees him going to the Euros with England with a chance of leading the line in their opener against France.

We are often reminded of how Man United hasn’t produced a first team striker from the reserves since Mark Hughes almost two decades ago but that unwanted statistic is about to be rectitfied.

Welbeck has shown great versatility upfront, dropping deep to influence play and leading the line well. A big tournament might just be what he needs to announce himself to a world stage and Euro 2012 provides the perfect platform for that as Euro 2004 did for Wayne Rooney. Gwan Danny, kill it.

Disappointment of the season: Berbatov (mis)treatment

Top scorer in the league last season, Bulgarian record goal scorer and the silkiest touch in football since Zidane and still Berbatov struggles to secure even a bench spot at United. Fergie’s preference for a quicker style of play and Berbatov’s selfless love for United has seen the mercurial striker stuck at United and relegated to fourth choice striker at the club. Nowhere has graft over craft been exhibited better and at such a costly price.

It’s been sad seeing Berbatov consistently miss out on even a bench spot for most games and the sooner he takes his talent to a place where it is appreciated more the better. All the best in your career, Mitko.

Best moment of the season: Return of Scholes

That forgettable night at Wembley seemed the last we had seen of United’s most technically gifted players and one of the best in our history. Seeing his name on the squad sheet before the F.A Cup tie at City had our collective pants wet with excitement as we never expected to see the magical Scholes perform live again. As Ian Holloway put it, what he does is art and the chance to watch his masterful play once again  was one we welcomed with glee.

The second half of the season has been full of wonderful long range passes from Scholes with a few late-run goals for old times sake. It was arguably the best moment of the season when Scholes returned and another season of spoiling us with his technical brilliance would be welcome especially as the only other technically perfect player, Berbatov looks likely to leave.

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The forgotten twin

The forgotten twin, Fabio da Silva

When signing for Manchester United in 2008 alongside his brother Rafael, Fabio da Silva was widely regarded as the more talented of the Brazilian twins. After all, he had captained his country at different age groups including the U-17 team at the World Cup where he was the joint top scorer for his country despite playing as a defender.

Fast forward a few years later and Fabio is struggling to establish himself in the United team, his brother having long settled into the team and arguably nailed down a spot for himself in the starting eleven. The reversal of fortunes leaves you wondering whether this was just another instance of wrongful judgment by pundits or whether there is a deeper cause to Fabio’s stagnation.

Over the course of his time in England, the former Fluminense prodigy has suffered a plethora of injuries, his shoulder bearing the brunt of such malaise. Much like his brother, Fabio has proved to be a very fragile player, rarely completing the full ninety minutes on his equally rare starts due to injuries and knocks. To say this has been a frustrating feature of his United career would be a gross understatement. Given his immense potential, it’s amazing to think how far Fabio would have progressed in his United career had he stayed injury free.

The consistent and seemingly indefatigable nature of Patrice Evra’s play has also put paid to the young pretender’s claim to the throne. Evra has been a permanent feature of that defence to the extent that he was given the armband at Rio Ferdinand’s expense. The combination of these two factors has seen Fabio limited to just 36 starts in his United career to date.

However, there is a third reason (though not as obvious as the first two) that can provide a clue as to why the more talented of United’s twin dynamos has had a difficult time finding his feet in England. For the better part of the 2008/09 season, Fabio featured prominently for United’s reserves. It’s during this time that another feature of his game, albeit a less heralded one began to emerge. For the most part of that reserves campaign, Fabio da Silva played predominantly on the left side of midfield. His stint as a winger showcased his versatility but more importantly, his immense attacking abilities usually associated with Brazilian fullbacks. Able to use his right foot as well as his left, the dimunitive Brazilian tore apart fullbacks with his repertoire of skills and explosive dribbling bursts with the ball. He proved a key outlet for United’s stiffs.

The increased attacking responsibilities sans the need to defend gave an interesting alternative to Fabio the fullback. The shackles were off and rather inevitably, the goals followed. Fabio scored an incredible hatrick against Rochdale in the Lancashire Senior cup.

Back to Spring 2012 and Fabio is facing an uphill battle to establish his place in the United side. His lack of action this term has led to Sir Alex deciding that the player’s development would be served better with action elsewhere.

“With Evra such a consistent performer over the last five years, it doesn’t matter who would have been second choice, it would have been difficult for them and that is the situation with Fabio,” said Sir Alex. “It has been difficult for him.”

“We will put him out on loan, possibly to Portugal next season; I know there has been a bit of interest.

If the loan proves to be half as beneficial as Welbeck’s or Cleverley’s loan spell, we will have one hell of a player in our ranks, a fact Fergie recognizes.

“Fabio’s brother has improved by getting consistent games for us. So I think a year out at a good level playing every week will make Fabio a real top player for us.”

While a full season with game time would do his career a world of good, it is the opportunity to prove himself in a number of positions that will ultimately be the making of Fabio.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsJaLtzwgGs (Fabio hatrick against Rochdale)

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( I’m pleased to announce that the blog has been nominated among the ‘Best Sports Blog’ at the inaugural Bloggers Association of Kenya Awards. Kindly head to bloggers.or.ke/voting and vote ‘Panoramicdon’ as the best sports blog. Voting closes tomorrow with the awards ceremony slated for Saturday. Your continued support is greatly appreciated. Ta)

 

 

 

 

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Squeaky Bum Time

Agony for reds..might not last long

It’s two days after the derby. The feeling of disgust has subsided enough for me to jot down a few words on Man United. I can think clearly now the shit storm is over. I know the last thing y’all wanna read now is anything United related but bear with me.

An interesting feature of this season’s title race has been the handing over of the initiative by each Manchester side once on the ascendancy. At some point early in 2012, City all but looked assured of winning their first title in 40-odd years after establishing a healthy lead. As April approached, the jitters of leading the title race got the better of City to a point of implosion. United, having hauled back the bitters and established an eight point lead at the top of the table were going to defend their title. Or so it seemed.

The eight point lead United had over City in mid-April vanished as quickly as the time it took for them to establish that lead. Having dropped just two points since the turn of the year, United dropped points in three succesive games culminating in City’s return to the top of the table. For a team that had such consistency, the sudden desertion of United’s famed resolve was unimaginable. It seemed the hot seat was too hot to handle.

And now we have City back at the top with two games to go. Only the most hopelessly optimistic reds think that the title race is not over yet. The blue confetti has been thrown all around and obituaries in red fill the sports pages. But don’t pop the champagne yet. If the take-and-give that has been happening at the top is anything to go by, the last chapter of this race might not have been written yet. And what an ending we might be in store for.

City face Newcastle away in their next game followed by QPR at home. Newcastle are still in the race for the coveted champions league places and have an impregnable record at home. Reds will no doubt remember the 3-0 drubbing we got at the Sports Direct Arena, arguably our worst performance this season. This game has the potential to be a title decider in more ways than the derby itself. So to is the QPR match. As Wigan have shown, facing a relegation bound team at this stage of the season is one of the most difficult games you can ask for.

The point of all this is that the number one spot has been a poisoned chalice up to this point with both teams losing their radars as soon as they get to the top. For now, all United fans can do is squeeze our bums, what Fergie famously alluded to but the press reported it as ‘squeakybumtime’ due to his heavy Govan accent. As it has repeatedly proven so far this season, its not over till the fat lady sings. With City being City, anything is possible. So for one last time, BELIEVE!

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( I’m pleased to announce that the blog has been nominated among the ‘Best Sports Blog’ at the inaugural Bloggers Association of Kenya Awards. Kindly head to bloggers.or.ke/voting and vote ‘Panoramicdon’ as the best sports blog. Voting closes tomorrow with the awards ceremony slated for Saturday. Your continued support is greatly appreciated. Ta)

Categories: Sports | 16 Comments

THE PRECARIOUS MANCHESTER DERBY

Image

By Michael Njoroge (@Mikenjoro)

“This sets up the derby pretty nicely.”

These were the words uttered by Jon Champion as Samir Nasri’s shot hit the back of the Wolves net. The goal put Manchester City two goals up against an all but relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the context of the day however, it ensured that Manchester City would close the gap at the top to three points.

And the derby, is coming.

Sir Alex Ferguson is terming it the most important derby of his Manchester United career. He is wrong. Roberto Mancini is still insisting that the Premiership title race is finished. He is wrong.

Both managers are wrong. And it is in being wrong that both Manchester Clubs find themselves in this situation.

Manchester City had this title wrapped up. They were scoring goals for fun. They were on course to break the record for overall points tally. Then, the wheels fell off. Partly because of not dealing with the over-inflated egos. Carlos Tevez. Mario Balotelli. The team stopped turning up for games with hunger and desire. It was as if the three points were an inherent right. When they realized they had to work, they were already under pressure. They could not cope with the pressure. The Emirates was clear evidence of that.

Manchester United had reacted well to that 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford. They went back to basics. They re-signed a legend. As City fell off the pace, they picked up theirs. The fighting spirit was back. Slowly, they clawed their way back into contention. Slowly, they got to the top. Slowly, they established a gap. However, they quickly let the advantage go.

Three weeks ago, Manchester City lost to Arsenal. Earlier on, United had won against QPR. United increased the gap to eight points. City were written off. This was Ferguson’s United. And Sir Alex never lets such a lead slip. But just as quickly as United had gained the advantage, they lost it. A loss two days later to Wigan Athletic, and a win by City at West Brom meant that the title race was back on. It did not look like it at the time, but the loss heaped huge pressure on United, something that the loss at Arsenal had removed from City. City were now playing expressively, United were being closely watched at every turn.

So with a week to go to the derby, United drew, and City kept on winning. The gap that was 8 points, had been reduced to 5, and is now 3. If City keep on winning, the gap will be zero. But Sir Alex has said it millions of times in his 25 year career at United. Goal difference is an extra point. At the moment, City have the better goal difference. City have the extra point.

United fans will tell you that in 2008, they lost to Chelsea at this same stage of the run in. They will tell you that last season, they lost to Arsenal a week before meeting Chelsea, with whom they were engaged in the title race. They will tell you that in both cases, they went on to win the Premiership. They will tell you that based on the evidence of that match at the Emirates, City cannot handle the pressure. The pressure that has now been turned on to its full capacity.

What they will not tell you is that in 2008, there was some breathing space. Chelsea won, but had an inferior goal difference. It was United who had the extra point. Last season, Chelsea met United at this stage, but the match was taking place at Old Trafford.

Now, there is simply no breathing space. City have the better goal difference. United go to the Etihad. There is no advantage to United. It is a must win.

But that is where everyone is wrong. A draw, would suffice. It is not a must win for United. A draw keeps the title race in United’s hands. They can thus go to the Etihad and make it a boring affair. Risky, but possible.  And that is also where Sir Alex is wrong. If it were the most important derby of his Manchester United career, it would be a must win game. If it were the most important derby of his United career, his job would be on the line.  The most important games of his United career have passed. That 1990 FA Cup Final. That League win in 1995/1996 season, when it was won with kids. That 1999 Champions League win. Nothing else matters at United. Win or lose, Sir Alex will be there next season. And the season next. If you think am lying, just ask the Gooners.

For City however, it is a must win. Failure to win puts the pressure back on. The next game after the derby is a trip to the Direct Sports Arena. Newcastle and Papiss Demba Cisse are chasing that final Champions League spot with gusto. It will not be easy. The final game is QPR at home. Easy, but they may or may not still be in the relegation fight by then. The business has to be taken care of at the Etihad. They have to win.

That’s why Mancini is wrong. The title race is not over. It may have been after games against West Brom, and Norwich. But now, it isn’t. In fact, this is the most important derby of Mancin’s City career. If he loses, he may not be at the Etihad come next season. It is also the most important derby of City’s history. Win, and they begin a new era. An era of Manchester City success. Lose, and the feeling will be that they may never get closer.

Mancini was right to downplay the importance of the title race. After the Arsenal loss. After the West Brom win. After the Norwich thrashing. It allowed his players to play without pressure. To subsist with it now, is ridiculous. He has to make his players understand the importance of the game. He has to make his players know that the derby is the one to fight for. That’s why Sir Alex calls it the most important of his career. The players will do it for the boss, because it’s that important to him.

There is something right though in both manager’s approaches. It may not be the most important derby of his career, but it is definitely the most important derby of the season. It will decide the destination of the title. And the title race may not be over, but to think it is and approach the game with no pressure at all gives the players the right mind set. They will be free to do the business on the pitch, without looking over their shoulders. A free Aguero is a beautiful sight to behold. And United know exactly what a free Tevez can do.

Whatever happens, the derby is set up pretty nicely.

Categories: Sports | 8 Comments

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.

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.

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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.

* * * * * * * * * * *  * * * * * * * * * *  * * * * * * * * * * *   * * * * * * * * * *   * * * * * * * * * *   * * * * * * * * * * *

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

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

A relative period without silverware has got Arsenal fans wondering whether its profits first, trophies later for the club as discussed by a gooner.

By Arnold Njue

Football is a funny old game. People say that all the talking should be done on the pitch. Well think again. I have been an Arsenal fan hitherto the Wenger era up until now. I have scratched my head to come up with observations as to why this team is failing

PART ONE: THE GENESIS OF CLUB POLITICS

In 1983, a certain David Dein bought 16.6% holding of Arsenal Football Club and was made the Vice Chairman as a result.  The then Chairman Peter Hill Wood called him crazy for his investment in the club. David Dein first met Arsene Wenger in 1988 in London. Slowly but surely, they cultivated a close friendship that lasts to date. Dein built up his shareholding and owned up to 42% of AFC in 1991. Later in 1996 David Dein used his influence to appoint little known Frenchman and good friend Arsene Wenger as manager of the club, after similar attempts failed in 1995.

During his tenure at Arsenal, Dein was in charge of all major football matters. He took a role in the transfer of players and contract negotiations where he was able to use his extensive networks and contacts to get players and convince them to join Arsenal.

In April 2007, David Dein left the Arsenal board, acrimoniously after falling out with the rest of the board over a possible takeover of Arsenal by an external benefactor seeking to invest in the club. Lady Nina Bracewell, joined with the other board members, her husband’s cousins, as well as the Danny Fiszman and the chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, in resisting a take-over by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, which was believed to have the support of Dein.

Later during that year, David Dein sold what was left of his shares to Red Holdings, an investment company owned by the Russian Usmanov and Fahard Moshiri.

Dein’s exit was met with dismay by ex-players and the dressing room, with Thierry Henry leaving soon after and Arsene only staying after Dein convinced him against leaving the club.  Slowly began a downward spiral that infiltrated the team and a couple of seasons without silverware would now turn to a full scale trophy drought.

David  Dein was the only board member who was a football man; the one administrator at the club who would demand results on the pitch to match the results off it. He truly cared about the club and was the one person who kept Arsene Wenger in check. He would frequently visit the dressing room to encourage the players  before and after games .The players loved him and he was like a father figure to them. The fact that his son Darren was Thierry Henry’s best man at his wedding says it all about his relationship with the players.

Batman and Robin: Dein and Wenger had been instrumental in the success of Arsenal.

I cannot overstate how Dein’s departure left Arsene Wenger with a carte blanche to do as he pleases with the team as long as the revenue stream is healthy. In one unplanned for move, Arsene became the untouchable one. The rest of the board members were not football fans but business minded people whose main interest in the club was to make money for their investment. So long as the club was making money, Arsene Knew he had no one to answer to. Qualification for the UEFA Champions League (which Wenger would guarantee) would ensure sufficient annual returns for the club and became the de facto measure for success. That he would ensure such benchmarks without spending much on player recruitment made him indispensible to the board. With all he has done for the club and achieved at Arsenal, it goes without saying that Wenger became bigger and is still bigger than the club.

After deciding they will not sell shares of the club to any “non member” in April 2009, the Arsenal board would reverse this decision in April 2011 when American Stan Kroenke bought out several major shareholders of the club. Kroenke acquired the shares of Lady Nina Bracewell (15.9%), as well as Danny Fiszmann (16.11%) and other directors of the  board. This after they had denied Alisher Usmanov the chance to buy the shares as he was not “one of them” despite him bidding for the shares for a higher price much earlier than Kroenke.

The current shareholding of our beloved club is thus as follows:

Stan Kroenke- 66.96% – Appointed Non executive Director after some initial resistance.

 

Red Holdings PLC (Alisher Usmanov & Farhad Moshiri)-29.9%.

The shares they have were sold to them by their close associate David Dein.

The remaining 3.14% is held byformer players and three shares by the Arsenal Supporters trust.

This is how the Board operates to vest their interests after frustrating David Dein.

The Board have a different agenda to the fans and the best players at the club.The players can move on, but we the fans have no choice, so we suffer at the of whims of arrogant directors and manager, all answerable to no one .

Now that we have a background on the board room politics, indulge me further in the  second and final part of this series as we look at what’s wrong with the Le Arsenal; Le professor!

Categories: Sports | 10 Comments

PREMIER LEAGUE CLASSIC: TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS 3 – 5 MAN UTD


As a football fan, there are some matches you want forget about as soon as the final whistle goes; a scrappy win or a defeat of any sort the most obvious source of such desired amnesia. At the other extreme end are matches that will forever be etched in your memory due to the incredible turn of events that ensued. One such game was a visit to Tottenham by Man United early in the 2001-2002 season.

The date was 29th September 2001, the venue White Hart Lane, North London. Manchester United came into the match on the back of a poor away record that season, having registered no points on the board on their travels. Journeys to this part of London brought no joy for United having lost in each of their three previous visits to Spurs by the same 3-1 scoreline. As soon as the game got underway, a repeat of that scoreline seemed highly likely as Spurs sprinted off the blocks to establish a healthy lead over United.

Dean Richards opened the scoring after escaping the attentions of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, heading in a corner from the left boot of Christian Ziege at the near post. Soon Spurs were two up, a flowing move saw Les Ferdinand through one on one after a neat through ball by Uruguayan Gus Poyet. Ferdinand composed himself before firing in a crisp low shot past United keeper Fabien Barthez.

United were forced into a tactical change before halftime after Nicky Butt went off injured following a challenge by Mauricio Taricco. In came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who played upfront with Van Nistelrooy and Andy Cole, with Beckham, Scholes and Veron completing the midfield three.

Just before the interval, Tottenham took advantage of the change in system by United, Christian Ziege scoring past the hapless Barthez to send the home fans into a frenzy. Steffen Freund fed Poyet down the right and his deep cross was met by the unmarked Ziege at the far post with a diving header.

Going into the break, United seemed dead and buried. Surely, there was no way out this hole. What Sir Alex said to his players only they will know but whatever he said transformed United. Less than a minute into the second half the fightback began as Beckham slipped the ball outside to an onrushing Neville and the right-back’s cross was headed in by Cole. Given United’s history of comebacks, the home fans must have feared for the worst when that first goal went in. Their worst fears would soon be confirmed.

Just before the hour mark Laurent Blanc rose to nod in a corner from Beckham and the sense of expectation from the away end was palpable. In the previous away match, United came from 3-1 at Newcastle to draw level at 3-3 before Newcastle scored the fourth and winning goal. There was no stopping the red juggernaut this time though and with 18 minutes to go, Silvestre’s centre found the obliging head of Ruud van Nistelrooy, completing a hatrick of headed goals by United and drawing level with Spurs.

There was going to be only one winner from that point, and four minutes later Paul Scholes and Solskjaer combined to send in man-of-the-match Veron for a low left footed finish and with three left Solskjaer dragged the ball across for Beckham to drive in the fifth.

United players celebrate Juan Veron's goal

The comeback kings had done it again. It would seem ridiculous to back a team for a comeback from three goals down but this was no ordinary team. The failure to accept anything but a win spurred United from the jaws of defeat to complete one of the greatest comebacks in premier league history. Years down the line, Sir Alex nominated this match as one of his all time favourites at the club and rightly so. United went on finish the season in third place in one of the few seasons to forget in the Fergie era. For those who witnessed this spectacle though, the memories won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Tottenham – Sullivan, Taricco, King, Perry, Richards, Ziege, Freund, Anderton (Rebrov 83), Poyet, Ferdinand, Sheringham – GOALS Richards 15, Ferdinand 25, Ziege 45.

Manchester United – Barthez, G. Neville, Blanc, Johnsen, Irwin (Silvestre 45), Beckham, Butt (Solskjaer 40), Scholes, Veron, Cole, van Nistelrooy – GOALS Cole 46, Blanc 58, van Nistelrooy 72, Veron 76, Beckham 87.

Highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlK61BOscRA&feature=player_embedded

 

 

Categories: Sports | 20 Comments

The United State of Affairs

After storming off the blocks at the start of the season and seemingly looking unstoppable, Manchester United’s engine is slowly running out of steam. The lethargic nature of play is a far cry from the buccaneering style that saw opponents swept away with relative ease earlier in the season. The nadir came with the drubbing by the noisy neighbor but the rot had set in much earlier. Here, I attempt to explain the three main reasons behind the poor form while offering a prognosis of the near future as we approach the halfway point of the season.

1.       Squad Composition

The end of last season (2010-11) saw a change of guard at United. Stalwarts of the club retired and deadwood was cleared to pave way for the building of Fergie’s last great team. Out went the old guard, with the squad replenished by young hungry players to complement the existing core of the team. What was lost in terms of experience and composure was replaced with youthful vigor and vitality. Crucially though, squad balance was not addressed.

The composition of the defence is solid with a right blend of talented young pretenders and experienced players. The caveat to this has been the injuries sustained by the defenders at different times of the season that has seen United use 14 different back four combinations in just 17 games this season. It goes without saying that a solid back four is a settled one. Partnerships, good understanding, communication and all that. Talented as the defenders are, the chopping and changing has a destabilizing effect that coupled with limited protection from midfield (more on that later), results in a shaky defensive unit.

Midfield. United’s Achilles heel. Lacking in both quality and quantity, the center of the park is clearly our weak underbelly. Many a column have been written explaining United’s weak midfield. For the best part of the last ten years, our midfield has been functional at best. The most glaring weakness has been the lack of defensive midfielder. There was a joke doing the rounds that when Keane retired, many thought Fergie would retire his jersey number 16. Little did we know he’d retire the whole defensive midfielder position in his honour. We haven’t been strong in this position ever since Keane started going downhill circa 2003. Even when we had Hargreaves in 07-08, he nominally played from an inside right position and rarely played infront of the defence. Alan Smith, Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher have all been tried there and failed. All originally attacking players, all unsuccessfully converted to a defensive position. Their creativity stifled and their defensive abilities clearly limited, they have all ended up being duds, central midfielders who cannot create nor destroy. Apart from Cleverley, all our CM’s are a variation of this can’t-defend-can’t-attack type of midfielders. The lack of specialization has seen an over emphasis on creativity from the wings and a burden on the defenders to be extra solid when repulsing opposition attacks.

Whatever the midfield lacks in quantity and variety the strike force has in abundance. At present, United boasts seven strikers in our books. Seven strikers who expect minutes on the pitch, or at least a bench spot at worst. With Rooney guaranteed a starting spot when fit, that leaves six strikers to fight for one position. With a need to keep everyone happy, and (as cynics would have it) compensate for the dearth in midfield, Sir has had to tinker with his formation by attempting to have as many strikers as possible at any given time on the pitch without necessarily destabilizing the team balance. Attempting to do it is one thing, succeeding in such attempts is another. This leads us to point number two, tactics.

2.       Tactics

As noted above, Sir Alex has made a prudent attempt at reconciling the paucity of midfield options and abundance in strikers with his team layout by switching to 4-4-2 from 4-3-3. A firm believer in 4-4-2, Sir Alex had to make the switch to 4-4-3 belatedly after a disastrous spell in Europe in the mid 2000’s. While most teams were adapting to the new wave of 4-3-3 following the success of Mourinho’s Porto team, Fergie stuck to his guns with his traditional 4-4-2. Having a squad in transition and a formation that proved a non-starter in Europe, United went several years without winning away in Europe, the nadir coming with the crashing elimination at the group stages of the Champions League in 2005. Hitting rock bottom gave Fergie the chance to rip everything apart and start afresh; rip he did, dispensing Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane and bringing in Michael Carrick with Rooney and Ronaldo now playing from wide to support the lone striker Saha.

As the great man explains, the lack of control in games necessitated the shift. “The idea behind the 4-3-3/4-5-1 is that you can control the midfield and keep possession of the ball – that’s always your aim when you use that formation,” Sir Alex says. “I believe the team that has possession of the ball has more opportunities to win the match. As for the 4-4-2, there is more emphasis in that formation placed on playing the ball forward and usually you use the two traditional wingers.”

The shift to three midfielders brought about arguably the most successful period in United’s history with four EPL titles and three European cup finals. The blueprint for this success was the dynamic 4-3-3 formation brilliantly executed at its peak by the Rooney-Ronaldo-Tevez triumvate. When Javier Hernandez started a scoring spree that made it nigh impossible to leave him out of the team mid last season, Sir Alex had to switch tactics to accommodate both him and the indispensable Rooney in the same team. Cue a switch to 4-4-2 with Rooney playing off Hernandez and dropping to help the midfielders when not in possession. For this formation to work though, you have to have the right players. They have to be very, very mobile and they have to be able to play when they get the ball. The double-legged win against Chelsea in the quarter final of UCL last term was a demonstration of this system executed perfectly; Giggs and Carrick played with great mobility and outstanding technique in the center of midfield.

Mobility and technical brilliance are not exactly in abundance at Old Trafford presently, most players having either one of those qualities but seldom both at once. With 4-3-3 still the favored formation by most teams at present, United’s midfield is outnumbered 3 to 2 in almost every game, inevitably forcing the two midfielders to sit dip. The two strikers as such become isolated. Hernandez, usually the most advanced of the two strikers, suffers most and his lack of hold up play is exposed ruthlessly. The midfielders available aren’t good enough. Worse still, none is a specialist player in breaking up play. The net effect is a disjointed unit; a midfield that cannot create nor attack, a midfield that is over powered and has to seat deep and a strike force that is isolated. Creativity is left exclusively to the wingers and a little dip in form or a formidable fullback opponent renders our play blunt, toothless.

The lack of right players to implement the new system has not only seen us concede a staggering number of chances and leaking goals but also a shortage of creativity and goal scoring opportunities for our strikers.

3.       Poor form post-Cleverley injury

Compounding the problem of squad balance and tactical conundrums is the poor form displayed by some of our players. The purple patch in August and September was largely based on the form of Cleverley and Anderson and to an extent Nani and Ashley Young. The former duo dovetailed perfectly in the middle, playing quick short passes and releasing the ball wide at the earliest opportunity for the wingers to play early crosses in. Cleverley in particular gave a new dimension to the midfield. His quick incisive passing increased the tempo of our play right from his introduction in the Community shield to subsequent matches and brought the best out of Anderson. Crucially, creative duties were now being shared between the two central midfielders and the wingers.

Cleverley’s injury saw a massive dip in form from Anderson and consequently the whole team. The wingers too were not spared. Nani has been poor lately and so has been Young before injury took him out of the firing line. Antonio Valencia has been having a mare for the better part of the season, a reminder perhaps that like Eduardo, the hardest part to overcome after a massive injury is mental rather than physical. As noted earlier, a 4-4-2 system relies on wide play for creativity and having wingers in poor form renders the system redundant.

Outlook

Going forward, there are a few issues that need to be addressed. Of paramount importance is squad balance. The strike force needs culling, if not for anything else, to stop forcing Fergie’s hand when choosing the formation to play with. As much as I love what he brings to the team, Dimatar Berbatov has to go in January. After being denied even a bench spot in Wembley despite being the league’s top scorer, the guy has no incentive whatsoever to perform. He still speaks highly of Ferguson and the team and has no desire to leave, but the truth is it serves everyone well if he transferred his talent to a place where he will be more appreciated. Ditto Diouf, a hard working player who unfortunately isn’t good enough to play for United. He should have been sold in the summer instead of having to play in the reserves, stunting his progress and denying Will Keane and John Cofie some playing time. That Macheda didn’t go out on loan was perhaps the most baffling move of the summer, well at least after the lack of a midfield purchase. January should provide such an opportunity, preferably a short term move to a premier league team where if he can benefit half as much as Welbeck at Sunderland, we’ll have one hell of a player in our hands.

When it comes to midfield, a radical surgery isn’t advisable mid season but some additions won’t go amiss seeing how thin that department is stocked. The clamour among United fans over the last few months was for the signing of a playmaker, a replacement for Scholes per se. While the mooted names of Modric and Sneijder would greatly enhance our squad, Cleverley, Anderson, Carrick and Giggs can all play relatively well in an advanced midfield position with a solid midfield pivot behind them. Strikingly though, there’s a gaping Keane-shaped hole in the middle of the pitch that needs plugging. That we have conceded the most shots on target bar a team or two in the league points to the lack of protection offered to the back four. The game against Basel in Europe highlighted the frailties in the middle of the park succinctly when the opposition had the ball, the Swiss side repeatedly by-passing our midfield and creating copious chances from right outside the box. My favored choice to fill this vacancy is a player who has shone over the last eighteen months in a Newcastle team punching above its collective weight. Cheik Tiote is a player who brings an assured solidity in midfield and is a deceptively good passer of the ball. His most outstanding feature though is his ability to win back the ball and rarely losing it thereafter. What he would bring to the team is a shield in front of the back four and freedom for his midfield partner to venture forward knowing he has his back covered. Having been bought for a meager three million pounds and Newcastle showing a willingness to offload key assests for a good price, his capture wouldn’t prove too difficult. Whether Fergie would sanction a move for a player who immediately leaves for African Cup of Nations duty after he signs is another question. Scott Parker would have been a good short term option but that boat has sailed.

Strikers: Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez, Owen. Berbatov (out) Diouf (out) Macheda (loan)

Midfield: Cleverley, Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Tiote (in), Giggs, Park, Gibson, Pogba, Morrison

Defence: Rafael, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Rio, Vidic, Evra, Fabio, Fryers.

GK: De Gea, Lindegaard, Amos. Kuszczak (out)

In summary, the potential of this United side is staggering. David De Gea, Rafael, Fabio, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Thomas Cleverley, Chicharito and Danny Welbeck. All incredibly talented, all with massive room for improvement given they are barely out of their teens. This is without factoring in Nani, Valencia and Rooney, all still relatively young or the youth talents like Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison. In the short term, Cleverley will be back from injury and the likes of Nani, Young and hopefully Anderson will inevitably pick up some good form that will reverberate throughout the team. January should see some freshening up of the squad with Berbatov, Diouf, Macheda(loan) and Kuszczak allowed to leave. At a minimum, one midfield player ought to be added, preferably of a defensive nature. That should give the team a more balanced look, freeing Sir Alex’s hand to allow for some tactical elbow room and variety in formation. Essentially, fans should recognize that success in football is cyclic, a process that starts with the building, peaking and subsiding of great teams. Currently, this United team is at the onset of a new cycle, similar to where we were in 06-07 and as much as success is not guaranteed this season, the prognosis for the next few years seems amazingly bright. With a few tweaks here and there and factoring in this is the great man’s last attempt at building a great team, United fans should be rubbing the hands gleefully as we witness the greatest manager in football history work his magic for one last time.

BELIEVE.

Categories: Sports | 34 Comments

Rio in Pictures

Categories: Best of Panoramicdon, Photography, Travel | 20 Comments

From Brazil, with love.

From the comfort of a sofa and a screen, I have ‘traveled’ the world over, ‘discovering’ corners of the world that would leave many a great explorer of centuries gone by green with envy. Satisfying as it may be knowing the geography, history and culture of a region in Nepal or a city in Bolivia, the yearning to feel the experience in actuality never escapes an armchair traveler. I recently got the opportunity to get this monkey off my back when a trip to Brazil with my friends materialized. It’s true what they say about travel being an eye opener and the trip to South America was quite an enriching experience. Among the many observations, the following stood out:

  1. Being away from home makes you appreciate your roots – The default outward looking mentality of appreciating anything foreign and exotic makes someone not fully appreciate their own. We have seen it with the post-humorous discussions of Wangari Maathai’s life. A foray outside our borders sharpens our ability to observe another culture, enabling us to apply that level of perception and appreciation to our own roots. This got us to understand how big Kenyan athletes are in the worlds eyes. Every time you told a Brazilian you are from Kenya, they asked you about running or whether you are there for a marathon. As far as ambassadors go, you can’t beat that. The same way we associate Brazilians with football is how the world associates us with running. No offence to our East African neighbors but I’m certain we would have been given a puzzling look if for instance we stated our nationality as Ugandan or Tanzanian. Nor would a Brazilian know anything about Moldova, Oman, maybe even Euro countries like Latvia, Montenegro and such. But they know about Kenya. Which gives you a rush of nationalistic pride. It’s incredible to think that I had to be 20,000km from home to realize how much of a big deal our runners are and the extent to which they have put our country on the world map.
  2. Travel challenges you to get you out of your comfort zone – In many ways, our lives are a set of routines repeated ad infinitum and the measure of success and personal achievement becomes equally limited. As long as our bank accounts are regularly replenished or our transcripts favorably graded, most will feel contented without further introspection or an urge to self-improve. Chatting with an uneducated hawker or a Brazilian hooker in English when their native language is Portuguese leaves you red-faced and feeling quite limited as a person. Knowing a foreign language became a goal of ours as we left Brazil, if not for anything to get rid of that bugging feeling of inadequacy and foster that common bond of humanity.
  3. Brazilians love their football- Yes, everyone knows that Brazil is a football mad country but you don’t realize the extent to which the game permeates every aspect of their society till you set foot in the country. From floodlit mini-pitches in the city center where tournaments go on way past midnight to the beach pitches, football facilities are everywhere. And they are not afraid to nail their colors to the mast as almost all shops will have a flag of the team the owner supports. A waiter will politely tell you the jersey you are wearing is ‘shit’ if he supports a rival team. The height of their passion was evident when you see a group of friends playing beach football at Copacabana at 3:30 am. At the stadium, football attendance isn’t limited to the lower class and a section of the middle class male population as happens locally; from chain smoking old men to incredibly beautiful and scantily clad ladies, the crowd was as diverse as it could get. (For the football fans, you will be surprised to find out that Mane Garrincha and not Pele is regarded as the best player of all time).

    For the love of the game. Brazilian drummer chica leading the chants at Fluminense vs Avai match, Egenhao stadium.

  4. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness – In a world where stereotypes are taken for facts, getting to see people in their natural setting and interacting with them changes how you see them. Yes there was that white woman who clutched her bag tighter upon seeing you but that was an exception rather than the norm. At the end of the day, all human beings are essentially that; humans. People are curious to know your story, where you come from, how people live where you come from as they warmly welcome you to their country. The fears you had about a certain place quickly dissipates as you realize the innate friendliness of people. As Maya Angelou put it, travel is the one hope we have to recognize “that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die.” And just like that, the artificial divisions we put upon ourselves goes away. Essentially, we are all just people trying to get the best out of life.
  5. Brazil is no 3rd world country – The perception among most people is that Brazil is a third world country when it’s anything but. Rio is Brazil’s second largest city and the standards set there are extraordinarily high. From ethanol-fueled cars, to elaborate subway systems, exemplary public amenities to general public hygiene, Rio reeks of a highly developed city. As per Mercer’s city rankings of cost of living for expatriate employees, Rio de Janeiro ranks 12th among the most expensive cities in the world in 2011 ahead of London, Paris, Milan, and New York City. Rio also has expensive hotel rates with the daily rate of its five star hotels the second most expensive in the world after New York City. With these rates set to increase during major events, those planning to attend the 2014 world cup best save up quite some amount if the trip is to become a reality.
  6. 6.The beauty of Art- If done in a coordinated way between the artists and authority, street art adds real beauty to a city.  Words don’t do justice to art so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Categories: Best of Panoramicdon, Photography, Travel | 36 Comments

WILL THE KIWI FINALLY FLY?

Mention New Zealand to someone, anyone and the first thing that comes to their mind is rugby. And why not? Demographically dwarfed and physically isolated, this Polynesian island nation rarely shows up on the international radar bar the odd natural disaster. Its rugby status though bucks that trend. Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport. It is embedded in their cosmopolitan culture, a part of their national psyche. The sight of their national team the All Blacks performing the intimidating haka dance goes a long way in stirring national pride. That a Kiwi of European descent can perform a traditional Polynesian war dance in an international setting is testimony to the galvanizing effect of the game on the people. Rugby to the Kiwi’s is what football is to Brazilians, or cricket to Indians.

Despite being the most talented and feared team in rugby for the best part of two decades, it is another quality associated with the All Blacks that has come to define them. An unenviable quality that defines the chasm between expectation and reality; chokes. And boy do they choke! The biggest chokes in rugby. Perhaps in sports in general. Bad refereeing, over coaching that stifles creativity, lack of a plan B, the whole range of reasons and excuses have been forwarded in the inevitable post-mortems that follow a typically limp underwhelming performance at the rugby world cup. Not since the inaugural tournament has New Zealand ascended to the zenith of world rugby. Even then, the world cup was not the epitome of rugby competition it now is.

The repeated failure has seen apprehensive expectation accompany the build up to every tournament since they failed to defend their trophy back in 1991. Not this time though. This time, there is genuine belief that they are gonna get the monkey off their backs. ‘Our turf, out time’ goes the famous tagline to the event that the Kiwis will host for the first time since the inaugural event. The optimism this time seems rooted in solid firmament.

A disappointed Kiwi fan is a common sight at the world cup.

The omens are there to suggest a good tournament is in store for the hosts of the seventh rugby world cup. The one and only world cup title they won was the one they hosted in 1987. The All blacks have a 90% win rate at home in rugby tours. This is an incredible standard in any professional sport, a daunting challenge to any opposition facing a team that is seemingly unbeatable in their backyard. Looking at their form this year, there is a noticeable deviation from the normal trend in a world cup year. New Zealand has won the Tri Nations in every world cup year since it was inaugurated in 1996. Their usual impressive form against the South Africans and Australians, in the tournament played a few weeks before the start of the world cup has maybe added to the complacency that comes with their ‘favorites’ tag. For once though, they lost out on the tournament in a world cup year this time round. Slightly far-fetched and a tad superstitious it may seem but this may be an indicator of the change in fortunes. If not for  anything else, it may serve as a wake-up call that will refocus the squad. On the sentimental side of things, a world cup win in this rugby mad nation may just be what the country needs following the devastation that was brought about by the Christchurch earthquake earlier this year. Like the Japanese women winning the football world cup this year, a tragedy brings together a nation and instills an urgency to win that may not necessarily be present in the other teams.

The task of moulding a team sans the omnipresent psychological burden of failure falls on the shoulders of Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach. The squad which will be captained by 30-year-old All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is made up of 16 forwards and 14 backs, and with 1,133 Test caps between them, is the most experienced All Blacks squad ever assembled. Five of the team’s leading players, McCaw, first five-eighth Daniel Carter, hooker Keven Mealamu, fullback Mils Muliaina and lock Ali Williams, will be taking part in their third consecutive Rugby World Cup tournament. There is a good balance in the selected squad with a blend of experienced All Blacks and young players who bring youthful enthusiasm to the side. The squad balance is also evident in the selection of players who are specialists in their position while others have utility value and can cover a number of positions. Having picked players on current form, the biggest casualties who will miss out on the once in a lifetime experience of a home tournament are Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Liam Messam, Wyatt Crockett and Jarrad Hoeata.

The All Blacks are in Pool A at the Rugby World Cup and will kick off their campaign against fellow pacific islanders Tonga on Friday September 9th at Auckland’s Eden Park (11:30AM Kenyan time). Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu start as centres with Israel Dagg in the full-back role. Prop Tony Woodcock packs down alongside the hooker Andrew Hore and the tighthead prop Owen Franks with flanker and captain Richie McCaw winning his 99th cap. Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Mills Muliaina are the notable omissions from the starting 15. Their other Pool matches are against Japan (Friday 16 September, Hamilton), France (24 September, Auckland), and Canada (Sunday 2 October, Wellington).

Looking at their opponents, Australia are the most exciting side around, with two inspirational play-makers in Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau, and runners all over the place. With a win in the tri nations under their belts, they go into the tournament with confidence and avoiding the spotlight that accompanies their bitter rivals New Zealand. Their form is also peaking at the perfect time and will be serious contenders.

Fellow southern hemisphere giants South Africa are seen as rank outsiders despite being the holders of the Web Ellis trophy and will look to prove the doubters wrong. Key players have returned from injury and the selected squad boasts a lot of experience with an average of 40 caps per player.

Enough with the threats, win the damn thing already!

The biggest opponent and obstacle to a Kiwi win though will be themselves as noted by legendary winger Jonah Lomu. Their psychological state will be as important as their physical, having formidable mental hurdles to overcome. The national symbol of New Zealand is the Kiwi, a flightless bird endemic to the island and in many ways, this bird is symbolic  of their rugby team’s inability to soar to the lofty heights of world rugby. Backed by a ferverent home crowd and an impeccable home record with a strong top ranked squad, the big question then is will the Kiwi finally fly? Anything bar a world cup win and the Kiwis can edit their haka to finish with a choking gesture in place of their throat slitting one.

Categories: Sports | 4 Comments

World Athletics Championship 2011: Key races to look out for.

Athletics is back on our screens again as the World Athletics Championship kicks off in Daegu, South Korea. The 13th edition of the track and field special is scheduled to take place from 27th August to 4th September in the environment-conscious Korean city. With 1945 athletic stars representing 206 countries, the event will be beamed live to over 200 countries.

Despite such extensive participation across several disciplines, some races stand out from the rest with athletics enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the certain drama that accompanies these showdown races. The four races below will likely offer the greatest entertainment in this bi-annual event.

Men’s 100m

The obvious attraction in any athletics meet, the 100m has taken special significance since the entry of Usain Bolt into the scene. Arguably the world’s most famous sportsman, the flamboyant Jamaican has taken the race and athletics as a whole by storm, obliterating opponents and records along the way. Still only 25 years of age, Bolt is looking to add to the 100m and 200m double from Berlin as he prepares for what he views as the most important event of his career, the London Olympics next summer. “I’m working my way up to the Olympic season, to being fit and ready then. London is the key,” Bolt said in a recent interview.

The hype that accompanied the build up to the championship has subsided over the last few weeks though, with the withdrawal of likely challengers to Bolt’s supremacy either through drug bans or injury. Jamaican Steve Mullings with the 3rd fastest time of the year (9.80 secs) and American Mike Rodgers at 4th with 9.85 have both been banned after failing doping tests. To complicate matters farther, the world’s fastest man in 2011, Jamaican Asafa Powell pulled out at the eleventh hour with a groin injury, joining Tyson Gay in the sidelines who was ruled out earlier due to a hip problem.

The withdrawals have left a clear path to victory for Bolt while also opening the door for some also rans to claim a podium place. Most notable of them is the 2005 world champion and former world record holder Justin Gatlin of the US. The former poster boy of sprint athletics is back from the cold after a four year absence following a doping ban. The 29 year old former Athens gold medalist will be battling it out with veteran Briton Dwain Chambers and Jamaican Michael Frater for the silver and bronze medals.

110m Hurdles Men

With the 100 m watered down due to several withdrawals, the 110m is now the highlight sprint event of the Daegu championships with the three fastest people ever in the event likely to meet up in the finals.

Former professional American football player David Oliver takes a personal best 12.89 seconds into the Daegu meet, posing a challenge to the two rivals who’ve dominated the event between them over the last few years. Dayron Robles Robles of Cuba is the 2008 Olympic champion and world record holder at 12.87 seconds. The 2004 Olympic and 2007 world champion Liu Xiang of China has run 12.88 seconds and is the previous world record holder.

This will be the first time that all three meet on the big stage and, barring a disaster in the heats, the final on Monday will be the main attraction of the championships. Oliver has a physical frame that enables him to knock hurdles out of his way with ease while Liu is a determined character with a terrific burst of pace in the last fifteen meters. Of the three, Cuban Robles is probably the most technically sound of the trio and with the world record, will have a psychological boost over his two challengers. The world record is definitely under threat in this technical sprint race.

Men’s 800m

Multiple world record holder and African champion David Rudisha comes into this championship as the clear favorite following his unstoppable form in the middle distance sprint race over the last year. With a world leading time of 1.42.61 secs, Rudisha has been dominant over the two laps ever since the sensational fete of breaking the long standing record of Dane Wilson Kipketer twice in the space of eight days in 2010.

Sudanese rival Abubakar Kaki will be his likely challenger with the two men taking their long standing rivalry from junior races into the world championship. The diminutive 2007 world champion and 2009 silver medalist Alfred Kirwa Yego will also be a force to contend with, with the three Africans likely to take the medals. Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia is also one to watch out for as his 2004 Olympic win showed his ability at the big stage.

Lacking a senior title at this event, the buccaneering Rudisha will see this as his best chance of claiming a maiden gold medal and if pushed, he will likely have a go at his own world record.

Women’s 200m

The 200 m women race promises to be an epic showdown with long term rivals Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell Brown squaring it out once more at the world stage. Three time champion Felix has the edge over her rival Brown in the worlds but lost out to her in the Beijing Olympics. The race is sure to have added spice following the emergence of sprint sensation Carmelitta Jeter. Arguably the hottest sprinter this year, Jeter has shown tremendous pace over the 100m sprint and will give the two rivals something to ponder about.

Outlook for Kenya

Coming off the back of an impressive showing in Berlin 09, the Kenyan team will be looking to go one better than the third place finish last time out. The obvious medal hope for Kenya will be Rudisha in the 800m race. Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop will be looking to lead his compatriots Daniel Komen and world leader Silas Kiplagat to a clean medal sweep in the mile.

The 3000 m steeplechase is traditionally a Kenyan affair and no threat to this monopoly is expected from any quarters. Captain Richard Mateelong will lead world champion Ezekiel Kemboi and the fastest man this year Brimin Kipruto in an in-house chase for the gold. Kipruto goes into the race on the back of an impressive showing that saw him miss the world record by 0.01 secs in Monaco last month.

The marathon will miss the presence of fallen hero Samuel Wanjiru who died in mysterious circumstances earlier this year. In his absence, Abel Kirui will lead the Kenyan charge with Paris marathon champion Benjamin Kiptoo looking good over the 42km race.

On the women’s side, Vivian Cheruyiot is the favorite in the 5000 meters where she will face off with compatriot Linet Masai and Ethiopian Meseret Defar. With a strong kick, Vivian beat the fancied Ethiopian last time round in Berlin and will be looking to continue her good recent form while also trying her hand at the 10km race or the first time.

With new stars being born in every championship as old luminaries’ fall, the 2011 world championship promises to be an exciting event in the athletics calendar. David Rudisha, Carmelita Jeter and Brit Mo Farah are likely to be new world stars if they live up to their potential while the boastful Bolt will sure light up our screens. A mixture of newbies elbowing their ways to the finish line, tarnished stars attempting to re-ignite their careers, old rivalries being renewed and existing stars looking to assert their dominance, the championship will be one to remember in years to come.

As the Koreans would put it, you will rove the laces. Enjoy

Categories: Sports

Twenty 20 and the future of cricket

The game of cricket is enjoying an upsurge in global interest after a lull in the last decade that was characterized by Australian domination and controversial occurrences mainly involving Pakistan. This is in no small part due to the mainstream adoption and runaway popularity of a shorter version of cricket otherwise referred to as Twenty20 cricket.

T20 cricket as it is sometimes called uses the traditional cricket rules. Both versions of the game have two teams and a single innings, but the difference here is that each team will only bat for a maximum of 20 overs instead of 50. The method of point accumulation is also similar to the earlier forms of cricket; a run is scored by the striking batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease there without being dismissed. Hits that reach the boundary of the field are automatically awarded four runs if the ball touches the ground en route to the boundary or six runs if the ball clears the boundary on the full.

Comparison with other forms

What has made Twenty20 so popular is the limited nature of its play that characterizes its length. Unlike tradition cricket games, a Twenty20 game lasts about three hours generally; putting it in line with most other popular sporting events. This also makes it much easier for Twenty20 matches to be televised.

In most cases Twenty20 is definitely very close to standard cricket; surprisingly people have definitely seen a difference though. Many critics say Twenty20 is a much more exciting and athletic variety of cricket.

That a team has only 20 overs to score as many runs as possible minimizes the likelihood of a middle order batting collapse, a crucial factor behind the conservative nature of batting in a one day international or a test match. If anything the reverse is true whereby a team risks not scoring enough runs at the end of twenty overs if their batting is of a conservative nature. This gives the opposing team an easier target to aim for hence the care-free batting that sees a plethora of fours and sixes being scored.

Indian Premier League

The establishment of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was another watershed moment in the rise of Twenty20. Cricket fanaticism in the subcontinent borders on the obsessive. The huge following the game commands coupled with the favorable demographics of India provided a heady concoction that was tapped into by corporates and the result was the birth of the league. The short exciting nature of T20 meant locals could take cricket in their daily stride without having to forego a whole day to sit in the turnstile.

The Indian Premier League proved highly successful with sell-out crowds, high television revenues and subsequently, corporate investment that has the knock-on effect of providing lucrative player contracts. This has seen leading stars such as Jacques Kallis, Jayawardene, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist et al join the league to supplement the Indian stars such as Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. IPL became the first sporting event ever to be broadcast live on YouTube, an avant garde in sports broadcasting that saw the lead taken up by other competitive sports like football in the recently concluded Copa America tournament.

Future of the game

The rise of T20 has got sections of critics writing epitaphs on the demise of the conventional formats of test and one day cricket. However, the technical appeal of the longer version of the game, steeped in purist tradition will see put to this for the foreseeable future.

In Kenya, the game hasn’t got the kind of following witnessed during the heady heights of 2003 when Kenya got to the semifinal stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup. The local trend however suggests a slow adoption of a sport that eventually turns into a frenzy as witnessed by the rise in popularity of the English Football league in the early 2000’s.

The decline of standards in the local game following the zenith of 2003 should see us try our hand at the less technical, more athletic and infinitely exciting version of Twenty20 cricket. A precedent can be seen in rugby where Kenya flourishes in Sevens rugby while struggling to gain a foothold in the technical version that is Fifteen’s rugby. The impressive performance of the Kenya team in the 2010 Associates Twenty20 Series in Kenya might prove to be an early indicator of the local potential in store for T20. Of encouragement too is the launch by Cricket Kenya of a new regional franchise competition in Twenty20 cricket. The East African Cup that commences on 20 August 2011 and will feature six newly constituted teams from Kenya and Uganda is designed to improve the standard of domestic cricket in the region, develop more players capable of playing at international level and stimulate interest in the game throughout East Africa. This might just prove to be the boost of helium the game needs as to take it to soaring heights.

As we move to the future, cricket fans are left wondering which direction the game will take, with some seeing change as inevitable. With one day and especially test cricket struggling to attract spectators, it would be no great surprise if the popular Twenty20 version continues to push things in a different direction.

Categories: Sports | 4 Comments

2011-2012: Let’s make it 20

Nine months of football are with us again.With it comes excitement,sadness anxiety and the whole range of feelings that most fans experience as the new season is about to start. As a Manchester United fan I am excited at the way the team has completed the pre-season tour of America. While marketing the team, the tour was also a chance to brood in the youngsters and new signings while more importantly an opportunity for the players to get some match fitness. The highlights invloved beating the likes of MLS All Stars featuring the best of the American league 4-0, getting a small measure of revenge over Barcelona ,while we also bid farewell to the ginger prince Paul Scholes by annihilating the reborn New York Cosmos 6-0. The goal difference table read Scored 26 conceded just 3 though there isn’t much to read into pre-season.To top it off, we completed a comeback against bitter city rivals at the traditional curtain raiser to the season, the Community Shield.The show on Sunday at Wembley showed England that we won’t surrender our EPL crown so easily.

THE SEASON.

We begin the season at the Hawthorns against West Brom, a tricky fixture considering we luckily won there 2-1 last season.The big test for the month of August is Arsenal and Tottenham both at home on 22nd and 28th respectively.

September presents trips away to Bolton and Stoke, two fierce opponents who will surely give us tough tough games. The standout fixture of the month sees Chelsea visit the Theatre of Dreams on the 18th.

In October we welcome newboys Norwich to Old trafford in the first fxture. Our next two games are both derbies which will see us face our hated rivals Liverpool and Man City. The visit to Anfield will be of particular delight to the away fans as we rub in our newly acquired status as the topdogs of English football with 19 titles. The annual chance to put our ‘noisy neighbours’ in their place comes when City visit Old Trafford on the 23rd.The month ends with a tough return trip to Merseyside when we play away at Everton.

November is a simpler month with an away trip to Swansea sandwiched between home fixtures against Newcastle & Sunderland.

The bumper month of December sees us visit Astonvilla, QPR & Fulham as we welcome to the Theatre of dreams Wolves ,Wigan,and Blackburn.

January traditonally sees a surge from United and the opportunity presents itself with with an away trip to St.James Park to face Newcastle with home games against Bolton and Stoke. A pivotal away game against gunners awaits on 21st. The FA Cup also begins during this month.

February sees us take on Chelsea and Liverpool back to back on 4th and 11th respectively before we finish up with a trip to Norwich. With the return of the knock out stages of the Champions league coupled with such high profile fixtures, this will prove a pivotal month in the title race.

March sees the title race hot up with stern away tests in form of Tottenham, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn.Westbrom and Fulham visit Old Trafford complete the round of fixtures as we enter April.

Home comforts outnumber the away trips here with QPR, Astonvilla and Everton all visiting while away days await at Wigan before a possible title clash against Man city at Etihad stadium on the 29th.We wrap up the season in May with Swansea at home and Sunderland away.Believe we can make it 20.

United.

By Guest blogger,
Loso Blue

Categories: Sports, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Debut Blog

Self perception can seem quite skewed if you take for face value what other people’s  views of you are. With a shrug of the shoulder suggesting inherent self-doubt, the reaction to being encouraged to start a blog (based on my admittedly limited literary skill) has been that of someone having the masses blow smoke up my ass. I am no Lawrence Sanders but then again I have plenty of ‘informed’ opinion on an array of subjects that can be jotted down without coming across as inane rumblings. Expect blogs on society, football, travel, photography and alot else that will muster enough interest to get me off my procrastinating ass and in front of a screen. Feedback will be appreciated as I make my bow into blogosphere. Obrigado

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 10 Comments

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