Branching Out

Mesut_Özil,_Germany_national_football_team_(03)

 

For any regular readers remaining (I’ve seen the stats, there aren’t many of you), you might have missed some stuff I’ve contributed to other stuff recently. So, without further ado, here’s a selection of articles I’ve written recently for other sites.

 

The Rapid Decline of Collins John for BeNeFoot

Ilan – West Ham’s Brazilian Moon Landing for The False Nine

Big Test for Arsenal Against In-Form Everton for Betting Instinct

 

Enjoy!

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Against Modern Parnaby, or how a Middlesbrough youth player will help bring José Mourinho back to England

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Despite him playing more than 200 professional games, no one actually knows what Stuart Parnaby looks like. He really is that forgettable.

It is a testament to how far our society has come that if you mention the words ‘butterfly effect’ to someone their first thought will not be of Ashton Kutcher’s early-2000s cinematic abortion.

Instead, in an increasingly rare demonstration of our status as rational beings, thoughts will turn to the concept of one tiny change affecting the future, however insignificant that change may seem. And it is with that phenomenon in mind that I hope to explain why – if José Mourinho does indeed return to the Premier League at the end of this season – it will be thanks to Stuart Parnaby.

I could attempt to take things further and attribute the return of The Special One to our hero’s father taking charge of Middlesbrough’s youth team a few years earlier, however this story begins in 2007.

Following several years of near-unbridled success in Portugal and West London, Mourinho left Chelsea despite a team including Juliano Belletti and Tal Ben-Haim holding European giants Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge two days earlier thanks to an equaliser from star striker Andriy Shevchenko.

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Meanwhile, a couple of miles to the north, Arsenal were taking advantage of being the only London club in the top flight not to change managers in the previous 18 months. They had opened up a lead at the top of the table as we entered 2008, a year best remembered for the release of the underappreciated Seth Green masterpiece Sex Drive.

Chelsea still lagged behind under Mourinho’s replacement and sex worker enthusiast Avram Grant, meaning Arsenal held a three-point advantage over second-place Manchester United when they travelled to a Birmingham City side languishing in 17th despite the holy trinity of Liam Ridgewell, Franck Queudrue and – yes – our friend Parnaby arriving in the summer.

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Not sure whether this represents a step up from McLeish’s Birmingham

Arsenal were flying, with star strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva forming a partnership poised to serve Arsène Wenger’s side for years. However their task was made harder when, in the opening minutes, Martin Taylor launched into a tackle described as premeditated by those who hadn’t seen him play before and as typically uncoordinated by those who had. The upshot was Eduardo’s exit with a broken leg – to be replaced by human meme-generator Nicklas Bendtner – and, perhaps more importantly, Twitter’s Mikael Forssell being withdrawn to make way for S-Parn (as he will never be known).

The away side, understandably shaken by the horrific injury, fell behind to a James McFadden free-kick. However inspirational leader and captain William Gallas helped his team-mates regroup at the break and two goals from “new Jermaine Pennant” Theo Walcott looked to have kept Arsenal on course for the title.

But then something happened to change the course of the game, and, indeed, the season. Blues manager Alex McLeish reacted, leaving striker Cameron Jerome on the bench and introducing defensive midfielder Mehdi Nafti, throwing Parnaby forward in the hope that he could add to his impressive tally of two career goals in barely 100 games. And that stroke of genius had the impact everyone anticipated as Parnaby’s last-minute dive over Gaël Clichy’s outstretched leg earned Birmingham a penalty from which McFadden equalised.

 

The iconic image of that game, in some people’s eyes, was Gallas’ subsequent reaction, which had a pained, ‘why-always-me’ quality then associated with Sami Kuffour in 1999 rather than LADbanter Sulia-whoring social media accounts and sub-‘Keep Calm…’ t-shirt slogans. While many Arsenal fans at the time denied the psychological impact of that moment, the fact remains that it sparked not only a downturn in form that season which saw Wenger’s team slide to third spot, but also an inherent fragility which – while often exaggerated – remains in some capacity to this day.

In tandem with this fragility, Arsenal’s descent from regular title challengers to a side chasing the top-four faux-trophy has seen the departure of Adebayor, Clichy and Samir Nasri to Manchester City, imbuing a sense of inferiority and semi-permanent fear of catastrophe in a team whose resources ought to prevent such an occurrence even if its history suggests otherwise.

While Adebayor may have moved on, the underwhelming performances of City’s French duo have played a part in two years of meh-against-boys in Europe, leading to the progress of the continentally immature Napoli and Dortmund mk.II at the Sky Blues’ expense. And, indeed, of José Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Of course, few of you will need reminding of Mourinho’s post-Chelsea career path, suffice to say Massimo Moratti’s hilariously masochistic decision to replace him with Rafael Benitez following the 2010 Champions League win creates a neat little circle – and what is football if not a game of circles?

As Roman Abramovich seeks a solution to the destruction caused by his club’s current manager, who better to turn things around than someone whose own hard work was destroyed by the mere sight of Benitez?

Had Real Madrid failed to escape their Champions League ‘group of death’, Mourinho might have been reluctant to go out with such a whimper. However the confidence boost offered by the flakiness of a Manchester City side tainted by the memory of the Arsenal of 2008, plus the potential path to the final opened up by Barcelona’s 2-0 first leg defeat to a Milan side – with one of Mourinho’s former charges Sulley Muntari on the scoresheet – could offer the former Porto boss the chance to match Paulo Ferreira’s Champions League medal total and leave the Bernabeu on a high.

And so to Stamford Bridge, where Mourinho would have the opportunity to work with Ross Turnbull, who was given his football education by none other than Dave Parnaby, father of you-know-who. Don’t you just love it when things tie up neatly like that.

A good piece of business?

Four goals in three games have seen Robin van Persie already begin to repay his transfer fee

 

by Rich Ward

In the wake of Robin van Persie’s very high-profile transfer to Manchester United, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger won praise from all quarters for a piece of “good business”.

The spin was that he had managed to offload an aging, injury-prone striker, with only a year left on his contract, for £24 million.

However, the reality is perhaps a little different. Despite coming with a ‘crock warning’, RVP actually made at least 33 appearances in three of his final four seasons with the Gunners – not to mention his tally of 37 goals in 48 appearances last term.

While it remains to seen whether Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud can provide enough firepower between them to compensate for van Persie’s exit, from Manchester United’s perspective they will be delighted that he appears to have started where he left off last season, with four stunning goals in his last two games.

The irony is that, with Wayne Rooney yet to recover from a deep gash to his leg, Alex Ferguson is currently relying on the “injury-prone” Dutchman to spearhead the Red Devils’ attack.

In fact, so seamless has the former Gunner’s integration at Old Trafford been that Rooney, who even before he was studded against Fulham looked far from the top of his game, might find it hard to get back in the starting XI.

If selling RVP was a good bit of business for Wenger, how must Sir Alex be feeling? Pretty satisfied I’d imagine.

 

About the author:

Rich Ward is a writer, journalist and guitarist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you feel so inclined.

Robin van Persie: Better Late than Never

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Robin van Persie in action against Swansea City

I wanted to start this with a comparison, another Premier League transfer comparable to that of Robin van Persie to Manchester United in terms of scale and impact on both clubs, but I struggled to find anything appropriate.

Tottenham weren’t quite at the same level as Arsenal when Dimitar Berbatov left for United. Alan Shearer’s move from Blackburn to Newcastle was tempered in its impact by the hometown club element. Even Samir Nasri’s decision to trade London for Manchester last summer is separated from van Persie’s by virtue of the Frenchman having had a far less enduring impact on the club than his Dutch team-mate.

Whatever way you look at it, the transfer is tough to take for Arsenal fans.

This is a player who has been with the club for eight years, and is part of an ever-decreasing circle of those who have had a fair glimpse of glory, be it through the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2006 or even the Carling Cup final the following year.

Then, of course, you have his contribution to the here and now. 30 league goals last season made van Persie less dispensable than at arguably any other time in his Arsenal career, although a portion of this may be down to the relative paucity of the attacking talent that surrounded him over the last 12 months.

Sure, measures have been taken to rectify this gulf in the close-season, and many rightfully interpreted the arrival of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla as a precursor to the former Feyenoord man’s exit. The outraged minority (I’m looking at you, Piers) may however continue to propagate the image of Abramovich-era football as an entertainment of immediacy. Having been offered multiple carrots in the years since the superfood salad of an unbeaten 2003/04 season, there are plenty who lack the patience to favour a long-term model in comparison to a quantifiable improvement over the prior campaign.

This, of course, is by no means limited to Arsenal – you need look no further than the treatment of several of Jose Mourinho’s successors at Chelsea for another even more extreme example – but this seems ironic given van Persie’s imminent destination.

It is difficult to argue that United’s patience with manager Sir Alex Ferguson in his early years in the job, when he was lacking in two varieties of title, would be tolerated in the modern era. However that patience has played a major role in the club reaching its current level and, yes, being in a position where they are able to entice a player of van Persie’s calibre.

While the financial gap between Champions League and the rest hinders the case for blind faith, there remains an argument for the trusting middle-ground common to Arsenal fans over the years but from which a proportion of the Emirates faithful is beginning to distance itself.

Part of Ferguson’s success has come from demolishing and rebuilding empires when he begins to see the pieces falling, to the point where four-year cycles often replicate those of international sides’ World Cup campaigns when it comes to changes of style as well as raw materials. With this in mind, the exit of van Persie could have another hidden benefit.

His departure almost forces Arsene Wenger’s hand, requiring the manager to mould a playing style which fits his new and expensively-assembled forward line, rather than having the luxury on being able to fall back on the goals of his talisman to achieve what is required. Indeed, with some arguing that van Persie is unlikely to have more than two more years of blistering form ahead of him, the striker remaining at Arsenal could well have had an even more detrimental effect were he to leave further down the line with money having already been wasted on an elaborate plan B.

One element of the saga I have not touched upon is the allegations of ‘lack of ambition’ leveled at van Persie by certain Arsenal fans. For the pure ridiculousness of this statement, I will leave it untouched.

Help, I’m turning into Patrick Vieira

Is Abou Diaby really that similar to his fellow French international?

Monday morning started much like any other. I’d been interviewed for this week’s Arsenal programme trying to wind up Sir Alex Ferguson with mind games. I was meant to be copying Jose Mourinho in 2004. But it seems my aim backfired, spectacularly.

The four comments shouted from car windows and posted on Twitter all said the same thing – I’d been transformed into none other than Patrick Vieira. “All you need is to get rid of that ridiculous facial hair”, said Cesc Fabregas, with no hint of irony. “What’s happened to you: the bald head, the long legs, the disappointing goalscoring record?” shouted Pat Rice from the dugout. “Great Shatner’s Ghost!” Lassana Diarra wrote on my Facebook wall.

Wow indeed, if I have morphed into Vieira then at least I’m not the new Remi Garde. Patrick is a great athlete and Arsenal fans love him. At least he’s not a laughing stock like Jermaine Pennant, or ginger like Ray Parlour.

He is not too horsey like Martin Keown, nor is he impossibly, off-puttingly Dutch. He is hard-working, I can sniff his bald-headed ambition.

I hadn’t realised it before, but we are shockingly alike in our approach to football. We both want nice things. We want to escape our ordinary past (his, growing up in Senegal. Mine, having everyone on Soccer Saturday call me Abu Dhabi). So yes, I might have Patrick’s baldness and hatred for Manchester United, but do we really look alike? Have I unwittingly copied his style of being lanky and black and playing for Arsenal?

I had thought I was much more attack-minded than Patrick Vieira. I play my best football in the final third, and haven’t made a clean, sliding tackle in my own area since 2008. I have repeatedly criticised him for not scoring enough goals. He is resolutely world-class, whereas I occupy the murky waters of reserve team games alongside Lukas Fabianski and Sebastien Squillaci.

But his ubiquity, the way that any black player of a similar build is called ‘The New Vieira’, means people like me and Steven Nzonzi are compared to him without even realising it. But there is a dangerous side to the fact that we want to play like Patrick Vieira. Being in the public eye means the need to commit stupid, mistimed fouls. He’s better than I am, and knows how to tackle, but why is his enviable aggression so worrying?

I’d never been sent off in my career before seeing him, but impressionable young men like me, those not protected by referees or footballing ability, say ‘I want to look like that’ and feel the need to go straight through Gretar Steinsson with their studs up.

The problem is that Patrick’s ability is so effortless that Arsene Wenger thinks it’s attainable. If even an intelligent French international like me can be seduced, what hope is there for Paul Pogba? Yes, copy Patrick’s athleticism and leadership, but please leave the mindless aggression and unrealistic targets to me. I still have an awful lot to learn.

Wenger: Hanging on for Grim Death

Making his début for Pele Confidential, Rich Ward looks at what might lie ahead for the beleaguered Arsenal manager.

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Red cards, injuries, dropped points, bans, fines and players heading out the exit. For Arsène Wenger and his Arsenal team, it is proving a very ominous start to the new season – certainly not what Arsenal fans want to be seeing after six trophy-less years. However, even the most cynical among them would surely not have predicted the total humiliation they suffered at the hands of Manchester United.

Their worst drubbing since the 19th century strongly underlined the championship winning potential of the new-look United and, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all finding their feet after transitional periods, Arsène Wenger is facing a difficult task just to get in to the Champions League qualifying spots, let alone win something.

This is a damning indictment of how far Arsenal’s stock has fallen in recent years and, surely, a clear sign that fresh insight is needed at the Emirates. While Wenger’s long time foe Alex Ferguson shows a remarkable ability to keep regenerating his side to win championships – mixing new blood with experience – Arsenal have seen early-noughties domination dissolve into end-of-decade stagnation.

The fans have been told to keep the faith by Cesc Fàbregas, but his words sound pretty hollow given that he has just jumped ship to Barcelona. However, his sentiments are echoed by Alex Ferguson – who has criticised the media for turning on Wenger – and pundits like Alan Hansen.

 Frankly though, compared to the “no trophies and you’re  out” policy of Roman Ambramovich at Chelsea, Wenger has  already been given a generous amount of time to improve  the situation – and the scramble for signatures on deadline  day certainly looked like the desperate moves of a man who  knows his time is nearly up.

While inbound players such as Mikel Arteta look good on  paper, if they don’t have an immediate and necessary impact following the international break, whatever the protestations from fellow professionals, the Frenchman will be saying au revoir to the Emirates.

Links for 10/12/2010

Ricoh Arena Coventry City v Middlesborough (1-0) NPower Championship 04/12/2010 Marlon King (Coventry) celebrates scoring winning goal from penalty spot, his first for Coventry  Photo: Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
  • Arsenal and the Cold War by Nick Wright at In Bed With Maradona – A look back to Arsenal’s exhibition match in communist Russia
  • A Champions League Fairytale by Josh Clarke at The 39th Game – An interesting assessment of FC Copenhagen’s long and winding journey to the Champions League knockout stage, and a lesson in just how far you can stretch an analogy