Arsene Wenger has been charged by UEFA after his comments about the performance of the match official during the second leg of Arsenal's Champions League Round of 16 tie against AC Milan.
Because Arsene has been a repeat offender in recent years, UEFA have moved to alter the punishment with something more corporal as, clearly, suspending the Frenchman has not worked to curb his outspoken dissent.
Reports this morning had UEFA disciplinary officials jetting into London for crisis talks with the notoriously stubborn Wenger. After a closed doors meeting at the storied London Club's headquarters at London Colney, Wenger was spotted carrying out his punishment under the watchful eye of UEFA officials.
It is not yet understand if Wenger will be able to guide his team through Champions League qualifiers in August, should his team qualify.
As it stands, however, I've got about five minutes to crack this out. I'm doing so in the hopes that it may well drive me to expand on the thought when time permits. Whenever that may be. If you've been paying attention at all (of course you have!) you'll have noticed time is at a premium and Match Pricks has (ahem) evolved into the higher art of tossing off tweets whenever we come up with something.
This morning, while plowing through a bowl of Cheerios and some morning papers, I stumbled upon a piece in The Telegraph that tells me Tottenham have left Rafael Van der Vaart out of their Europa League squad. Yes, the pitfalls of a Europa League campaign are many, with matches on Thursday and a general requirement of miles upon miles of travel, but still, it struck me as odd that a team like Tottenham, with a genuine chance of success in the competition would leave out such a vital player. Now, it's important to note my schedule to this point of the Premier League season (heck, of all of the leagues) has left me wanting. I've essentially paid attention to the Arsenal matches, noted a few Liverpool matches (that sultry lover that they've become ... again, follow Twitter for that filth) and then have checked the other results on a mobile device while reaching for another Saturday afternoon beer. Priorities and all that.
"Spurs could at least have consulted me. Anyway, it's up to the point of no return."
Spurs should have consulted you, Rafael? Spurs? I got news for you, buddy. You are Spurs. You wear that kit. Your pay stubs probably have a little Spurs logo on them. You train at their ground. You get treated by their staff. You are a Spurs player and therefore you are Spurs.
That statement strikes me so strongly and plainly as a wonderful capsule of the modern footballer. I often talk about the habits of players on Twitter and the Club's inability to properly work with the players to express themselves in the right way in this new forum. And that ties in quite directly to Rafael's statement. Whether he says it in a press conference, in a personal blog, at a cafe with his friends and family or in a tweet (read: news release), it is a representation of his relationship with Tottenham Hotspur. It'd be the same for any player at any Club.
A Club is an entity. A brand. They stand for something. They represent something. They offer football on the pitch and they offer a feeling in people's hearts (for better or worse). The players are representatives of that brand. Of that entity. They are ambassadors who carry that representation forward with them everyday in all they and in all they say.
A relationship to a Club is not what you happen to be doing at the moment. It is deeper than that. Clubs need to do a better job of cultivating that with their players and the players need to do a better job of recognizing it.
You see, all this time, I've been clinging to a possession that just was not rightfully mine. And by mine, of course, I mean a part of my Club, the football Club I support. Today, I've come to understand I've been wrong all this time. I've been selfish. We've been selfish. In the face of better judgement and what is, really, true justice, we've been guarding and ultimately making a prisoner out of our little Cescy Poo. How wrong we've been, Cesc Fabregas, how wrong we've been. We've been acting the clown. And now, all these years later ... all these many, many years later ... I sit and reflect on the selfish and purely hubristic exercise we've been conducting since October 28, 2003 when the lad made his debut for his captors, Arsenal, against Rotherham, aged only 16 years and 177 days. In fact, one could go back even further, to be sure. Now I see that time, all that time, as stolen. It is not time served as a member of this worldwide family. It is not time given to our common cause. All of the wonderful memories, the inexorably strong bond we've forged ... all forced. All pantomime. All ... a great mirage, a grand illusion.
For my complicit and taciturn approval of this unjust saga, I can only apologize.
What hurts the most, perhaps, is that in keeping him prisoner these many years we did more than that. We gloated about it. We'd sing right in his face about it. We'd wave our hands at him. We'd feign eye contact. We'd write great missives about the wonder of our captive. We'd assault the character of those unsavory enough to assault his. "Not our Cesc," we'd assert, never understanding the depth to which we clung to our possession. We'd wear replicas of the scraps he was left to wear while toiling behind our bars. "We've got Cesc Fabregas!" we'd repeat over and over and over in a union of taunting. We carried not the whips of guards trawling the boxcars of the gulag but, mind the restlessness in your heart, we are every bit as culpable a party to driving his torment. Lock him up and throw away the key, this boy was ours.
That I laughed at the comments of the mushroom plucker Xavi all these years ...
That I cried shame at Pique, Puyol and others at the "Shirt Incident of 2010" ...
That I scoffed at the inane and poorly cloaked Twitter hash tags of his sweet sister ...
That I continued to cry foul with every peep out Barcelona's leadership team ...
That I'd bellow "Mes que un Club, my ass!" with every mention ...
... Looking back, it paints me in shame. Looking ahead, it clouds my reflection with sullen eyes when I consider how cruel we've been through this decade.
So it is with a turn of heart and with cap in hand I say, "thank you," to Senor Estanislau Fors i Garcia. This is the man who has pulled the veil back on our cruelty. This is the man who has redefined that which we have defined for so long. For eight years, our collective insolence has served only to imprison a son of the whole of the Catalan people. For eight years, our collective insolence has served only to spin the whole of the Catalan people - kind, respectful and judicious as they are - into dizzy disorientation.
Thank you, Estanislau. I apologize.
Imagine the uncaged bird singing. Imagine a free Cesc Fabregas.
Do you want them to jump up and down like happy clowns?
When Chelsea won the League Cup a couple of years back, after dominating the Premier League, they acted like a toddler who just crapped in a toilet by himself for the first time. Or, better, a college kid who just successfully nailed his first beer bong. Yes, that was how they reacted. And it came, like I say, after they won the league in about as masterfully assertive a manner as a team can.
So if Arsenal win, do you think they should go bananas after winning fuck all for 6 years? I sure don't. If I'm in that squad, I walk on stage, accept my medal, gather round the trophy, smile for the photo and smile at the memory and respect of the teams I've beaten and respectfully exit stage right. I might, at first, be rather inclined to jut my arms in the arm and hug my teammates. I'd likely, as the seconds pass, run to the support that has stuck by us year after woefully barren year. And it's entirely likely that I'd actually leap into the air a few times. But all in all, I reckon, I'd stay remarkably un-Leo Messi-likein my celebration (for the record, I whole-heartedly support Leo and his celebrations in this video). And I'd be even less of a reflection of Pepe Reina.
You might be asking, "Why, you crazy fool?" Well, let's see, what will have happened?
They'll have won something, yes. But for me, the thought, the pressing and pervasive thought, the tell-tale heart beating under the floorboards is the big, fat, dripping with reality line we'd all feel like shouting if we were being honest with ourselves ... "Well it's about goddamn time." It's the sigh of relief. It's not jubilation. It's the ... and they've damn near said this themselves ... it's the feeling of ... "right, now let's get on with it." If they go from there and win the league, win the FA Cup, win the (SHOCK! HORROR!) Champions League, then let us flood the pub with our tears. But, if they win that League Cup, let's not shit ourselves. Let's shake hands. Let's pat each other on the back and then let's put our goddamn game face on and get the fuck in there on the next one with that newly christened winner's attitude. It'd be like driving a spanking new car to work. A car that we already tore the quiet country roads up with.
I've been saying it for a while now (well, at least since I first heard the fantastic line in Inglorious Basterds) ... attendez la creme. Wait for it. Wait for the cream. Wait for that velvety nugguty center. Wait for the deliciousness. Wait for the best. It's not the first bite at the cherry ... that just lets you know what it tastes like .. it's the second, third and fourth ... it's gobbling the little fucker whole. Because at that point you know what it tastes like, don't you? I've forgotten what winning something tastes like, what it feels like. I've forgotten the chills you get, the spring in your step and the 'jut' it gives to your chin as you thrust it into the air at any given opportunity. Red light? I've a chin that says, "screw you, mister, we've just won a trophy." Long day at the office? Right, chin. Bad haircut? You better believe it, I've got the chin of a winner, fella. But as it stands, I've forgotten how high you can hold you head. I've forgotten that it gives you the last word.
I want to remember all of those feelings. I want to remember them so I can want them again. Savvy?
When I lose at the FIFA (I write that as if I regularly play. I don't. I'm too poor at it.) my first nine times in row and I manage to sneak one crazy victory, I'm not running around my friend's living room. I'm thinking, well, I got one over you, didn't I? Then I'm thinking about getting to the kitchen to grab some more beer. The last thing I'm gonna suggest the next time we all have a free night is playing the FIFA again. But hey, if I win three out four, five out of six or even seven out of 10 you better bet your ass I'm clearing the schedule and saying, hot damn, brutha, when you wanna play again? What do you have going on Monday? I have some vacation time I can blow. Let's do this.
Same with winning a trophy. Win it once, meh, great, good for you. Anyone can win the odd trophy. (The caveat here is, of course, the difference between those who expect to win, are close to winning and those who never actually expect to win but go through the motions anyway. If those lucky bastards stumble upon a trophy then they better go nuclear when they win it because, mama, it ain't happening again anytime soon.) Anyway ... Hey, you pull that trophy in, I'm gonna know what it tastes like, what it feels like ... i'm gonna get that spine tingling sensation.
And I'll want it again. And I'm pretty sure you'll want it again too. So get the fuck in there, Arsenal. Don't learn how to win. Do it, win, so that you want to win again. Because for five years, hey, we know you've been trying but it sure as shit hasn't looked like you really want to win. You've just been hoping you'd win. And like I say, anyone can stumble across a win now and then. if you've the quality, you can probably squeze a few more out than the next guy but ... you gotta really want it if you're gonna win all of it. Savvy?
I have this shaky history with following United matches at work. I keep an eye on 'em, and usually nothing special happens. Sometimes, United's opponent starts to do something interesting or threaten to get a draw or win, and I decide to pull up Soccernet or something similar to keep even closer tabs on the match. Invariably, United goes on to score a goal and take all three points. It happens to me a lot. My increased interest ends up increasing United's chances to win the match.
Well, when I saw on Twitter that Stoke equalized in the second half, I paused for a second and then my curiosity got the better of me. I went to Soccernet, my eye scanned to the score box at the top of the home page, it said 1-1, I clicked the Gamecast option and BAM! The Gamecast loaded with the score 2-1 United and the commentary timeline freshly loading the description of Nani's goal. I mean, the mere act of expanding my access to information about the match basically scored a goal for United. Just acting upon my interest!
Thinking back now, I'm not sure I've ever followed a match United has lost, other than the few times recently that Liverpool beat them. Maybe once I watched them lose to Chelsea in real time. All other United defeats, that I can remember, have happened when I didn't care at all what the hell Fergie's boys were doing.
And, looking to the sky, scanning across and through the horizons, he implored the spirits that drove his emotional torment to carry him back. And, with hands clasped and knees tendered from the collapse he hoped would prove the sincerity in his request, he threw his head back and opened his eyes wide as can be. And, with the hopelessness of a man lost at sea, he opened his mouth and shouted ... "Please, lead me, again, to get angry when we lose! Lead me, again, to rejoice in victory!"
I've spent the better part of the last year falling out of love with winning and making up with losing. We adapt, don't we, out of simple necessity? I'm an Arsenal supporter and, as has been over-documented, they've made a fortune out of manufacturing mediocrity the last couple years. Top management has even strived to shout, "Hang on! We're right there, aren't we? We're competing every year. Damn close, we are. Damn close. Win or lose, we're damn close."
Maybe it's the utter lack of fight on hand in the Arsenal. Maybe it's the willingness, nay, it's more than willingness, the team's ability to roll over to an opponent defined as a higher quality simply by Arsenal's ability to act like a milk-moneyless second grader facing the school bully is best described, at this point, as a fetish.
Perhaps that's why I seem not to care. I care. Really, I do. I still get awfully fired up for a football match involving the characters, athletes and colours I've found the most attractive to my mind and heart. Though, a lot of the spirit I toss at the football nowadays can be summed by friend and fellow Arsenal supporter, Phil. Toward the end of the West Brom match ... the horrible, horrible West Brom match (it was horrible, wasn't it? right? it's supposed to be really awful when you lose a match, isn't it? especially to 'lesser' competition, right?) ... Phil says, "I'm gonna get hammered after this match. If we lose, I'm gonna get REALLY hammered." The emphasis on the word "really" was lost on no one. With the final whistle, we blasted through Van Halen's "Panama," an uncountable number of beers and a series of air guitar riffs and rock-emphasizing air kicks. All was brought, once again, into focus. What mattered mattered. Losing a football match was certainly that which did not matter. And hey, that horrible, horrible match was fun in the end. Nasri gave us a couple of a winks and two goals. Fun, fun, fun, eh? Right? Right.
Not long after that experience, which stood as an affirmation of this attitude I'd been carrying for the better part of a year (win or lose, I still love it! doesn't mean a thing, winning, does it!?), Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I thought, heading over to the pub to watch, that there really was a chance this time. I thought a page would be turning for this group of players. And, I hoped, without really admitting it to myself, that I'd be turning a page myself. WIth a little bit of hope for success, in any venture, comes an attachment to what it might actually mean to have that success.
What did I think would happen? I thought the Arsenal would put in a performance as assured as the way I walked through that door at 9:00 a.m. I thought we'd cruise through a very hard fought win. I thought we'd carry the level of possession, and flex enough will in the final third, needed to allow me to take a big puff of air at the end of the match and cast that glare of aspersion over the masses I'd so grown to love ... but ... this time ...
I'd peer in, mustering every ounce of patented prickishness I could ... And even the dimmest passerby would be able to read, sprawled across my eyes, lips and forehead ...
"I told you so."
But no. If the travails of ol' Jim and the hoards of Liverpool supporters the world round have taught us anything, life ain't no fairy tale, kiddies. While I've been wallowing as a soul tearing its way through the endless hallway of footballing purgatory (not winning, not losing, not caring, no indifference), friends and a Club I have endless respect for have had their brains on a tilt-o-whirl for months. And the last 48 hours have been a tilt-o-whirl with a never-ending roller-coaster drop as a capper. Their plight has helped steel my focus. Their plight has reminded me of my wealth. That Chelsea loss, when we seemed to be in the passing lane for long stretches of the match, steeled my focus. That Chelsea loss, that inability to achieve what I had actually and rather stridently hoped for, reminded me of how much I had to lose. It reminded me of how much I had invested.
Winning doesn't beget caring. Caring doesn't beget wining. If I shout harder, sing more or slap another goddamn stupid ass piece of clothing with my team's colours on my body, it's not a deeper expression of caring and it sure as shit won't bring three points. Caring is in and of itself. I was finally recognizing the investment, the deep emotional investment I'd made of holding through this long stretch of mediocrity. I finally realized that investment, that huge vault that stood behind me, meant I actually did care quite a bit more than I'd been letting on. I'd peer around my shoulder and the trail I left for myself and recognize everything I left behind and how it carried me to where I was. I accepted the value in it. And I accepted how much it meant to me.
That's why I was beyond happy when I saw Nicklas Bendtner's quotes this morning. I wasn't just happy, I was energized. I was reminded. I was hella fired up, people.
For months, and seemingly for years, quotes coming out of the Arsenal charges have focused on development. They've focused on learning. They've focused on the next step. That dulled me. It sawed off my senses. It had me looking forward to Van Halen guitar solos instead of prickish glares that reeked of "I told you so." It made me accept the process of development. It lead me to this "winning ain't shit, only macho pricks want to win, I'm an artistically aware individual who values performance over winning" mentality.
But then, this morning, I woke up, got dressed, fixed a little raisin bran, and read Nicklas Bendtner's quotes.
It is quite amazing. I reckon I'm probably right to be involved in the fight on Saturday for Arsenal - and I am excited. I thought ideally that I should play one or two reserve games first, but I am in such good shape that it is not needed.
And I thought, quite simply, HELL YEAH! Get in there, Nicklas. Welcome back and get in there. How can you not be fired up by comments like that? After emailing my collaborator here at Match Pricks, Jim, it all came into focus. "Bendtner is so ridiculously unappreciated," he said. After some rambling, he finished, "Kid's got balls, brutha. Brass balls."
DONG DONG DONG
"What was that? Sounded loud. And heavy."
"Oh, that? That's just Nicklas Bendtner's balls clanging together. He started training with the first team again."
Welcome back, Niko. Your influence is greater than people realize.
(sidebar: for the image, I shit you not, I searched "smug" and it gave me Match Pricks favourite, Slavan Bilic.)
It's 11:07 a.m. as I start typing this post, and I've been awake for seven hours, give or take a few minutes. I've been following the Liverpool court decision that has seen – at last – the end of Tom Hicks and his piddling partner in desperation George Gillett, but it has turned up one last sniveling little opportunist. Noted Lamborghini collector Peter Lim, the son of a fishmonger and the heretofore unnamed "Asian bidder" for the club, wants to worm his way into the control room by offering £320 million. It's a last-ditch attempt to sneak past New England Sports Ventures, whose £300 million offer was accepted last week. You might remember that incident, though it did happen before back-to-back, all-day Guardian live blogs of Liverpool's court case, so failure to recall all the details is understood.
Let's look at Mr. Lim's offer for a minute – and consider why every Liverpool supporter should be on his hands and knees praying to whatever god, statue, otherworldly idea or bottle of booze they prefer that Singapore's eighth-richest man doesn't finagle his way into ownership of the club. Lim is said to be worth $1.6 billion (US), and his offer of £320 million, plus £40 million to invest in new players, is equivalent to $570 million (US). Lim would like us to believe he will invest one-third of his wealth in the club without taking on any debt to complete the transaction. Without even mentioning stadium plans, he's willing to expose one-third of his fortune to just getting a hold of things at Anfield and donating a little seed money to buy, what, two or three building block players.
Those are just the startup costs, mind you. A 57-year-old billionaire sinking one-third of his life's work into merely beginning a new endeavor. Of course, building the needed new stadium would require him to invest at least two-thirds of his life's fortune, likely more, but, sure, Peter Lim only has Liverpool's best interests at heart.
And how is that $1.6 billion fortune broken down? Well, $1.4 billion comes from his 5 percent stake in Wilmar International. (Here's a bunch of business world gobbledygook about how their business works.) Lim bought that stake for $10 million in 1991 when Wilmar was a startup palm oil company. He's been diversifying into the health sector recently, so, you know, it's not like he's completely reliant upon Wilmar. He has spread $200 million around into other areas.
Like Lamborghinis, Porsches and Ferraris, as the first link in this post shows. Also, he "owns an entire 11-story block of a prestigious condominium in Singapore’s tony Orchard Road shopping district." Here's a shot from Street View of part of the Orchard Road shopping district:
A Borders! You are not a high-falutin' billionaire prepared to own the most successful club in the history of the English game and return it to past glories – while also building a modern, money-spinning stadium – if you count among your prized assets condos in a "prestigious" shopping district that includes a chain store where I've actually purchased something. At a Borders in downtown Chicago several years ago, I bought Charles Earland's "Black Talk!" album while waiting for a buddy to finish a law school class one day. Not only have I already shopped in your supposedly luxurious environs, Mr. Lim, I was doing it while a broke college kid. You, sir, are in no position to fund the purchase of the next Dani Alves.
Now, sure, if you click around through that Street View you'll find a Hermes store, an Armani, a Louis Vuitton. But look back at that Borders evidence and what else is there? A Marks & Spencer! Are you shitting me, Mr. Lim? I could stroll into Marks & Spencer tomorrow – or as soon as I could book a flight and figure out the International Date Line – and throw down cash(!) for the Autograph Leather Diamond-Punch Loafers by Jeffery-West. $103 for shoes?! You associate with this kind of commerce and think you're suited to oversee the design, engineering and construction of a 60,000-plus seat stadium with all the corporate amenities that ensure constant delivery by the truckload of giant canvas sacks with dollar signs on them?
And, of course, there's the one, widely reported fact about Peter Lim that serves as a ready joke should he continue to have anything to do with Liverpool beyond October 2010 – he owns a string of Manchester United-themed bars throughout Asia.
Give us a break, Mr. Lim. It's been an arduous campaign to oust Tom Hicks and George Gillett and their greasy, poorly financed fingers from the controls of Liverpool Football Club. Don't make us have to start all over again so soon.