Posts Tagged With: soccer

David Beckham, take a bow son.

Becks celebrating his goal on Saturday

Still got it.

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In Arsène We Trust?… Yes of course. Here’s why.

Originally posted on Mountain’s Blog

Recently Hani (@hanicinnamon), a friend of mine, sent me a message on twitter containing the following assessment of Arsène Wenger: “the man’s stubbornness has cost #Arsenal dear #sadbuttrue” followed by:

@Jake_Mountain arsene’s net spend in recent yrs is ridiculous considering the club’s aspirations.why is he so reluctant to dish out?!

For a while, I wondered how on earth I was going to respond to this in 140 characters before realising that not only was it impossible but it was about time I entered the ongoing Wenger debate properly anyway…

Five seasons without a major trophy (six if we don’t win the league at this time of asking) is the statistic most commonly used to criticise Wenger. If you consider also that Wenger finished either 1st or 2nd every single year from 1997/98 (his first full season) to 2004/05 and that we have finished either 3rd or 4th every year since, this would appear to be further damning evidence of our performance in recent years.

What must be considered however is what has been happening at Arsenal as well as what has been happening outside the club during this time. The past few years of Le Professeur’s tenure must be considered against this backdrop as well as the ongoing strategy that he has employed.

Firstly, the long term investment in the Emirates Stadium is no small expense. Construction of the new stadium started in 2004 with Arsenal moving in for the 2006/07 season. It cost around £390m (depending on source, plus related costs) although £100m was recouped through selling naming rights to Emirates Airlines. With a capacity of over 60,000 generating £3m per match compared to Highbury’s seated capacity of under 38,500, the stadium will pay for itself in time but in the short term this expenditure necessitated a change in transfer policy.

Alongside this development at Arsenal, Roman Abramovich would move the financial playing field of English football in the opposite direction when he bought Chelsea in 2003, spending £100m on players (the equivalent of £222m in 2010’s football prices) before the 2003/04 season alone. Whilst Arsenal’s average starting eleven cost 94% of champions Man Utd’s in 2002/03, the league winning Invincibles of 2003/04 had only the fourth most expensive average starting eleven behind Newcastle, Man Utd and Chelsea, costing just 64% of Chelsea’s. By 2004/05 this was down to 50%, in 2005/06 it was 42% and unbelievably in 2006/07 Arsenal’s average starting eleven cost just 26% of Chelsea’s. With prices adjusted to those of 2010, the Chelsea squad of 2006/07 was the most expensive squad ever assembled in the Premier League weighing in at £439m!

Wenger’s overall success in the transfer market is demonstrated by the table below (from Paul Tomkins, Graeme Riley & Gary Fulcher’s Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era). He actually makes a profit during his Premier League career whilst Benitez who is less well known for his prowess in the transfer market also comes out extremely well with only a slight loss. Ferguson, despite the golden generation of Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and the Nevilles that cost him nothing and a willingness to sell players such as van Nistlerooy whilst still in their prime, does not fare so well. What the table shows most clearly however is the extravagant transfer policy of Abramovich’s Chelsea and the advantage they had over their rivals. It is of little surprise that they were able to break the duopoly at the top of the table.


Profit/Genuine Increase in Value

Loss/Genuine Decrease in Value






















Considering Arsenal’s increasingly modest budget and the on-set of the Abramovich era, our ability to remain as competitive as we have done is extraordinary. An interesting indicator is ‘cost per point’ in the Premier League (cost of average starting eleven divided by points achieved during season). Between 2001 and 2010 the cheapest ‘cost per point’ for a team finishing with 70+ points belongs to Arsenal in 2008/09 at just £797,545 compared to Chelsea’s £2,506,549 and Man Utd’s £1,760,409. Amazingly we had only the ninth most expensive average starting eleven that year but still finished in the Champions League places (something we have achieved 13 years in a row). The second cheapest ‘cost per point’ (and only other below £1m) also belongs to Arsenal with £864,868 in 2009/10.

Combine this with the fact that we have continued to play a brand of exciting and attacking football that is much admired and our ability to remain competitive is all the more impressive.

This has not purely been a period of frugality and attempting to hang on to highflying rivals however; it is a deliberate and thought out strategy to meet the situation we were in but also looking forwards to the future. As Wenger says, he has sought to “create a culture at the club” that will “give us strength that other clubs will not have”. By developing players from as early an age as possible to play together in the Arsenal way, the potential rewards are massive as Barcelona have demonstrated.

Following a 3rd placed finish in 2007/08 where we were 4 points behind Man Utd and only 2 points behind Chelsea having led the table at Christmas, Wenger further explained his plans in September 2008:

When you are not on the transfer market you are a little bit ignored at the start of the season because the attention is focused on the big signings, most of the time, big signings mean you are favourites. We have gone a different way. We are trying to build a young side with a cohesive way to play the game with a culture of football we like. We were close last year so there is no reason why we should not be in there again this season. Today we had Denilson 20, Fabregas 21, Bendtner 20, Walcott 19, Song 20. When those players fight for the title one year you can hope they will be better the next year.

With the best camparison being with Barcelona’s development of players through their La Masia academy such as the likes of Messi, Busquets and Pedro it must be remembered that these players are supported by the more senior La Masia graduates Puyol, Xavi and Valdes (and even Guardiola himself!). Our nearest equivalent would have been Ashley Cole had he not defected. Iniesta and Pique meanwhile are both still older than Fabregas, captain and one of the more senior players to have been at Arsenal since a young age. In the first leg of the Champions League meeting between the two sides this year; the average age of the Arsenal team was 23.2, the average age of the Barcelona team was 27.4 and as Wenger said at the time: “four years at that level is absolutely huge“. At the start of last season he stated that:

I agreed on a structure to the club four or five years ago, I believed it could work and we are at the period now when we will see whether I was right or not

What this means is that his project is just starting to come into fruition as our young players start to come of age. It is only now that this team was ever expected to be challenging for trophies, ironically just as a few Arsenal fans appear to be losing patience with Wenger and as rather more are saying they are in support of him but continue to claim that he needs to ‘change his philosophy’. Perhaps this is born of too many seasons where they believed that ‘this is our year’.

I am not saying that this is our year or that next year is our year, rather that thanks to Wenger we are in a position where we should be able to challenge over the next few years as we continue to develop young players and others continue to gain experience according to the model we now have in place. We will do this from a new and impressive stadium that has a capacity that matches our stature. The fact that we have remained as competitive as we have done before reaching this point is testament to what a great manager Wenger is.

As the debts of the Glazers’ Man Utd soar, sensible financial planning off the pitch means that we will not be saddled with debt indefinately and as Sheikh Mansour starts to make Abromovich look tight-fisted the UEFA Financial Fair Play Rules will start to affect teams from 2011/12 onwards (although any sanctions won’t affect teams until 2014/15).

At the time of writing Arsenal sit 2nd in the Premier League table, 4 points ahead of Chelsea and only 5 points behind Man Utd with a game in hand. The weekend meanwhile saw a Euro 2012 Qualifier between England, with 19-year-old Jack Wilshere of Arsenal in the heart of midfield, and Wales, captained by 20-year-old Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal.


The future is bright.
In Arsène we trust.

[Statistics relating to transfers and the costs of average starting elevens/per point taken from Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins), Graeme Riley & Gary Fulcher’s (@TransferIndex) Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era – thanks also to Kieron O’Connor (@SwissRamble) & Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) for their contributions to the same book]
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Il Fenomeno and Me (and perhaps you too)

Originally posted on Mountain’s Blog

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to start a blog for a little while now and whilst the debate about Wilshere’s role for England nearly stirred me out of inactivity and Arsenal’s dramatic victory against Barcelona could have had me writing, in the end it took something more poignant to inspire me. Something that takes me right back to my childhood: the recent retirement of a true footballing legend.

I was born in November 1988, and I don’t think it was until the 1994/95 season of the still young Premier League that I fully grasped professional football and made sure that I recorded Match of the Day onto my VHS tape to follow my beloved Arsenal to a 12th place finish with my favourite player Paul Merson going into rehab (the kind of introduction to football that could have come straight from the pages of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch). The world cup in the USA in 1994 came along just too early for me, my clearest memory of the tournament being that I owned a football that had “USA ’94” written on it as opposed to any of the competition itself.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, USA 1994 came along just too early for a 17 year old wonder-kid who had scored 12 goals in 14 appearances during his first season for Brazilian side Cruzeiro. Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, not yet known as simply ‘Ronaldo’, was named in Brazil’s squad for the tournament but unlike Pele who had starred in the 1958 world cup at the age of 17, Ronaldo did not play a single minute. Despite this, there was a huge amount of excitement about the youngster making a name for himself and after the World Cup he moved to Europe with PSV Eindhoven.

What this means of course is that Ronaldo’s career took off at the exact time that I become obsessed with football as a kid. For me there was no ‘before Ronaldo’. In his first season in Europe he scored 30 goals and in the 1996/97 season he was at Barcelona, scoring 47 goals in 49 games for them (one goal every other game is often used as the benchmark for a good return in the modern game), won the UEFA cup and had been named the Fifa World Player of the Year. He was 20 years old.

By the world cup in France in 1998 Ronaldo was widely regarded as the the best player in the world as well as being a household name. Now playing for Inter Milan, he had proved how deadly he could be in yet another top league receiving the nickname Il Fenomeno from the Italian press and had been a star for the Brazil national team for a couple of years. By the end of his career he would have 97 caps for his country, scoring 62 times.

The aura of the Brazil national team should not be overlooked as a factor in what made Ronaldo such an icon, especially to someone my age who was too young to remember the more pragmatic tactics employed by the side Dunga captained to victory at USA ’94. As Hugh McIlvanny said in his match report from the 1970 world cup final “Other teams thrill us and make us respect them. The Brazilians at their finest gave us pleasure so natural and deep as to be a vivid physical experience” (taken from Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid) This is the view popular culture still holds for them and at 9 years old I was either oblivious that this was not necessarily gospel or simply had no interest anything but that idealised view of futebol arte. Brazil was were Garrincha, Pele, Jairzinho, Zico and Socrates had come from and now (more importantly perhaps) they had Ronaldo as well as the likes of Romario and Roberto Carlos. They played in yellow shirts and blue shorts and they were magnificent.

The Ro-Ro strikeforce of Ronaldo and Romario, the star of the previous generation, had destroyed Australia in the final of the Confederations Cup of 1997, both men scoring hat-tricks in a 6-0 victory for example. This moment in the history of Ronaldo’s career and in my life will forever be immortalised in Nike’s France ’98 advert where they flaunt their samba skills in an airport, the first of the great Nike football adverts.


As it turned out, France ’98 would be a low point in Ronaldo’s career. After reaching the final, he apparently suffered some kind of fit before the game and was off the pace for the entire match; team mate Roberto Carlos claiming afterwards that he was far more worried about his friend’s health than the outcome of the final. France won 3-0. I lost no sleep about the result, France were the underdogs and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Petit who had helped us to win the Premier League and FA Cup double that year had scored the third.

The following season Ronaldo ruptured a tendon in his knee and was out for almost five months only to injure it again just seven minutes into his comeback game. After this, he was never the same player again, which when you consider what he achieved later seems ridiculous but that is just testament to how good he was to start with. In Japan/South Korea in 2002, sporting one of the strangest hairstyles ever seen, Ronaldo finally led Brazil to victory in the world cup, scoring 8 goals in the process. He scored against every team they played against except for England who were cruelly knocked out by a freakish free-kick by the new emerging star Ronaldinho (literally meaning ‘little Ronaldo’) which sailed over the head of Arsenal keeper David Seaman. I could have cried. (Debates about whether it was deliberate roll on to this day – given how good he turned out to be… it probably was.)

Ronaldo’s club career now took him to Real Madrid who were going out of their way to sign the best players in the world for their ‘Los Galacticos’ project including his Brazil team mate Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane (the only person to equal Ronaldo’s record of 3 Fifa Player of the Year awards) and eventually David Beckham.

It was in 2003 however, that something happened which blew me away. Manchester United, who were on course to catch Arsenal at the top of the Premier League that season (they succeeded), a team that much to my annoyance I was used to watching win week in week out had drawn Real Madrid in the Champions League, a competition United had won in 1999. It was a huge clash with Real Madrid winning the first leg 3-1 at the Bernabeu. The second leg at Old Trafford was one of the matches that I remember most vividly; United won 4-3 with two late David Beckham goals (still a United player at this point) but Ronaldo scored an exceptional hat-trick to single handedly knock United out (6-5 on aggregate). It was one of the greatest performances I had ever seen. “He’s unreal isn’t he?” exclaimed Ron Atkinson as Ronaldo’s third goal sailed in from distance whilst his commentary partner Clive Tyldesley observed that “He’s just the best player in the world, that’s what he is” as Ronaldo was substituted to a standing ovation from both sets of supporters late on in the game. Truly unbelievable.

In the 2003/04 season Ronaldo and Real Madrid were on course for a treble before injury ruled him out for the end of the campaign. Madrid ended up winning nothing despite all their other star players. Fitness concerns and weight issues meant that by 2006 his time at Madrid was coming to an end and perhaps so was his career at the very top. None of this however stopped Carlos Alberto Parreira, the manager who led Brazil to victory at USA 1994, from playing Ronaldo at the 2006 world cup in Germany, where he scored 3 times to beat the prolific German ’60s/70s striker Gerd Muller’s record of 14 world cup goals. Despite this, after the tournament Madrid signed Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo found himself surplus to requirements.

AC Milan would go on to sign him the following January, another huge club and incidentally my favourite Italian team. Whilst his time at AC Milan is not usually considered a huge success, he still managed to score 9 goals in 20 games and became the first person to score for both clubs in the Milan derby having scored for Inter against their city rivals 8 seasons earlier. Milan did not renew his contract however after he suffered yet another knee injury.

By 2008 Ronaldo was no longer world class, unfit and unwanted his career could have ended there. Even Ronaldinho, the young Brazilian player who burst on to the scene with the nickname ‘little Ronaldo’ before going on to become one of the world’s best players had seen his star fade by this point (ironically also moving to Milan as a result) and was being eclipsed by the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Fortunately, at the end of the year Ronaldo signed a contract with the Brazilian side Corinthians.

Making his debut in 2009 he won league and cup trophies in his first two seasons and appeared once again in continental competition, this time the Copa Libertadores. From 2010 he was joined by Roberto Carlos and to me it did not matter that Ronaldo looked more overweight than ever and had grown a bizarre light brown afro at one point or that Carlos was the wrong side of 35 years old; there they were, competing in the South American equivalent of the Champions League. Occasionally a youtube clip would find its way through to me of one of them scoring, for example Roberto Carlos scoring direct with the outside of his foot from a corner and Ronaldo running over to congratulate him.

All was right with the world. Everything made sense. That is until just over a week ago. Corinthians were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores and amid threats from angry fans Roberto Carlos left to play for Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia and Ronaldo announced in an emotional press conference that the injuries and fitness issues had finally caught up with him and that he was hanging up his boots for good. How was this possible? In the words of another great striker Gabriel Batistuta: “For me, Ronaldo is football“. Alessandro Del Piero meanwhile wrote on his official website that “His announcement struck me even if it didn’t surprise me” and I think that is the point that I am trying to make. He could not go on forever but to lose such an icon of the sport, a true great who achieved so much over so any years should give any fan of football pause for thought. This was a player who scored 247 league goals in 343 league appearances over 18 years, scoring near as makes no difference a goal a game at the highest level in his pomp. He gained almost a hundred caps for Brazil whilst playing for arguably the greatest teams in Europe: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan. World cup record goalscorer and world cup winner. In many ways his record is untouchable and the scary thing is that were it not for the injuries he may have achieved much more!

If, like me, Ronaldo has also been there with you every step of the way as a football fan from USA ’94 to February 2011 then the news of his retirement should strike you all the more. Perhaps there are a group of people born around 1979 who felt the same way when Maldini retired but if you are around my age no player has defined the sport you love as much as Ronaldo.

Del Piero goes on to say:

Ronaldo was one of the players who I respected the most. What Ronaldo did will forever remain in the history of football and in the eyes of the people who love this sport, independently of the colour of their shirt, of their support, of the flags. Players like Ronaldo belong to everybody. It was touching to hear Ronaldo say, amid the tears, in his goodbye press conference the phrase ‘it’s like I am dying’ because the footballer Ronaldo won’t be there anymore. But luckily for him a new life starts now. Thanks for what you did on the pitch and for being a great opponent, Fenomeno.


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