Buckyball Writes Again

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Return of Ronaldo

An old, overweight man was stumbling around, unsure of his footing, a stranger to his surroundings, getting bullied by people half his age and getting pushed around despite his standing. He was fatter than he remembered being. His name was Ronaldo. He was trying to do things he was sure he’d done before, but they wouldn’t come to him and his body wouldn’t respond. Then, by a stroke of luck he found himself within easy sight of goal and he remembered how it was done. The first one was easy. It needed to be. His memory started coming back to him in bits and pieces, much like Jason Bourne. Towards the end of the match, his body still not really responding, like a sports car that suddenly discovers it’s a truck, he received a pass with his back to the goal. Although he was still moving in slow motion, the muscles had their memory and without really engaging his brain, they harmonized beautifully to send the ball into the corner of the net. Thus bringing him level with The Bomber, Herr Muller. Then from some distant past he found that grin, that lit up the entire stadium.

This is no fairy tale. Ronaldo will not be half the striker he was 4 years ago. But if Brazil collectively have taken on the responsibility of getting him over the line of world cup immortality, then they’re on the threshold now and may get there soon enough. May be then, having put that ghost to rest, they can concentrate on winning the damn cup. Which on today’s performance they looked a lot more capable of doing than before this. But the goals are starting to come. The samba is finding its rhythm and the beat-master, Ronnie Jr. is starting to exert himself.Lets hope Ghana doesn’t prove to be a booby trap.

Another interesting fact, from 2002… Brazil’s feat of winning 7 out of 7 games, every game won without extra-time or penalty shootouts is a heck of a record by itself. Last achieved by… you guessed it, Brazil, 1970. Underlining the importance of 2 world class strikers – Rivaldo was still scoring at the highest level then. And that may be the biggest mountain for Brazil to climb – their midfield and passing and build up is naturally brilliant as evidenced today, but their finishing is languishing with Ronaldo’s memory right now and needs a massive revival.

End note: Graham Poll for the next Republican candidate!


Here’s a summary of the team talks before the match yesterday:

France: Raymond Domenech

Okay, today ve are going to attack from zee word go… but we will defend as well… Thierry you vill play upfront with trezeguet… but wait no, you must also help Ribery with zee midfield. Zizou, you sit next to me and hold my hand… malouda, you must keep sending zee ball to Thierry… no wait, you should play it to ribery on zee right. And claude you must make sure zeir attack is stopped early… but you must also get zee ball upfield, willie, you will cover on zee right and keep abeyadour under zee wraps but u must also move up and support ribery and keep crossing zee ball….no no… you must shoot for goal. We must score in the first half … no wait we must score in zee first 20 minutes… fabien, you must keep and eye out for zeir long range shots… Mikhail, you need to run up zee left flank and look for Thierry and david … no wait you should pass eet een earlier zan zat… oooh wait I think I’m getting ze migraine…

Togo: Otto Pfister
Boys, lets go and haf fun playing der game, yes?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Give Us This Day Our Daily Footie

This from Television “It’s all comes down to the weather conditions, the sun, cloud cover, wind… we’ve got a strong field today, in Doncaster, lets go down to our local expert – the former world champion, Tommy Pickering… Mark Jones off to a flyer this afternoon … he’ll be overjoyed with the start he’s made this afternoon session”. No this is not football, tennis, cricket, atheletics, motor-racing or rugby. Its not even cycling, golf or snooker – those strangely compelling sports which on Telly, logically, should be sure cures for insomnia. Any guesses for the sport in question? No its not chess, but you’ve probably guessed that already. Its not even extreme sport, or kite-flying. It’s the world championship of hold-your-breath – Fish-O-Mania on Sky Sports. This is edgy stuff, pushing the envelope of sports coverage – where Sports meets Reality TV. Where the fever pitch of excitement in the commentary box belies the calm waters of reality, below them.

These are the days of summer. The months that Nick Hornby astutely points out that football fans pretend don’t exist. And Fish-o-mania is as good a reason as any for demanding more football on TV. But the Bundesliga has kicked off. The Championship begins today and with the community shield tomorrow, you can almost feel the engines revving.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Options, Futures and SWAPs

On another note, I hope Man Yoo will have the sense to play hardball with both Real Madrid and with Owen so they can get him at a lower salary and transfer fee for the first year - since he has everything to play for. May be even a loan? In this, the year of the world cup, players may be more willing to come to the party than in other years.

This way, they can get Owen, leaving the funds and door open to do a swap deal for Essien - perhaps using Kleberson and Saha. Saha desperately needs to be in a team where he sees himself as a key guy - the poor guy passes out wide and doesn't even run in for the cross any more. Kleb's case could well be strengthened by the resurrection of Diego Forlan, in a slower continental footballing environment. This may bring the cost of Essien down to 15 mill.

Which is when the upside of not being a public company should become obvious to all those who still, pointlessly, rant and rave about Glazernomics. If not Essien, this sort of deal should definitely work for a Ballack.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Nou Camp Visit

After spending a week in Barcelona, you have to feel that this, if anything, must be the home of Samba football in Europe. A city that parties till 3 AM every night, where the music plays on the beach till the wee hours of the morning, and revellers straggle back till dawn on a daily basis. A city with refulgent architecture, inspirational art and a history that is as resplendent and embellished as any other city must surely be the best place for Ronaldhinho to ply his art. The Nou camp, therefore, is a must see on most tourist itineraries, if there are any males involved in the travel planning.

Sadly, on this trip we've made two trips and not been able to see much. The first was a whoosh through on the city's Bus Turistic - the hop on - hop off all day affair, which we were using to just get a shortlist going and get a view of the city itself. On the second, a concerted trip to just see Nou Camp, we got there with an hour to go for closing time, only to be told at the ticket window that their Credit Card machine wasn't working. The only way out was to walk AROUND the stadium to the cash machine 15 minutes away, and back. Clearly not a viable option for us given the time. So we satisfied ourselves by wandering into the ubiquitious megastore and contributing to Barcelona transfer kitty by buying a t-shirt.

I was left feeling, though, that these are the areas where the biggest changes need to come into football. We've all read about the darker side of the corporatization that the sport has endured. The greedy agents, the selling out of clubs and stadiums, the ticket prices blah blah. But how about the things which businesses in general are very good at? Taking care of customers? Football clubs in the corporate era have customers as much as they have fans. Fans are a smaller bunch of emotionally bound followers who will endure a lot more nonsense and in return claim a moral ownership of the club and protest against unpopular decisions. But customers are a loosely bound and hugely larger set who will simply transact - to watch a game, or buy a shirt or pay for TV games and not expect much more than the value of that transaction in return. You can ill-treat fans - the way you can ill treat your family members, knowing that they can't really get rid of you or stop being a brother or sister or parent. You can't mistreat customers simply because they are not there for reasons of loyalty and they are just as happy to spend their money anywhere else. If I'm in Manchester or Madrid tomorrow, I'll go to their museums and who knows, when I come back to Barcelona, I may not want to do a tour of yet another stadium.

What could they have done? Well they could have sold the same tickets at the megastore, which was 100 meters away, and did have a working credit card machine. They could have done a special discount for people who did buy stuff from the store to get a ticket alongside... the opportunities are limitless, really.

The business of football needs its customers, as much as it needs its fans, to pay off these massive debts and the mega salaries. And the sooner it can make this a philosophy at the grass roots, at every "moment of truth" the better it will be for the clubs.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch - Holiday Reading

Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby

My holiday reading for the moment is Nick Hornby’s fever pitch. It’s such a stark counterpoint to the form of cosmopolitan football support we’ve grown used to – having come into London from all corners of the world. My support for Manchester United can be traced back to the simple coincidence that I started following English football closely in the 1999 season. Many of my friends in Mumbai and Delhi who have taken to the game before or after support Liverpool or Arsenal and I’m sure there are now legions of supporters of the new improved Chelsea. I have to admit, no matter how deep our joy or sorrow at outcomes of games – it all seems synthetic – and I often cringe when somebody says “you guys are playing at the weekend” – it seems like somehow I’ve connived myself into an elite set that I don’t really belong to – and it’s my own little dark secret. Reading Fever Pitch reaffirms what I’ve realized and believed all along. Football support for most people isn’t just about the game. It’s about identity, growing up, self discovery and a lifelong social context.

The other fascinating analogy I’ve found so far, is, somewhere along the way Hornby makes a rant against the higher prices. His argument basically suggests that rising ticket prices changes the composition of the crowd – the working class and lower middle class punters get supplanted by families and middle classes and executive boxes. He also makes the curious point that the stadiums owe their atmosphere and the wall of noise to the aforementioned working class fans and that those in the executive box are getting this “atmosphere” free of cost. And that shorn of this segment of spectators, the whole proposition of the game may change for the rest of the viewers who may stay away. This of course, we know today is not true of Arsenal – they’re still as noisy and as crowded at Highbury, and no doubt, will be so at Ashberton Grove. But over at Old Trafford, the anti-Glazer demonstrations, I believe are simply alternative expressions of this same class struggle.

Recent demonstrations during the Glazer visits have driven a wedge between the larger body of reasonable United supporters and the rabid set of game-goers who’s actions have been soundly criticized as yobbish by supporters of the game from across the world. The real change that the Glazers pose to the Old Trafford faithful is actually the same as the one described by Hornby – a potential substitution of the working class faithful by a more “elite” and financially more secure set. The instrument of this of course is the ticket price. Manchester United, surprisingly has one of the lowest (if not the lowest) ticket prices among the major premiership clubs, and clearly the Glazers will want to rectify that to a more appropriate market clearing price – which clearly is much higher than the current one as evidenced by the thousands of people who want but can’t get tickets for the Old Trafford games. The rest of the arguments, like the debt etc. are clearly specious as nobody among the so called supporter groups really understands business well enough to make those claims and it was also reported that Arsenal took on a larger debt to build Ashberton Grove.

That apart, I recommend Fever Pitch strongly to anybody with a serious or passing interest in football. It is a fantastic window into the lives behind the 50 thousand people who fill the stands and contribute to making the game the fantastic experience it is.

Of course, its worth mentioning that the book recounts in lurid detail the dry years of Arsenal football club - all those years of "Boring boring Arsenal" and in Hornby's own words "Every Arsenal fan, from the youngest to the oldest, is aware of the fact that no one likes us, and every day we hear that dislike reiterated." What a difference a Frenchman (or two) makes!

Not to mention the scary sense of identification any football fan will feel with what is lucidly and often deprecatingly described by Hornby himself as clearly less than social behaviour. But there are some real gems - for example football fans never describe describe years in calendar years... I quote "...Our years... run from August to May, June and July don't really happen (especially in years which end with an odd number and which therefore contain no world cup or European Championship). Ask us for the best or worst period in our lives, and we will often answer with 4 figures - 66/67 for Manchester United fans, 67-68 for Manchester City fans... a silent slash in the middle the only concession to the calendar used elsewhere in the western world"... or where he in great detail points out his ethical and moral dilemma should his spouse or partner take ill or have a baby during the course of an FA cup final involving Arsenal! Enough said... if you haven't read it do so NOW and note the number of times it makes you smile, chuckle or feel embarrassed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


If I was Abramovich or even Glazer, I wouldn’t bother buying a club – I would simply get first rights on all players coming out of brazil for the next 10 years. Then sit tight and watch the money roll in.

Its 3 years since 2002, just about enough time for most of us to forget what Brazil can do when they’re in the mood. For those of you who missed the Confederations cup final – there were 11 players there for Brazil who could have graced (and I don’t mean that lightly) any premiership team. Even Roque Junior had a memorable day out.

It confirmed also reaffirmed my long held theory that while everybody still loves to talk about Brazil’s porous defence, not since 1982 have they really had a bad defensive line up in a major tournament. Lucio’s performance in this match was what Terry or Ferdinand can only dream about doing for their country someday. And Dida when called upon, made quite a few Dida-esque saves towards the end when Argentina were throwing everything into the attack in an effort to restore pride.

The commentator at one point of time mentioned – have you ever wondered what would happen if Kaka and Ronaldinho played well together… now you know. If Brazil had not squandered some easy chances towards the end the score-line would have embarrassed Argentina.

What can you say about Adriano on song – the strength to hold off a Robert Huth, as he showed in the semis, and the ability to outjump and outrun Heinze with consummate ease, a heading ability to worry the best defences and a lethal left foot that is accurate from 25 yards out – Chelsea should bust the bank for him! And if the bull needed a counterpoint – it was the gazelle like Robinho – all speed and turns and silken touches.

And if anybody has been wondering what will happen when Cafu & Carlos retire, please direct your queries towards messers Cicinho & Maicon who may have a few things to share with you on the subject. And in the Valhalla of football footage, the 25 odd passes over 2 minutes leading up to Ronaldhino’s tuck-away goal when almost every Brazilian player and not a single Argentinian touched the ball – should be a guest of honour.

If football is a drug, then the Brazillian team is undoubtedly it’s most charismatic peddler. Vive la Samba.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Things Are Not Always What They Seem

Given the inordinately superabundant role that Media plays in forming a public and individual consciousnless today, greatly supplanting the family as a font of value systems, it is hardly surprising that the increasing tabloid-isation of media makes reality itself a very flexible commodity.

Our realities today, therefore, are formed by interpretations and assimilations that we make out of the collage of media thrown at us in an everday manner. And armed with these realities, we often forget to apply the good advice we've all heard at sometime or the other from the redoubtable Sherlock Homes "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts".

Right, lets get back to football before this blog loses its bearings in rarified atmosphere of lofty social commentary. The point I'm attempting to make, in apparently the longest-winded manner possible, is that we all tend to jump to erroreous conclusions based on superficial analysis performed on highly suspect and selective data which the media feeds us. And this was highlighted to me today by a simple sentence which appears in the Soccernet website, with respect to the driving force of off-season news - the Malcom Glazer juggernaut - and I quote "One of the aspects of the deal which is bound to be pointed out is United's debt levels, which will still be lower than those undertaken by Arsenal to finance the cost of building their new stadium at Ashburton Grove".

Do we have Arsenal fans registering a new football club? Calling Ian Wright out of retirement a la Ian Rush for a last hurrah? Staging protests and demonstrations? No? Why not? Isn't the debt levels of the deal the single biggest sticking points for the disgruntled United supporters? Aren't all the other fans crowing about how United will buckle under the financial leverage of Glazer-nomics?

The answer of course, is that we have all believed what we have been led to believe. And of course we have willingly followed - believing The Sun instead of, as we should, Mr. Holmes. It is not in my place to evaluate Mr. Glazers business strategy. But if it were, I would be well advised to collect sufficient data in order to make a reasonable conclusion of any sort.

If, however, I had to bet, I would be happier betting on Mr. Glazers approach than what I have seen of the earlier regime. The reasons are not too hard to fathom. The Manchester United management hasn’t covered itself in glory over the past few seasons. If it is players that make a club, I just have two words for the erstwhile board – Ronaldinho and Robben. The performance on field has often been sloppy – too players seem to have devalued at the club, instead of the other way around. David Beckham’s sale was made at the lowest point of the transfer market – and United were being supplanted very effectively by Chelsea as the “place to be” for new talent.

Will it all change under Glazer? Who knows? But till now, I haven’t seen anything from the Glazers that looks ham-handed. I could well be proved wrong in the months to come, but they’ve gone about their business with incredible effectiveness in the face of near-violent opposition. A virulent and vocal fan-base has not daunted them. Nor has being rebuked more than 3 times. If they are half as good at running things as they are at assuming control, then United fans are in for a upswing.

If ticket prices do increase by 50% over the next 5 years, it will still keep United behind most of the clubs in the premiership. Arsenal & Chelsea fans are in la la land if they think their London ticket prices will not spurt over the next few years. Lets not forget the bit about the Ashburton Grove debt of Arsenal and the fact that Chelsea at last count were in the favour of Mr. Abramovich to the tune of some 100 million pounds.

Arsenal may be getting Robinho and they may still have Henry, but in the time honoured tradition of intellectual debates, I have this to say to Arsenal fans: We have a goalkeeper na na na na na, we have a goalkeeper, na na na na na…