Sunday, June 04, 2017


For the most part, it was a lackluster European season. There were limited moments of beautiful fluid football provided by players of Monaco and Dortmund. Then there was the emerging talent of Dybala who weaved around the pitch as if opponents didn't exist. With these exceptions, everything was as normal. Season after season, it has been all the same.

Then yesterday something extraordinary happened. Mario Mandžukić scored a goal for the ages. Not Ronaldo, not Messi. Mandžukić initially appeared to have blocked himself into a corner, with no angle to shoot at. Then he produced a moment of magic. His goal made it 1-1, opened the game up and led to a thrilling first half.

Mandžukić's goal is being called one of the greatest in the Champions League. It is being compared to that brilliant 2002 volley but it does fall short of that 2002 goal, which was scored by Zinedine Zidane. Yesterday, Zidane the manager, not the player, led Madrid to victory.

Not much is said about Zidane the manager. That is because he doesn't say much. He lets the players shine and quietly stands on the side. In a way, it is refreshing to see that from a soccer manager. Many other managers have made the game about themselves yet Zidane quietly leads his team to success.

Sid Lowe’s article sums up Zidane’s achievements nicely.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

A New Dictator

History has shown that many dictators followed a similar pattern regardless of which country they lived in. The dictators were once seen revolutionaries and hailed as heroes. These revolutionaries promised to usher in a new bright future. However, after they were in power for a period of time, things began to change. The revolutionaries did not like any opposing voices and did their best to quieten any dissent by whatever means possible. Then, they slowly started consolidating power and eventually turned into ruthless dictators who did anything to ensure they could rule for as long as possible.

This is how dictators have been known to exist in the political world. The sporting world has been run differently, especially with regards to football/soccer managers. It has often been said that being a manager of a soccer team is one of the most stressful jobs there is. The Hungarian coach Béla Guttmann once famously said “the third season is fatal”. His words have proven true on so many occasions where diverse managers like Arrigo Sacchi, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have not stayed at a club beyond 3-4 years. Sacchi transformed AC Milan but left after 4 years. Guardiola stayed at Barcelona for 4 years and left Bayern Munich after 3 seasons. José Mourinho may have an incredible winning record but the strain on his face has been apparent after 3 seasons at most clubs. In his first stay at Chelsea, he lasted just a few months into his 4th season while in his second stay at Chelsea, he never finished the third season. Mourinho stayed at Madrid for 3 seasons while 2 each at Inter Milan and Porto. There are a few examples of managers who stayed for decades at one club such as Guy Roux who stayed at Auxerre for a staggering 44 years and oversaw the development of many young players. Then there is Alex Ferguson who famously stayed at Manchester United for 27 years and ensured his team were always winning a trophy. There surely won’t be any managers like Roux and Ferguson in the game anymore as the high pressures of the modern game ensures managers are never far from being fired from their job. It does feel like managers are just a few games from being fired and can’t ever get into a position where they wield complete control and get into a position of absolute power.

As always, there are exceptions. In North London, history is being written where the game’s first modern dictator has emerged. Arsène Wenger has now been manager of Arsenal for 21 years and he shows no sign of wanting to leave. He is one of the highest paid managers in the world for a club that charges some of the highest ticket prices (if not the highest) in Europe. Wenger has never won any European trophy (he has overseen defeats in the finals of Champions League, Cup Winner’s Cup, UEFA Cup) and has not won a league title in 13 years. On top of that, he has overseen humiliating defeats to Bayern Munich (5-1, 5-1, 5-1 for 3 straight games), Manchester United (8-2, 6-1, 4-0), Chelsea (6-0), Barcelona, AC Milan (4-0) to name just a few. Yet, there is no one in the Arsenal board, including the owner, who wants him to leave allowing Wenger to have absolute power. Any fans who oppose the manager are told to shut up and “support the team”. Articles are published which keep repeating that Wenger is the best person for Arsenal and that there isn’t any other manager who can do a job like Wenger. There is a clear split in the fan base where some fans are loyal to Wenger and others who want him gone. The situation at Arsenal resembles what happens in a nation ruled by a dictator where media publishes propaganda singing praises of their dictator, where opposing views to the dictator are shut down and loyalists of the dictator blindly support whatever decision the dictator makes. Of course, in a political dictatorship, the opponents are imprisoned or tortured or made to disappear. This doesn’t happen in the case of the soccer club where opponents are free to return to their homes or walk away from supporting their team. However, it is not easy to walk away from a team that supporters have cheered for decades.

There is on end in sight of Wenger’s dictatorship. All signs point to him staying even beyond the two year contract he has signed until 2019.