Sunday, April 29, 2012

Arrogance breeds contempt

I was going to go about my day as usual today. I wanted to carry out my usual weekend errands. I had some work to get done and wanted to just soak the Saturday in like most normal folk. I wanted to have a normal Saturday filled with as little activity as possible. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen.

I was going about my day as I had planned it. Like normal dudes, I needed to take my car out to run my errands. I ran into traffic jams and unusual congestion along most roads near the Kuala Lumpur vicinity. I got into twitter and realised that the morons we have for a government had closed all roads leading into the city. Meaning they had shut down Kuala Lumpur. Meaning they had learnt nothing from the two previous editions of Bersih. They had still not learnt that people have a constitutional right to voice their opinions. How daft do you have to be to repeat the same mistake thrice?

As I had lunch, I was feeling very uneasy. I decided then that I’m definitely going for Bersih in downtown Kuala Lumpur. While others had decided weeks ago or at the very latest the day before, I decided that I was going one hour before the official march time. I hopped onto the LRT at 1pm and got into Kuala Lumpur without too many problems. Once in there I marched in camaraderie with my fellow Malaysian brothers and sisters. I went because I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t, knowing how the government was reacting to the thought of people expressively voicing their opinions.

To be completely honest, I have been caught up in some heated debates with fellow Malaysians of late with regards to some of the promises the Opposition is making to the youths of this nation. I was starting to find the Opposition somewhat irresponsible in leading our youth. I had become a little disillusioned by the ‘everything they do is wrong’ rhetoric from the Opposition. I had grown increasingly frustrated at their lack of willingness to hold open dialogue with the government on national issues. They instead chose to walk out on more than one occasion. How on earth was that serving the people, I wondered. I was genuinely concerned that both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat were involved in ugly political warfare with the ‘rakyat’ stuck in the middle and bound to end up on the losing end. However now, like most Malaysians on the streets of Kuala Lumpur today, I feel that the Opposition is conclusively the lesser of two evils for our nation.

They closed all roads into the city, they inspected vehicles heading anywhere into the direction of Kuala Lumpur, the locked down the very square where independence gave birth to this nation and they downright displayed the arrogance of the people in power. Whether it was arrogance, concern for the safety of Malaysians or downright naivety, I was royally pissed. When I got up this morning I wasn’t going to Bersih, immaterial of the backlash from friends and family who are a part of this newfound ‘anti-establishment movement’. The actions of those in power to deter, strike fear and intimidate people from going to the heart of the city to peacefully voice their opinions, meant they unleashed someone who was beginning to sympathise with the government.

What I witnessed today in my march with thousands of Malaysians is what I’ve believed for a long time, that this country is made of real people who actually love this nation. If our dear Prime Minister wanted to portray the 1Malaysia spirit he so expensively has assembled, he should have joined the thousands of Malaysians in their march for clean and fair elections. What I saw and experienced on the streets of Kuala Lumpur today was the true spirit of 1Malaysia. It didn’t take expensive TV commercials or brand strategists or even pimped-up traditional costumes, it took a cause that’s close to the hearts of all Malaysians. People danced, held hands and sang together irrespective of race, religion or t-shirt colour. This is the Malaysia I’ve always believed to be home.

Upon reading my tweets that Datuk Ambiga has asked for protestors to disperse and seeing small crowds start to disperse, I too made my way home. I was going home with my heart full of hope and my time with complete strangers being a very positive experience. There were flowers blooming in the garden, butterflies in the sky and love all around. That was the utopian feeling I had as I was on the train back home.

To my shock when I got home and read my tweets, I read of violence breaking out and the police cracking down on protestors. It was absolutely irresponsible of the police to not expect protestors to create a ruckus and actually react with force to the ruckus. Our police have been schooled in an environment where they are in complete control and violence and fear seem to be their tools of choice. It was downright pathetic that they chose to impose themselves on the protestors. For people who are responsible for maintaining civil obedience in this country, they appear glaringly ill equipped to deal with a minority of troublemakers. The pictures of tear-gassing and water cannons have conclusively proven that the police have lost the plot. It has also given the international newsmen to again paint a silly picture that will probably deter foreign investors from considering us a ‘safe nation’.

However, to be fair, if the organisers of Bersih 3.0 had not anticipated any form of violence or disobedience from the crowds, that too with a larger scale demonstration so close to the 'everybody-knows-when' elections, then they are naive at the very best. To organise something so big with so much emotion and passion entwined, you as the organiser must also anticipate and plan for the worst. I'm not saying that blame and shame must befall the organisers of Bersih 3.0, I am saying that they should be held accountable for what happened along with the police. Let me put it in perspective, if this had happened with Barisan Nasional organising such a rally, the fallout would have been monumental. It would have lost them the elections outright. It will not have that effect on Pakatan Rakyat because we, the rakyat on the streets, afford them the benefit of doubt. What I'm saying is that the organisers too have to do some soul-searching in the aftermath of this chaos.

If this was sex, then our police force is the grand master in ‘premature ejaculation’. Their responsibility should have been the peaceful dispersement of protestors irrespective of the circumstances. They should stand head and shoulders above ordinary citizens when it comes to managing civil obedience. Did the Malaysian Police do their job, yes they did. Could they have handled it better in hindsight? Hindsight was not at all required today, common sense was. To the people within the corridors of power, welcome to a bleak re-election future littered with paralysing defeats to key people. I wasn’t angry before today. I wasn’t even that angry when I left the Bersih rally. But now, I’m livid. So, thank you my dear government.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stand up Malaysia. Build for Tomorrow.

It has been fifty-five years since Malaysia became an independent nation. Yet some of us are still fighting for our independence today. The British have been replaced by the evil corrupt residing government. The collectively despised Japanese have been replaced by a cocktail of rampant corruption, ever-increasing cost of living and crime. Hope of change, as is evident from on-ground sentiments, has manifested itself in the form of an opposition strong enough to topple the government. A rousing finale is on the cards then.

On 19th April 2012, I read that in the wee hours of the morning a bunch of ‘gangsters’ threw a hissy fit aimed towards the Occupy Dataran movement that was camped out in Dataran Merdeka. I had no idea what the whole Occupy Dataran premise was about in the first place, but the cowardly act of a bunch of imbeciles got my attention. Thus I started researching on what exactly these guys were about and why the ‘hissy fit skirts’ were so upset with them. Apparently the Occupy Dataran movement is a ‘copy and paste’ of Occupy Wall Street. I completely understand what Occupy Wall Street is trying to do. However, I found nowhere online an honest-to-goodness answer as to exactly why these guys were there in Dataran Merdeka. So I decided that I’ll make my way there and spend the night with the Occupy Dataran dwellers to understand what was going on.

I honestly think that the so-called gangsters who went out there to roughhouse a bunch of college students to be the type of terminal cancer that infects this nation. Their intelligence probably takes a beating when in conversation with an uneducated 5-year-old. The people behind them, in whichever high place they sit, should be ashamed of themselves and have conclusively proven that a whole rank of laughable dim-wits are our policy makers. Irrespective of the argument at hand, we cannot tolerate fools arrogant enough to believe that even in this day and age, they can strike fear into the youths of this nation by bullying them.

It was especially disheartening and downright disgraceful that the police, who were present during the commotion, chose to watch the ensuing melee rather than interfere. We had ministers coming out the next day giving statements to the effect of this is exactly why we shouldn’t have people sitting in a public area in silent protest. The police, who exist to serve and protect, proved yet again that they are merely headless chickens who are pawns for those within the corridors of power. Our police and ministers seem to want to ‘teach you a lesson’ if you don’t adhere to their will, in full view of the country. Have we as a nation seriously lost our marbles? Apparently it’s not only those who sit within the corridors of power who are a disgrace to this nation, it’s also those who reside in it.

Back to my learning curve on 19th April 2012. So I participated in this whole Occupy Dataran thing and sat there while talking to a whole host of people and listened to what they had to say. They also had one of those ‘let’s find out your opinion’ type of sessions and everyone, irrespective of who you are, was allowed to voice their opinion. The beauty of the entire process was that people actually listened when you talked. The crux of the topics on that particular day was PTPTN and Free Education. Everybody across all ages had something to say and spoke about his or her own personal experiences. It was very interesting to hear what the citizens of this country really think.

At the same time, I also eerily witnessed that our young are being led down the same dark tunnel of 'election promises' that put us in the doldrums in the first place. Here sat the young fighting for the abolishment of PTPTN and demanding free education. It’s funny how all the public acts of discord strike an eerie chord with Pakatan Rakyat’s political sentiments. One can argue that Pakatan Rakyat represent the people’s sentiments. However, one can also argue that the people in this country are being taken for a ride, only this time it’s a different donkey.

I strongly believe that we, the people of this country, should fight for our rights and enshrine those rights. Of paramount importance to this nation is that we become an economically sustainable nation with no possibility of having the carpet swept from under our feet ala Greece. This requires us to look in the mirror and decide if we want to build for the future or win the next General Elections. Do we really care for our future generations and the welfare of our children? Are we willing to make personal sacrifices to make this country a better place to live in? What we all seem to be telling ourselves is that this country isn’t working out for me, so let’s move overseas. How long will this strategy work?

As I sat there in Dataran Merdeka that day listening to all what the various individuals had to say, I felt a cold shiver run down my spine. If those people that day are the future of this country, then we are doomed to fail as a nation. Nobody actually really cares about this country’s economy; all they were interested in is themselves. The world is in financial turmoil and here we are demanding that the country abolish its student loan scheme and provide free education that will saddle our nation with more debt. More so use the already stretched oil money to fund their demands now. Let the one guy who's making money for the country pay for our whims and fancies. I’m not saying that the request is wrong, I’m just stressing that the timing is horrible in relation to world economics. However, these requests are immaculately timed for our upcoming General Elections. It’s almost as if someone had sat themselves down and strategically planned all this out to run like clockwork just before people go to cast their votes.

I completely agree that the PTPTN has some indefensible weaknesses and is strewn with horribly pathetic implementation mechanics. I also agree that saddling borrowers with ‘invisible’ bank-type hidden costs and interest-triggers into loans, that are to help the youth achieve tertiary education, to disgracefully lamentable. What I do think is that PTPTN started as a noble initiative that has gone awry due to political meddling. I don’t understand why the government insists on PTPTN being the sole distributor of loans for study. It all seems like somebody wants to control the system for their own benefit. What we should do is free the banks, from whom PTPTN borrows the money anyway, to sanction loans directly to the students who need them. This does away with wealthy children from abusing the PTPTN system and ensures only those who deserve loans, acquire them. This will also stop the meddling politicians from making a mockery of a system designed to help propel the nation forward.

I do, however, take contention to the call to completely abolish PTPTN, as this would free up PTPTN debtors and further advocate social irresponsibility in our youth. I feel that the interest rates should be lowered and monthly repayments reengineered to reflect the economic standing of the borrower. We must not saddle the young with too much debt as they are just starting out in life. See, we already have fresh graduates who come out and demand to get high starting salaries. Maybe these fresh graduates are living in a bubble where everything is handed to them on a silver platter. Whatever happened to ‘working your way up’? And here is the Opposition, who are obviously on the election campaign, seeking for the abolishment of a system that is already setup and running for 15 years. Why are we allowing the irresponsibility of political puppet masters to tell us that it is okay to instil a sense of irresponsibility in our youth. ‘You borrow, you pay’ is a simple life lesson. If life after studies is tough, then knuckle down and work your socks off. Don’t buy that iPhone and take the public transport to work and don’t take a vacation for years. Don’t get married and have 12 kids. Why on earth are we allowing the culture of complacency and soft-foundation idealism to continue festering in the minds of a nation that is already struggling to compete globally? What type of future does the ‘hope for change’ Opposition provide when it doesn’t take into account that this country needs a reboot, not more candy floss for a nation of diabetic patients.

I completely support the call for Free Education in this country. But, I’m terribly disappointed that the Opposition decided to go and make it an election promise. This beggars on the ‘same-old’ from the very people we hoped to see take more responsible measures of running this country. The model of free education requires time to strategize, build and implement. Can we please, for god’s sakes, get out of this mentality where we promise today and deliver tomorrow. The biggest social idea implementations should take years and must involve the public. Why involve the public in something that is going to benefit them? Because free education is a cost to this country and that means the taxpayers will have to fork out more money. Are the citizens of this country ready to fork out more money? Look at Greece as an economic example of too little too late. No matter who comes to power in that country, the citizens are going to be upset and will end up paying double taxes in an economy with record unemployment. If we are going to demand something from the people who are promising to turn this country around, ask them for a blueprint. Let's study this blueprint and voice our concerns. Ask them to show us a their plan to ensure that there's a drastic reduction in corruption and increase in transparency.

I don't buy the whole us against the world rhetoric. Hence why I dont fight the corners of only one side, be it Barisan National or Pakatan Rakyat. I believe we, the people, must believe in change and fight for what's right for the country, irrespective of who's in power. We must embody the change we want. We must instil a culture of hard work, dedication and social responsibility in our nation. We must move away from a culture of hand-outs and bailouts, and move on to long-term implementation strategies. What the PTPTN debtors of this country are asking today is much akin to the banks in America pleading for bailouts from their government. This country will not progress if we live in a little bubble where we hope a superhero will come and save us. We must help ourselves to save ourselves. I ask that the Opposition promise us less corruption and a drastically better quality of education for the children of our nation. Let us instil in our young that irrespective of who you are, you can grow up to run this country. When you give the children of this country that kind of hope, you give this country a real fighting chance.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When Lady Luck charms...

Manchester United is a great club. A footballing legacy steeped in history. A winning history. Manchester United was formed way back in 1878 as Newton Heath LY&R FC. This was the beginning of a club that would go on to become a football superpower. Probably one of the greatest traits of this club, that would give Jesus a run for his money in the red half of Manchester, is that it prides itself on its steely resolve.

Were it not for steely resolve, becoming the first English club to win Europe’s premier competition 10 years after the Munich Air Disaster, would not have been possible. The club lost 8 first team players, 3 staff and 2 players never played again in the aftermath of that air crash. It is a testament to the steely resolve of this club to rebuild and go on to win Europe’s ultimate prize 10 years on. Steely resolve would not ever have been possible without a man who embodied steely resolve, Sir Matt Busby. A lesser man would have wilted by the wayside. His endearing legacy is succeeded by an equally steely character, Sir Alex Ferguson, the current manager of Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to reinvent his winning teams so many times it defies logic. How can a man build so many generations of winning teams? The answer lies in the fact that this living legend is a thoroughbred winner. He is a winner through and through, and a very sore loser. All winners are sore losers. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying! However the team he has at his disposal today are far from convincing winners.

His Manchester United squad that won his first Premiership in the 1992/1993 season was the first winning team he produced. That team had the great Bryan Robson and the established back defence of Schmeichel, Bruce, Pallister, Parker and Irwin. However, he still needed a player who was more than a player to create a great team. Right on cue, arrived a man who would change Manchester United, the football club, forever. In Eric Cantona, whom they aquired from arch rivals Leed United in the winter of 1992, Sir Alex had finally found his talisman. The single player who redefined the winning ethos into all the future Manchester United squads.

Legend has it that Eric Cantona could only ever be caught practising when he was in The Cliff, United’s training facility then. Such was his obsession with perfection that when he first arrived in Manchester and the squad would break for lunch, he’d always use the time to practise alone. After a week of practising all by himself during the lunch break, he went up to Fergie and pleaded for two reserve team players to practise with. Apparently he had grown tired of running back and forth picking up the balls. Fergie agreed of course! The Glaswegian then set about changing the training regime and schedules of Manchester United to incorporate more practise time. The rest is history. The cultural landscape of Manchester United changed forever. The seeds of the future winners of this club was sowed then.

Since then the club went through periods of which a generation of squads were built around great players like Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and today Wayne Rooney. Of all the teams that have represented the red half of Manchester, today’s edition starkly pales in comparison. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes who started in this club as part of Fergie’s Fledglings back in 1992 are still central to the team today! This is how far the club has regressed!

There should be absolutely no question about the longevity of these great players as they are marvels of football. The fact that they can compete at the very highest level in today’s breakneck pace of football is a testament to these great men. But for these legends to be integral to the current United team when they are passing their mid-thirties is to the detriment of progress in this club. Although, this cannot be attributed to them because there is no one in the current United team who are even half as capable of ingenuity as these great men are. Their cocktail of experience and stellar character far outweighs their advancing years. Thus Fergie is stuck with having to pick the remaining originals for his biggest games.

This season, Manchester United have enjoyed a record start to their league campaign by going 24 games unbeaten before eventually succumbing to defeat in the hands of the league’s bottom club, Wolves. For a vast majority of those 24 games, the Devils benefited from a bumper dose of Lady Luck’s charms. United scored in the last quarter in 14 of those games, of which goals in 7 games were points clinchers. Including that run, they currently have scored 63 goals and conceded 30, which puts their goal difference on a staggering 33. Since Wolves ended their unbeaten run though, the Devils have lost 2 big games. The first was to a limping Chelsea but the more morale damaging defeat was to a Daglish-inspired Liverpool. It was the most comprehensive defeat to their bitter rivals in recent memory.

The truth that had long been hiding behind the veil of Lady Luck this season has been that this is probably the most average of United sides since the inception of the Premier League. While they had ridden their luck to win against a Hodgson managed Liverpool, Stoke and Wolves, they also surrendered victories to Fulham, Everton, West Brom and Birmingham. Barring Liverpool, these games in which they struggled were all against sides who are candidates for the bottom half of the table. However this squad has also displayed remarkable character when coming back to win against Aston Villa and Blackpool. This might have more to do with the manager than the team! Against the new hierarchy of big clubs that includes Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham, they have a formidable record of only having lost at the Kop and Stamford Bridge. However, their title run-in does include games away to Arsenal and at home to Chelsea.

This has been one of those exceptionally extraordinary seasons where the Devils, especially, have benefitted. All the clubs in the new hierarchy of the English game arguably possess better players than Manchester United. However, the team sitting at the top of the table is still Manchester United. This freak of nature has been a combination of both the transition period all the top clubs are experiencing and the improved quality of the rest of the league.

Liverpool has probably suffered the most where they have had to deal with imbeciles for owners and the ill-fated reign of Roy Hodgson. But the wounded Liverpool are starting to find their stride again under the tutelage of an ambitious Kenny Daglish. They are also blessed with new owners who seem to have a long-term project in mind. This finally puts to rest the notion that all Americans are dim-witted moneymen. Of course, only time will tell if the sun sets here too.

Chelsea are suffering as a result of a talented but ageing squad. However, they have bolstered their squad with the whopping £70 million purchase of David Luiz and Fernando Torres. With the wallet of Abramovich at their disposal, they have illuminated their vast spending power. No wallet war is complete without mentioning the Arab-backed Manchester City. Here lies a team that will eventually become stronger than their city rivals if they keep up their spending. Their only drawback seems to be that they obviously have too many egos to manage and that Mancini is still a little raw. Although, given time, Mancini will exert a stronger influence on the dressing room and as a result make City title contenders. The frugal Arsenal, on the other hand, must have upset Lady Luck in some way. They have suffered from a host of injuries to their best players, poor refereeing and great goalkeeping from opposing teams. Most of all though, they suffer from the principles of Arsene Wenger who refuses to splash money in the transfer market. All they need is one Cantona-esq talisman and they’ll be sweeping titles soon enough. Otherwise Arsenal will slowly becoming a feeder club to the best clubs on the planet. Tottenham is another club who are on the rise and will continue to rise. Once they get past their inconsistency, which they have cut down on this season, they will be title challengers as well. This is why Manchester United need be wary.

Manchester United is world famous for their youth policy which was catapulted to the stratosphere during the reign of Fergie’s Fledglings. That batch that won all before them at youth level were an exceptional class, a one-in-a-million. Something along those lines is never likely to happen again. The youth coming through the ranks right now are average at best. The next generation includes Hernandez, Gibson, the Da Silva twins, Evans, Anderson, Lindegaard, Smalling and (god-forbid) Bebe. Bebe is probably the only time Alex Ferguson will ever get conned again! Hernandez is the singular exception who will go on to become a first team fixture. Of the remaining only Smalling, Da Silva twins and Anderson offer any iota of salvation. Though they will require heavy investment and patience for them to be playing consistently. Fergie reaped rewards when he showed incredible patience in the cases of Berbatov and Nani. He must show the same measure of patience at the few who can become great players. Of the few Anderson seems to be the one player running his patience thin though.

Manchester United does not play the brand of football associated with the Devils anymore. They play a cautious European influenced football these days. However their 7-1 demolition of Blackburn and 5-0 trashing of Birmingham indicate they are capable of switching into the right gears. But the future does worry the feeble minds of the United faithful. When the exceptional Van Der Sar retires, we will have a Schmeichel-like crater to fill up. The advancing years of the injury-prone Ferdinand may also mean that Vidic needs another defensive partner. The void of quality in the middle of the park is alarming and will eventually tell against the top teams, or lesser teams as we’ve come to realise. The manner in which Liverpool shredded United in the Kop still sits unpleasantly in the bellies of most United supporters. Up front is the only area the Devils can feel at ease. With Rooney, Berbatov and Hernandez to call upon, the team looks like scoring if provided the sevice. Both Macheda and the born-again Welbeck are on loan and should return better players. However United will have to invest heavily to reinvent this mediocre side to be world-beaters again.

Sir Alex Ferguson is stuck in an unenviable quandary whenever he backs the owners of this football club. They are the scum from which football must always rise above. They will never leave until their valuation is met and they have enough money to feed their maids caviar and the finest champagne. At the end of the day this virus has infected football forever and this club hasn’t stood a chance against them. If Sir Alex wins anything with the current United squad, he will have achieved his greatest ever success. For a man with a winning habit, he must retire after winning titles with this team, for otherwise his legacy will suffer. Going with this great man will be the legacy of winning everything while playing the brand of football only Manchester United play. This fear will one day become a reality. Brace yourselves for that day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Return to Legendary...

You know you’re growing old when you’d rather look back than forward. When you were younger you looked forward to the next big thing. This next big thing could range from scoring a night with a hot brunette to sharing a joint with some not so shady mates while on the subject of nothing newsworthy. These were the heady days when your entire future was in front of you. Now you are in that stage of your existence where your 5-year-old-self shakes his head in disappointment at your job and your superhero development project. Your 15-year-old-self is appalled that you don’t juggle a string of supermodel girlfriends throughout the week. He’s especially disappointed with that joke of a car you drive.

Just about a month ago I travelled back in time when I returned to what we fondly call Legendary Land. Prior to making the trip, I spent a lot of time in gleeful anticipation of this return. Maybe Legendary Land isn’t much of a place to make a living if you’ve just graduated, but to a few hearts amongst us it is the capital of Legendary. It is where we all crashed into each other to represent the rainbow in all its glory. It was the beginning of the closest we’ll ever get to cultural explosion’s version of perfection.

Legendary Land consisted of memories spanning kitchen parties, chats with security, last-minute assignments, classes in foreign languages, sleepovers, coffee dates, football, pot luck dinners, random Hub-bings, grocery trips, Tube rides, night bus adventures, £2 breakfasts, gatherings at the Met, random picnics, sharing of stories, free-flow of each other’s alcohol stock and pretty much just amassing memories to last a lifetime. Never will there come a time when we will not look back at “that year” in our lives with anything other than a warm smile. To the few of us who will always remember the days with fondness, Legendary Land will remain etched in a special corner in our hearts.

A majority of the citizens of Legendary Land returned for one last hurrah together. It was time to put reality in the backburner, even if it was for the shortest of time spans. When I returned to this almost mythical place where I had been detached from for almost a year, I expected to be disappointed. Disappointed that the laughs won’t last as long, the smiles will wear the ravages of reality, the jokes will have lost its camaraderie relevance, times spent together won’t be in abundance, memories will have faded and my influence to glue groups of people together would have waned. How bloody wrong I was! For the glorious two weeks I resided in this land, reality took a back seat and none of those disappointments come true.

Despite the pressures of reality hanging over the people I will count on as friends for eternity, not once did they not make time for me. Even when it was difficult to substitute their respective realities, substitute reality they did. If I never come to the realise that I am blessed with friends beyond that of any healthy dose of normalcy, I’m a blooming idiot! To have friends is a blessing, but to be blessed with the friends I have, I’ve got the gods working overtime in my corner. I must have done something right somewhere to have amassed friends you only hear of in folklores. I will forever be grateful that when it comes to friends, I’m the richest man in the world. I definitely don’t deserve you lot, but I’ll take whole lot in a heartbeat.

Somewhere within those hours spent in parties, shopping, pubs and parks, we graduated. We received a scroll as reward for all that toil we put into the intellectual words that made up our assignments and dissertations. On my part, there really was much less toil than there were periods of blatantly indulging distractions. As our hearty congratulations were exchanged at the culmination of our academic efforts, it began to dawn upon us that these would turn out to be some of the last moments some of us might ever spend together. Sometimes you just never know how much time is left. Sometimes you just never know if you will see someone again. For all our good intentions and planning to catch up one day, we might actually never get that chance. Such is the fickleness of life. All you can do is make the most of the time you have left. That we did without any of the scars of reality and more in the spirit of Legendary Land. We had an absolute blast. We led a tribute to “that year” with all the panache and legendariness possible.

The pictures will fade, we will all eventually move on, we will find new jobs in new countries, we will lose touch, we will get married, we will break up and we will never relive “that year” where everyday was a dream come true. The time has probably set on all of us being in one geographical location at the same time. The curtains have fallen on a time we will carry within our fondest memories to our graves.

To the few who missed this return to Legendary Land, you were absolutely terribly missed. To the Italian, Frenchman and Spaniard who didn’t graduate and yet made a trip out to sunny London for the reunion, thank you. To the Arabs who almost divorced their parents to spend precious moments with us, thank you. To the American girls who got me through class, I truly wish I had spent more time taking more pictures to add to our already legendary collection. To the Indian who rescued me, found me a place to stay and played the most gracious of hosts, thank you. To the Peruvian who didn’t go back with Greece to spend precious moments with us, thank you. To the Greek whom I witnessed graduate as her guest, thank you. To the Malaysian, Brazilian and American chaps, thank you for playing monumental hosts while allowing us to trash your place. To the Romanian who repeatedly fed me Eastern European moonshine way past bedtime and for listening to my sob stories, thank you. To the Brazilian whom I shared a gas tank and the best memories ever, thank you. To the Irish love who will always listen to my stories and be my confidante, thank you. To the Polish girl to travelled all the way from Luton, sorry bout that coffee that never materialised! To everyone else who kept Legendary Land legendary and gave me so many memories to cherish, thank you. You people are the reason I spend a majority of my day almost everyday, looking back. Thank you for being legends and wherever you end up on this planet, never ever change. Legends must always remain legends.

We’ve now arrived at the crossroads where we must finally part ways. To the bright glorious future that awaits you, go forth and rule the world. Each and every one of you will go on to reality and make it a much better place to be. Be the bright shining stars that you have always been. Dream the grandest of dreams and never ever give up on them. Reality is a bitch that will try and numb your spirit, so never ever give in. Fight to shape the world the way we saw fit when we were all sat together and singing grand ol songs that enshrined the spirit of humanity. Go on and make the world a better place. I know not anyone else better equipped. Go claim your bit of tomorrow’s history.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Passing of a Season

And so it is becoming increasingly evident that Manchester United will end the season with nothing to show for their battles this season. Unless ya’re one of those United fans residing in Mars and is certain of more silverware this season. Many will readily furiously point towards the Carling Cup we lifted in February. This is a moot point. The Carling Cup cannot be mentioned as a competition worthy of trophies this great club should be winning. The Champions League, Premiership and the FA Cup (yes, I consider the world’s oldest knockout competition worthy!) are trophies we should be winning to be hailed as champions. None of these trophies are up for grabs, barring the Premiership, which hinges on Chelsea suffering a catastrophic fallout with goal-laden form.

I find myself increasingly at odds with the United faithful. Not the prawn sandwich munching Park Ji Sung fanatics (it’s an entire country!) who are the only ones who snap up the No.13 jersey nor the original apparel chaps who sport United’s latest gear during a game of football and yet can’t tackle to save their mom, nor is it even those who look for United related news in the entertainment section. I’m talking about the ordinary folk who sacrifice sleep in this part of the planet to catch a United game or the guys who plan their weekends around United’s games. The real fans who only really subscribe to sports cable channels for United games. The United fanatics. Nearly every United fan I’ve spoken to since the beginning of the run of results that has placed us in this miserable spot, seems to be of the firm belief that United have been unlucky this season.

Firstly, I think it’s fair to have unbridled belief in your team. Fans should always have faith in their teams. But blind faith is an ethos I just can’t subscribe to. Complacency in borne out of such blind faith in mediocrity. Liverpool’s fans are a testament to that. Secondly, we all know football fans tend to have a very short memory span. Anyone who thinks United have been unlucky this season has got be high on methane gas! Our joint second highest goal scorer this season is this chap we never bought, Mr. Own Goals! We have a guy who cost us in excess of £30 million who shares second spot with Own Goals. And we’ve been unlucky?

Berbatov has been the bane of many a United fan. United let the vastly more suited Tevez go because of their belief in Berbatov. Tevez has moved onto the greener pastures of the other half of the divide to consistently prove that Ferguson’s assertion that Tevez is not a natural goal scorer to be a hoax. Personally, I have always stuck my neck out for Berbatov because I think that he’s an exceptionally talented player.

But now, even my patience has run out. Berbatov is an exceptional talent, but he belongs in a club who don’t harbour hopes of the top prize. He was at ease at Tottenham because he was their superstar. Any striker who hit 20 plus goals at Spurs is a revelation by their standards. At United you are expected to be world class week in and week out. Spurs are the epitome of inconsistency. Some players just don’t have the bottle for the biggest of stages. Unfortunately for United, Berbatov is one of them. He is now what Juan Sebastian Veron was for us in 2003, an expensive accomplished failure. Brilliant player at the wrong club.

When Ronaldo left, a void the size of a crater was left in the United squad. A player who plies his trade on the wings and scores a whopping 42 goals a season is part of a very rare breed indeed. But Rooney has really stepped up to the plate. He took some time to get in stride as he developed his game to suit his new role, but when he got going nothing was going to stop him. Ronaldo’s departure has paved the way for Rooney to develop his game beyond that of just the epitome of a team player. He now possesses the predatory instincts to regularly hit 30 plus goals a season. The biggest beneficiary has got to be the England squad. He is peaking just in time for what will be an ultimately futile bid to lift the World Cup.

United’s primary weakness is the squad itself. Neville, Giggs and Scholes are still the finest we’ve got. Their experience is vital in the biggest of games, but they should not be counted on to produce the goods when it matters most. They’ve already lived that life in United’s glorious years. It is the job of the rest of this supposedly world-class squad to do the talking on the pitch.

Very few stand alongside Rooney as excused for United’s failings this season. Valencia has matured admirably as the season progressed to be a dependable supply line. Fletcher has literally manfully carried the United midfield throughout the season. He has to rank as the most improved United player of the last decade, if not of all-time. He certainly is the closest we have ever had to Roy Keane since the Ulsterman’s departure. However, he lacks the ferocious voracity of Roy Keane the captain of Manchester United. Evra’s probably the best left back we’ve had since Dennis Irwin. He has always produced a performance even when the team is struggling. Alongside Fletcher, he has to rank as our most consistent player. Defensively, he does tend to get caught, but he’s an absolute peach of a player. Van Der Sar is a man who hardly gets a mention. But there have been many games where he has single-handedly kept us in games. He has been consistently brilliant for us.

Nani, through Sir Alex’s legendary man-management, has started to display the reasons for which we purchased him. However, I’m of the school of thought who believes that Nani is not reliable first-team material. He’s flashy, quick and a decent crosser but his mental awareness is glaringly lacklustre on many occasions. He is also never going to be a big game player, for his confidence is too fragile. He will always live in the superiorly confident Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.

United possess no other players who the fans can mortgage their houses on to place a bet. Surely the fans didn’t expect to become European champions when a team like Barcelona play the football they do. We’re disillusioned minions of hope like that. We don’t score from set pieces anymore, we grind out results more that pummel opponents, we lose to the plot to inferior opponents, we get outmuscled in a scrappy game, we need Rooney to bail us out every game and we concede too many goals! This is the team you prayed to many gods to be champions of Europe? A prayer is all we had!

A look at the statistics between this year’s challengers and last year’s champions will point out where we’ve lost the plot. Last season’s league table stands at 28 won, 6 drawn and 4 lost. This season, in 34 games we’ve lost 7 games already, of which 5 defeats came when faced with opponents from the top half of the table. We’ve definitely hit a golden scoring patch this season with 77 goals (Rooney getting the bulk) but our defence has leaked in 27 goals as opposed to 24 for the entirety of last season (partly due to our wretched defensive injury crisis this season). You may think of a mere 3 goals as nit picking, but it’s put into context when you realise that’s 3 defeats! However it can be argued that this has been an exceptional year for the Premiership, further evidence that the league has gotten much tougher.

The brutal truth is that when it counted most this season, we didn’t produce the goods. In the league, we’ve lost to Chelsea twice, an under par Liverpool, Burnley, Villa (who got hammered by Chelsea), Fulham (given a football lesson in the process) and Everton. We got dumped out of the FA Cup by effectively a struggling 3rd Division side. Then came our insipid Champions League exit.

Bayern exposed our over-reliance on Rooney while Chelsea exposed the mediocrity of our squad over the span of a week. Over the span of that week, the wheels to glory came off. During the first leg against Bayern, we were extremely lucky to have even got a goal. We were taking a lesson in passing from an average Bayern side. In the second leg, especially in the second half, we again gave them ample space to pass us off the park. Robben’s wonder goal would not have settled the tie had someone bothered to track him. He had an eternity to plan the strike as it fell. On arguments that Drogba’s goal was offside and we should have had a penalty, I point out that Chelsea has just as valid a penalty claim and Macheda’s fluke goal had a strong hint of handball. So I don’t really buy the whole “unlucky” argument. Champions make their own luck! Whatever happened to that?

Sir Alex surely knows the fragility of the United squad in respect to the ambition that the club harbours. He cloaks the mediocrity astutely with Mourinho-esq statements that shifts the critical focus away from his players. We just don’t possess the quality of players to execute the Manchester United brand of football. We have entertained, surely, but in such sporadic patches that we don’t deserve a champion’s medal. Either there really is no money available or United really can’t lure the world’s top players. Either way, we’re finally starting to come to terms with what increasingly looks like the end of the glory days. We might just begin to understand the sufferings of being a Liverpool fan.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Unplanned Crash

Everyday is the same. Ever wonder why we get up every morning moaning about the lack of sleep and whilst brushing out teeth, promise that you’ll hit the sack sooner at night. Yet when night comes around, you can’t seem to sleep early enough. There’s always something. In our wee lil minds we hatch grand plans to be the next billionaire or start a cause worthy of a Nobel peace prize, yet we don’t even have the basic discipline to hit the sack early every night! There’s always something. Maybe that’s the difference between greatness and us.

Last night while I was driving along this narrow two way street, I decided to be the good Samaritan and let a mom and her kids cross the street. So I held up traffic and brought my car to stall. The mom thanked me as she crossed the street with her young uns. Out of nowhere this motorbike comes screeching as he crashes into her daughter. For that split second, you can only watch in unbridled horror as velocity meets friction. The next few seconds, you just hope everyone is all right. On this occasion, the girl just suffered minor bruises and a shock. She was, thankfully, alright.

As I drove home, I questioned if what just happened could be construed as my fault. I deliberately stopped traffic to allow people who would have waited by the shoulder of the road to cross. I thought I was being courteous. I guess I was. But for an impatient motorist, I’d have gone home with no chronology of events to ponder. Of course, it’s ridiculous to think it’s my fault! But the bigger picture is that in the micros of our daily lives, there lies one obvious truth. That nothing is certain. We can’t plan to not get hit by a bus tomorrow. We can’t plan on it raining when you forgot your umbrella.

What does happen is a crash. A crash we call life. Be it the mundane existence of a data entry clerk or the glamour of a film superstar, we all exist in this crash. We can’t plan on not getting hit by a bus, but we can get an insurance policy to cover us in case we do get hit by a bus. Although, you really can’t tell these days if insurance policies themselves aren’t really a sham! We may not have an umbrella on a rainy day, but we could wait the rain out. Plans exist because it is easier to believe that we’re in control of everything. We’re control freaks like that.

Everyone plans on being happy, yet no one really knows what that really is. Today it could be that fancy car and that leggy woman-of-your-dreams. Tomorrow you find out that fancy car has a faulty gearbox and that woman is only sleeping with you for your money. Tomorrow you could lose a parent, get fired, get food poisoning, lose your wallet or it could just rain till the next day.

You can only plan tomorrow so much. How much older do we get till we’re old enough? While planning tomorrow, maybe living today wouldn’t be such a bad idea. You can’t plan for a crash, you can only prepare for it. In anticipation of a crash, don’t forget that dreamy eyed ambitious 5-year-old kid you once used to be. Dance the dance when innocence was a word you didn’t understand. We’re all crashing into each other anyway. That doesn’t really mean that crash has got to end badly, does it?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Dawn of a New Seven...

A team is the sum of individuals working collectively towards one goal. No man, superstar or demi-god, is bigger than a team. This is the ethos from which many a great team over the lifetime of sport have been built. Manchester United lost 8 first team players in the 1958 Munich air disaster. Amongst the dead was Duncan Edwards, at 22, considered such an exceptionally gifted player that it has been said that it was him and not Bobby Moore who would have lifted the 1966 Jules Rimet trophy as England’s captain had he survived to fulfil his potential. Manchester United lost a player on the threshold of greatness to the cruel fate of slush on a runway. It took United ten years to bury the ghost of Munich culminating in winning the 1968 European Cup.

Come end of June 2009, Manchester United will bid adieu to yet another young player who graced the Stretford End with awe-inspiring guile. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro will depart Old Trafford as the most decorated footballer on the planet for the 2008/2009 season. Having joined United in August 2003, he has scored 118 goals in 291 games. Some of these goals still leaves us thanking the stars that we were alive to witness such sheer audacious genius. All the more remarkable is that this comes from a man who plies his trade on the right wing!

Ronaldo has never had the full faith of the Old Trafford faithful, however. His role in getting Wayne Rooney sent off in Euro 2004, his play acting antics and his public courting of Real Madrid have always left many wary of him despite his unquestionable talent. Rarely have the United faithful been as wary of one of their own geniuses as they have been in the Portuguese’s case. Eric Cantona, Ruud Van Nistlerooy, David Beckham, George Best, Roy Keane, Paul McGrath are amongst some great players who bring fond memories for many Red Devils the world over, yet they all were hardly uncontroversial. Somehow we tend to forgive them like a mother her child. My guess is that Cristiano Ronaldo will never have the same affectionate adoration in the aftermath of this transfer. Genius he may be, but many had already likened him to Judas long before this summer.

Ronaldo is certainly one of the world’s top three players by most people’s accounts, but his faithlessness discounts his merit of true greatness. When Kaka refused the mega-bucks move to Manchester City in January, he struck a chord with many in the footballing world. Robinho will never understand the economics of principles, yet Kaka is still revered in all of Milan and beyond despite his £59 million move to Real Madrid. We fans, sitting in our couches the world over, are a fickle lot but can never be accused to have a short-term memory. Whilst players like Kaka bring a smile to many football hearts, Ronaldo and Robinho give the stench of cat litter for their material greed.

Ronaldo will move on to a team that traditionally buys its success. He has the right to be ambitious and after serving Manchester United gloriously for six years, he’s allowed the luxury of a new challenge. No one will ever deny that many a times, he has single-handedly won us games. He is almost the complete footballer. His skill, guile, audacity and pace have left us breathless in these six years. For his service we thank him. As for his future, we bid him well, but not success.

Success belongs to the throes of Old Trafford. Manchester United were considered by many to be the second best club team on the planet after the amazing Barcelona last season. I beg to differ. Manchester United were by far the luckiest team in the European stage as they were on home soil. It has always been said champions make their own luck. I ask only that you look at Barcelona to believe that champions don’t make their luck, rather play impeccable attacking football. Last season, in my view, Manchester United were the most effective team in England, not the best! The best team last season domestically was Liverpool!

Many amongst you Devils are sharpening your axes and making your way to my abode I’m certain. Let us look at the statistics of last season. Liverpool finished last season as the Premiership’s top scorers at 77 goals in 38 games. That is an average of 2 goals per game. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United finished on 68 goals. Where Manchester United won the title was not their fabled attacking ethos, rather a new found defensive solidity, as they conceded the least goals in the league. In the 2008/2009 season United scored 80 goals and conceded 22 as opposed to Liverpool who scored 67 and conceded 28. While Liverpool are making great strides forward, we are beginning to embrace a culture of caution, long believed to be Benitez’s football characteristic. Not anymore if our last meeting between the great rivals is anything to go by.

United’s record against the teams in the top half of the table for 2008/2009 is won 9, drew 5 and lost 4 whilst their record against the bottom half is 19-1-0. Liverpool’s record against teams in the top half of the table is 10-7-1. Which means their performance against the better teams in the league outstrips ours. Where we won the league was against teams in the bottom half of the table! These are hardly awe-inspiring statistics.

For all that is said of Manchester United’s awesome defence last season, we failed when it mattered most. When we lost 4-1 at Old Trafford to Liverpool and 2-0 to Barcelona in the Champions League final, our defence was left looking like novices! Nemanja Vidic is an amazing center back, but his worst games this season have come against the teams that came to attack United. Manchester United are used to attacking teams from kick-off, but it was a case of role reversal in these two defeats.

United had Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov in their stable of attackers for last season. While Berbatov can be excused for having a transitional season at Old Trafford, Ronaldo again finished United’s top scorer this season. Rooney has scored 12 goals in the league for the second consecutive season. This is not because Rooney does not know where the goal is, rather it’s not having a fixed position in the team. Half of the games he has played last season he was chucked on the left wing. Rooney being Rooney will never complain and does an effective job even if you play him as a goalie. On paper we are one hell of a fearsome team. On evidence on what transpired last season, we leave much to be desired.

Manchester United is a team built on the tradition of attacking football. If we’re going to go down, we will go down fighting and with all guns blazing. The swash-buckling raids on the wings have been replaced by playing a more patient brand of football. There are teams in the Premiership who are starting to out-pass Manchester United! Both Barcelona and Manchester United fought the Champions League final, but no one in the right frame of mind will begrudge Barcelona, as they deserved their title. In the group stages, Barcelona scored 18 goals as opposed to United’s 9! Messi, Eto’o and Henry scored a combined total of 21 goals throughout the tournament. United’s awesome foursome scored 13.

Barcelona were there for the taking having had both their first-choice full-backs suspended, however we chose to hit Barcelona on the counter with Park Ji Sung, Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Anderson. We honestly believed we could out-pass Barcelona! When we needed fighters out there, we left the most prominent of all our terriers on the bench, Tevez, instead opting for a Korean who’s just not European Final material.

Manchester United are losing a man who can score goals with both feet, from any distance and with his head whilst also being the supplier of a bucketload of goals. Whilst we are happy to see the back of the ‘winker’, we must also be aware that we’re losing our top scorer for two consecutive seasons. While the £80 million will come in handy to building a new phenomenon, we must also brace ourselves for maybe playing second fiddle next season. We need to revive the Manchester United of lore and play uninhibited attacking football. Manchester United must return to its roots of keeping us at the end of our seats. We are fast becoming the Chelsea that Mourinho left behind. That is a cursed fate that will have even Sir Matt Busby turning in his grave. Today’s Manchester United must honour the tradition of the Manchester United legacy, we must build to attack.