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?