gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Friday, February 04, 2005

I sort of miss the days when I could say two words and the persons I'm talking to can fill in the remaining 98. In large part because, well, they understand the 98 words better than I do. But that's the price you pay for switching to instruction and having to teach other people the same things you used to enjoy merely talking about. And, in a way, I should have known this all along. And I did, sort of, just that the fact eludes me from time to time before coming back and hitting home.

It's not exactly fair to ask five people to spend less than three full days churning through 30 different broad reading topics, and getting something remotely close to a rudimentary grasp of the topics in question. More so, I suppose, when you take into consideration the fact that these are not adult professionals who have done this business for quite some time. Yet this is exactly the kind of desperate and probably silly mistake I ended up making just a couple of days ago. I should have known better, I hear you say. I hear me saying the same thing. If it is any consolation, however, tautologous as it sounds, some small amount of work done is vaguely better than none at all.

It must be constantly reminded, ad nauseam if necessary, that these are not supermen I am working with, of the same league I was once a part of (although, truth be told, I felt rather inferior in the company of such a league). These are raw talents who know not enough just yet, and it is important to guide and teach them in such a way that they will steadily know more and more, even if it means they are going to mentally age and advance well beyond their years. Of course, it helps if they emotionally age a bit too (though, of course, not too much - let them enjoy the luxuries and pains of their age). Ultimately, though, it must be remembered - there is no short-cut to breeding the finest steeds. Everything must be done in a manner that sequentially gets them there.

This is no ordinary activity these people engage themselves in. This is "the profession", for crying out loud. Sportsmen do some amount of body work to improve their physique and strengthen their muscles. They do this because there is no substitute for having a good body - all the equipment and technology in the world doesn't mean a thing when they are all only meant to aid and enhance. So too it is with "the profession". It doesn't matter how good your memory is and how well you can soak in facts and statistics, or studies published by the University of Exeter. No, all those are only support and supplementary to what is the core in "the profession" - rock solid thinking power and analysis strength. It's not the hard disk drive, it's the processor.

And if it ain't the hard disk drive, then it certainly isn't the LCD or plasma screen, or the nifty sound card and speakers, or for that matter the laser printer. Okay, the presentation's nice, but to mistake that for being the heart of the computer is again getting it ridiculously wrong. I'll take all these nice stuff if they come along, of course, but the heart and core of "the profession" ultimately lies in the sheer power of your brainwork in seeing beyond the surface, crunching the data until it squeals, and making sense of it all. That's why, given a choice, I'd put all my weight behind getting the brainwork done and getting people to understand every single chain in that thought process. And then, internalizing it and turning it into their own stuff. Once they get past that, how the thoughts and sentences string together I don't really care as much.

We probably don't have the time to hit all of this on the short-term, but short-term fix-its have never been my thing. I could do it if I want to, and if conditions permit, but there is no satisfaction greater than standing atop a pyramid and remembering that you started it all, preparing the ground and laying the first base stone. Because then, and only then, can you truly say that everything was built in your own image. That's when there is truly the strongest level of influence in getting the pyramid up.

Not that this is to discredit the people who have come before me, of course. Working with whatever is available and being able to reassemble something out of it is a fairly impressive feat in itself. I'm just saying, sometimes I might well wish I got in on the act a little sooner, so that I would have had a greater chance to leave more of a positive influence. There's an Oriental saying about how regretful it can be that two people did not meet sooner. Sometimes that's exactly what it's all about - the misfortune that opportunity did not knock earlier.

Do I care if things start in a manner that could be described mildly as disastrous? Not really, no. Sir Alex took quite some time before he managed to pick up a trophy at United, but in the meantime people knew that he was restructuring the club from the ground up. Getting the results we were looking for was going to take some time, but some people knew just what was going on. Many others didn't, of course, but sometimes it's about having the faith and patience to see exactly how the whole plan is gradually unfolding.

We can't rely on the old warhorses of today to bring in tomorrow's prizes. They already have quite a challenge on their hands getting today's share. But a short-sighted approach that overly obsesses on near-term results is too much of a scramble, not to mention putting all the chips on the table in a solitary bet. The only way to win tomorrow's prizes is to breed the horses so that they will be ready when tomorrow comes. The question, of course, is whether the horses will indeed be bred well. That's for both man and horse to decide.

gambitch [ 11:22 PM]

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Arsenal 2
Man Utd 4


gambitch [ 1:27 PM]

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A news report indicates Chelsea have hit debts amounting to 88 million pounds - a club record, but one that Roman Abramovich could afford, at least until Vladimir Putin steps down. I look at the figures and can feel nothing but firm disapproval. Chelsea might want to challenge Real Madrid and AC Milan in the short term, but it is difficult to imagine the club becoming strong and powerful in the long term. It is still not a member of European football's G14, and given that its glory years have been very short, it will not be accepted into the fold in a hurry. The long-term future of English football remains in the strong hands of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Speaking of United, it appears they have sold Eric Djemba-Djemba to Aston Villa. Just as well, perhaps, considering how few chances the guy has had. I didn't actually think that his long-term future was with United; but then I hadn't been watching football for a period. Still, Djembs was not someone that people knew much about, and he's not exactly the same kind of spring chicken that Cristiano Ronaldo was. If Butty had to be sold to Newcastle (a move I still do not like much - I hope he comes back soon and gets his hamstrings sorted out at Carrington), what chance was there for Djembs to grow and prosper in a red shirt? He will be useful at Aston Villa, though, where the squad is small and they need strong cover. The move is good for him, and for both clubs, even though we sold him at a transfer fee loss of some two million pounds.

Some say Sir Alex is losing his touch with his buys. I'd disagree, because it is difficult to buy promising talent on the cheap nowadays, with all the major clubs looking hard to poach youth from their homelands, even as near as Spain (ask Reyes and Fabregas at Highbury). Also, such claims ignore the fact that we were incredibly lucky to have a brilliant crop of talent emerge in the famous Class of '92, so much so that we had to sell on many people afterwards who could not oust the likes of Scholes, Butt, Becks and the Nevilles. Not to mention Giggsy - look at all the people we have bought over the years to cover for him on the left wing. Of those, how many of them have stayed on?

Quinton Fortune is one of the lucky few, and that too only because Sir Alex found a way to transform him into cover for the leftback position - behind Silvestre, Heinze and O'Shea, but always useful because those three are themselves adaptable to multiple positions. Fortune hasn't quit, and hasn't given up. He will be rewarded, although he only has a couple more years to impress at Old Trafford. But he has already outlasted Djembs, who came after him and left before him. Word has it Djembs was trained to switch to right-back, ostensibly as cover for Gary Neville. That is one of our weak spots, but I suppose it never worked out for Djembs. Full marks to the man for effort, though.

Do we need better midfield cover? Yes and no. We do have Kleberson, who hasn't stepped up enough, partly because it's hard for a Brazilian to adapt to an English midfield. Liam Miller may be the long-term answer to Keano's impending retirement, but it is easy to forget that we also need cover for Scholes, who has another five years in him. Maybe that's why we're pushing Phil Neville and Sheasy into midfield positions. While it is true that the end of a dynasty is nigh - well, five years away anyway - finding good talent and grooming them to replace our elder stars isn't as straightforward as we would like to believe.

That's why Barcelona, Chelsea and the Milanese clubs are preferring to spend on instant answers. And that's why I don't like them. They don't have enough commitment to grooming stars of their own (okay, Chelsea has Robert Huth and John Terry, but that's just about all). The chequebook is not the only answer. So while Chelsea has arguably the richest backer in world football (except perhaps the Spanish royal family), I'm still quite happy to support the most profitable and, rather incidentally, the most famous club in the world.

gambitch [ 1:12 AM]

Monday, January 31, 2005

I knew the quote was in there somewhere, so having found it, here we go. But first, some context - this is from the 1996/7 season, when United were pushing for the Champions League after collecting the famous second Double. Also, of course, the season where Sir Alex famously invented the term 'blip'.

"Our progress through a group consisting of Rapid Vienna, Fenerbahce, Juventus and ourselves was less than smooth. After losing in Turin we beat Rapid at home and Fenerbahce away. Then the Turkish champions came and won at Old Trafford. ... Chasing the win like driven men, we were hit on the break with twelve minutes left on the clock. A nothing shot deflected off David May - Schmeichel had no chance. One-nil. Over. Now we had to travel to Juventus and Rapid hoping for a result.

"There was a lot of head-shaking, 'how could this happen to us?' in the dressing room afterwards. The last thing footballers will do is look at themselves. Yet sometimes - no, always - that's where the answer lies. If you're good enough, and here in terms of ability we were, defeat is usually down to yourself. Not the referees, or luck, or a deflection, comforting though all those excuses are. This is where the real pros, the likes of Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce or Denis Irwin, are invaluable. They know where to look for answers. The gaffer knows as well. That's why he's accomplished what he has.

"... We could have thrown away the chance of a quarter-final place four days before. At Southampton. Six f****** three. Before that 0-5 at Newcastle. Why did I lose my mind at the Dell and get the red card? Because I saw it coming. I knew in my bones that you couldn't f*** around at Southampton and turn the tap on against a proper team four days later. Can't be done. Maybe now and again. But Manchester United isn't in the now-and-again business. We're in - or supposed to be in - the every-time-you-pull-the-shirt-on-get-the-job-done business."

gambitch [ 10:53 PM]

Sunday, January 30, 2005

More than a year ago, when I cut the cord on a group of individuals who, I believed, were already learning to adapt to life without me (a concept I do not object to, by the way), I also went underwater from a forum where I had made a couple of silly but unimportant mistakes. We all make such mistakes from time to time, of course, but there is nothing odd or wrong in that. Nonetheless, I thought it wise to go underwater, seeing as I did then that, at least temporarily, I was going to move away from the higher circles of "the profession".

The thing to note, of course, was that I decided to go underwater, not break up the sub. Somehow it struck me that it made sense to stay underwater, leaving the occasional chance to up periscope and just see what was going on. I never thought to up periscope for over a year, and when I just briefly scanned to make sure the sea wasn't covered by an oil slick in December, there was nothing of note. The world and I have got on pretty well without each other, then. A good thing.

An old acquaintance then mentioned to me that an incident was brewing in the forum, and although initially I laughed it off as normal, it got me interested enough to crunch through close to a hundred messages to see exactly what had happened. In a way, thus, it was just as well I had upped periscope. It was amusing reading, actually, seeing that some of my friends in arms had completely retained their wit and touch. Yet, in a way, it was a kind reminder of why I was so happy to keep the periscope down in the first place - I had become sick and bored of the way people tended to have a go at each other, and how actual and serious problems did not appear to be adequately dealt with because of the way we tended to forget about them forty short (and not-so-short) messages later.

But enough of that. I have my own wars to fight, and I'm contenting myself with those few I have. Suffice to say that I wholly agree we have a bunch of supposedly very smart people who are eager to pursue certain ideals when the concrete results that come with them benefit them, yet shut off the same ideals when other people pursue them and try to have a share of the pie. When there are vested interests at stake, people can switch between breaking a safe and installing new locks. I have long eyed the situation with distrust, yet there is no clear way which I saw which could get us to fix the situation. This is a group of people who can't even agree with each other, never mind mobilize each other on a common mission to clean up the mess and tear down the oligarchy.

Too many are unwilling to rock the boat on the so-called "regional pioneers". Personally, I'd say we recognize their contributions as pioneers of the business, but that's no reason to unconditionally exonerate them for any criminal - legally or otherwise - activities they have committed. For them to turn around and say little things like they had acted with an altruism that now appears misplaced... Well, I think it comes across as very bad form, playing a guilt card on us. Where's the grace and class, man?

But then, I'm done with the politics. I decided long ago I was going to walk away and get off the radar. The thing was, if I stayed on this for too long, I too was going to taint myself more than I would already have, and somewhere down the line of this business, taking too many political stands was going to cost me dearly. I was a small nobody who had the misfortune of a huge institutional association, and therefore representation, to consider. I could not afford to just mouth off without fear of potential penalty to other people who had the misfortune of sharing the same institutional association that I had. And I don't have the position of near impunity to give me licence to say pretty much whatever I want. It was a lopsided setup from the start, and I figured I had to bail out sometime or other, preferably with my sanity and my white coats intact.

Of course, now, I am a small nobody with no associations to think about. But I'm also happier as a consequence because I don't need to care about these things anymore. Living life with fewer stress-inducing things is always desirable.

Ultimately, it's the people, I guess. I remember a few lines from a Hong Kong martial arts movie. "In this world, where there are people, there is conflict. And where there is conflict, the pugilistic fraternity emerges. People are the fraternity, so how can you walk away?" In the context of the movie it is difficult to retort that, but in the special world I was once a part of, perhaps a good start is by walking away for a few years and limiting yourself to the occasional helpful cameo.

Of course, if you enjoy whatever comes with your new lease of life and whatever work you do outside "the profession", then it's also fine if you forget the cameo.

gambitch [ 7:32 AM]


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