Friday, 31 August 2012

RVP:Loyalty, Ambitions,treachery and a genius

8 years ago, good old astute economist Arsene Wenger capitalized on a rift between a young Dutch man and his coach  Bert Van Marwijk at Feyernoord  to land him for a cool £2.75 million, just over half of the original asking price of £5 million. Pricing enormous talents at cheap prices and nurturing them into super stars had become an entrenched metier of his throughout his illustrious career. And he was to perform the master stroke on this one too. The young man he had just signed was a winger, who had scored 22 goals in 78 appearances for De club aan de Maas. He was 21 year old Robin Van Persie.

Wenger had a lot to do. Van Persie was young, very young. He also had a disturbing track record of being rebellious, encountering numerous disciplinary problems. But there was a plan, and Wenger had it figured out. He would mould him into a fine player, by first converting him from a winger to an out and out goal poacher. It would take time, months, even years, but Wenger was confident it would pay off, and invested in the young man, through thick and thin.

8 years and 132 goals later, Van Persie became Arsenal's team captain, and number one key player. Again, the master Wenger had created a beast of a goal scorer,one of the best in Europe, like he did Thierry Henry. Van Persie top scored the Premier League with 30 goals, won the coveted PFA player of the year, and cemented his place in Arsenal's history books.

But even with all this personal successes, there would be a craving for collective team success that would test his commitment to loyalty, something which he undoubtedly owed Wenger and Arsenal. A 7- year trophy drought at the Emirates meant Van Persie was always going catch the 'frustrated star' syndrome to pack up and leave, on a journey to taste what had become a rare joy of winning a major trophy. High profile exoduses has almost become a tradition at Arsenal, Viera, Gilberto, Henry, Gallas, Fabregas Adebayor et al. However Van Persie's switch is evocative of  pure controversy, as he chose the wrong club to realize his dreams.  Arsenal's arch rivals Manchester United.

Of course, moving directly across board from one fierce arch rival to the other in unforgivable. It has always been, well at least in the realm of fans, and their intense passion. And I'm sure Van Persie knows it. In as much as there is nothing logically wrong in seeking a platform to win laurels whereas the current platform does not offer opportunities to do so, the place to go must be thought of extensively. Van Persie's case is perculiar because he owes his career to Arsenal/Wenger ,who made him a far better player and had confidence in him during his lowest points. Coupled with becoming an established fan's favorite, the delicate matter of loyalty comes to play.

Loyalty is debatable, especially in contemporary football, which has become a complicated business mechanism. Money has kicked loyalty out of the corridors decision making, whilst prestige and money have become synonymous. So it has become normal these days for players to leave clubs where they are revered, motivated by prestige(a chance to win trophies), and money. Many argue that the place of loyalty and it's associated emotions in such a harsh system should be realistically non existent.

But even with all that, I think it is logical for football fans to expect a player who breaks the loyalty code to at least do so in a way that does not further 'disrespect' laid down traditions. In short, you don't leave your club for their rivals. That is stretching the elasticity of loyalty way too far. That is wrong, especially for a player like Van Persie, who had everything to prove at a club where he was captain, especially when his predecessors all in a way abandoned the club at some point.

He had the chance to be a man of his word, to be a one club man, to be part of a possible golden team that would make history and annex a trophy for the gunners, to be a legend in gunner folklore. But no. He decided to sacrifice 7 years of hardwork for his ambitions. Now, he is no longer an Arsenal legend, despite everything. Just like that. From worshipped cult hero to despised traitor. All because of one needless(in my opinion) move.

The negatives certainly have the upper hand on this one. He could have just ruined his playing progress, which is on a rise. It is no secret that Manchester United don't necessarily need him, as they already have enough firepower in Rooney, Welbeck and Chicharito. Furthermore, he could find out very late that Arsenal was the perfect fit for him. Manchester United might struggle to enact a tactical blueprint to play to his strengths. It could turn out to be a really bad move.

In fact, the move not only upsets the sacrosanctity of loyalty, but also looks like a careless go at Russian Roulette. RVP has achieved so much in his career to put all his eggs in one basket and risk it all now. Even attempting to overcome the psychological damage that the abuse from Arsenal fans will have on him will be a tall order, -case in point- Fernando Torress.

Van Persie better know what he has gotten himself into. For his own sake, and that of his career.

Wenger on the other hand, has completed another fine cycle of what he does best. That is almost 22 million pounds worth of profit. Sheer genius. Life goes on for him and Arsenal, as it has always done.

Fiifi Anaman.

*This article first appeared on on August 17, 2012, where yours truly is a columnist*

New Edubiase United : A young club set to make Ghana proud


Over a month ago, Ghana staged a second FA Cup final(second of its current format, after a 10-year hiatus) played in honour of recently departed president John Evans Atta Mills. The competitors; neighbours New Edubiase United and Ashanti Gold SC.

Pre-Kick off formalities had a mixed auror of excitement and solemnity; the trophy arrived via an official motorcade, a little girl gave a touching rendition of nationalistic song ''Yen ara yasaase ni'' and there was a ceremonial kick off. Publicity wise, the financial motivation for both teams had been emphasized by their respective managements. The stage was set.

95 minutes later, The Honorable E.T  Mensah, the special Guest of honour, presented the trophy to Edubiase skipper Ibrahim Moro, whose powerful 50th minute free kick had been the decider. New Edubiase United, a team that only joined Ghana's top flight three seasons ago, had just won the competition with an impressive 100% record, without conceding a single goal.

It was something to be proud of, as CEO Abdul Salam Yakubu rightly pointed out ''When we started this project, I never stopped believing that we were going to be successful'' ''We were lucky we had a lot of motivation from our sponsors which helped,we also put in all we could to push our boys who were determined to do something significant for the club''. It was a dream culmination of three years of extreme hardwork. They had done it, and in record setting fashion.

''Our magic was determination and hardwork,” Coach Anthony Commey said after the game.“The boys have been very disciplined throughout the season and they really deserve this victory''. They had beaten BA Stars 3-0 in the round of 64, Yegoala FC 2-0 in the round of 32, Heart of Lions 2-0 in the round of 16, Danbot FC 3-0 in the Quarter Final and Wassaman FC 1-0 in the Semis. The final had been played at the Accra Sports Stadium, dozens of miles from Obuasi, around which the two clubs are based.

The attendance thus was very discouraging, but that did not take anything away from the joy and pride that characterized the aftermath, for the winning side.''We listened to our coach at half time, and his strategy of keeping the ball as our opponents were becoming physical. They got the red card, and it worked out perfectly'' Man of the Match Abdul Basit Adam said.

Edubiase, formed only in 2007, have just joined the elite group of relative new comers on the Ghanaian football landscape to upset the odds and play in Africa. And they did it without their star man Emmanuel Baffoe, who has since the close of last season left for South African Club Mamelodi Sundowns. Baffoe  top scored in the league with 21 goals, scoring almost 60 % of New Edubiase's (31) goals in the league as they finished 5th. That was how influential he was, so doing it without him was symbolic of the resiliance in moving forward.

Ash Gold on the other hand, were crestfallen, justifiably so. The victory not only meant the obvious prestige, but a handsome cash price of GHS 25 000 as well. Their management had also promised a doubled winning bonus(of 800 Ghana cedis per player).

That said, of course, there was always going to be the traditional ''The referee is to blame'' situation rearing up it's head in such a game of high stakes. Coach of losing side Ashanti Gold Yaw Acheampong expressed his disappointment in the performance of FIFA referee Joseph Lamptey on the day, saying “I usually don’t talk about  referees but the red card he gave(to Eric Opoku) was really bad. I am very happy with the performance of my boys but sometimes in football something small can happen to change the game.You could see that our opponents were not coming before, but after the red card they started coming in.''.

The reaction was normal, coming from a man who had just been denied a record of being the only man to win the FA Cup as both player and coach. Even further, he had just lost to a bitter derby rival, and lost the chance to compete in the relatively lucrative CAF Confederations Cup.

Last year's FA Cup Winners FC Narnia(owned by the legendary Abedi Pele), also then heavy under dogs, pulled out of competing in the Confederation's Cup in the last minute, giving the cliche excuse of ''financial constraints''. This landed them a heavy blow from CAF, in the form of a severe ban; something to serve as an authoritave deterrent to future champions who were also thinking of pulling a fast one.

Good news is, New Edubiase have declared they will honour the obligation of competing, as CEO Abdul Salam confirmed they believe they have the financial backing of Sponsors Sidalco to make it happen. ''We will compete in Africa, we are going all out''.

The football atmosphere in Ghana will benefit a great deal should they go into Africa and have a decent run. As it is now, most Ghanaian football fans have turned their back on the local game due to the inability of clubs to make an impact where it matters most; on the continental stage. It's been a long while since a Ghanaian club made huge strides outside Ghana. Ghana craves success. It craves a revival.

Ghanaians are anxiously waiting on them. Berekum Chelsea's ongoing exploits in the CAF Champions League has whetted the nation's appetite - they want more. More success stories. A revival of Ghana football.

Ghanaians hope New Edubiase do well. Efforts of massive support are in order.

As their famous motto says, ''Yenko nkoaa."(loosely translated to mean Let's only go forward).

Over to you, Edubiase.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Myth of Spending Big : Justified?

Transfers are an integral part of football. No doubt. But the outlook this phenomenon has assumed over the years is quite worrying.

Football's transfer fee figures have gone bonkers in recent years. Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer fee alone( £80M )can be used to buy eleven players to form a team. Who knows, if ever Messi gets to leave Barcelona, his would probably be able to buy a whole club.

Here's a trend I've observed: The common philosophy that has become entrenched amongst especially the top clubs in the world is ''the necessity to buy for the sake of competition''. This is has somehow also become intrinsically linked to spending big, more often than not, for the very sake of it.

The reality is that, buying a player who already has a 'name' and 'reputation'(in other words, 'big names') does not guarantee anything. It only comes with a high percentage of possible success/impact, but that percentage is not a 100. Therefore We are all aware of how certain players make high profile moves, and flop tragically, inflicting a loss upon the buying club. Off the top of my head, Ibrahimovic to Barca two seasons ago.

What does this say? For me, the deduction is resounding. Every transfer whatsoever is a fundamental gamble. You can buy an expensive who might either hit the ground running or not, likewise a 'cheap' player. So with this known, why do clubs prefer splashing the cash when there is an option which makes financial sense?

Why buy, say a 'big name striker' for £25M, when you can have a decent, probably younger goal scorer for about £5M. Why risk wasting money when there is a possibility of saving money/getting value for money? There are exceptional talented players dotted across Europe's neglected leagues who are hungry for success, hardworking, and eager to learn. Won't spending less on such players be better than spending on stars who are most probably egotistical and relatively lazy?

Over the years, there have been players who have proved to be immense signings even after being bought at ridiculously low prices. Infact, that is an unfair way to put it, those are bargains. Lets not even travel far back, Take Papisse Cisse for example, or Demba Ba, or, wait, Michu! How much were they bought for? All under £10M. Look at the impact they have had/are having on their clubs. You need not to be told honestly. .

Now, compare it with Andy Caroll, £35M, or Fernando Torress £50M, or Kaka at Madrid €60M. Have they have the full impact that should correspond to their fees? No. Get the picture? No guarantees. Gamble. See it now? I could go on and on.

And I have not even talked about club academies/reserves. Why would a club make such huge expenditures on the youth sides, if they will not give them a chance to ''replace'' outgoing signings? Yes, there is the risk of inexperience. Noted. But how would they get the experience if they are not given the chance? What shows they will ''mess up'' if given the chance? Is there not a possibility for an expensive in-coming signing to ''mess up'' as well? And oh, the academy structure does work. Ever heard of Messi? Iniesta? Xavi? Owen? McManaman? Fowler? Muellar? Schweinsteiger? Raul?

Every club wants to progress, and be competitive. They want to win trophies. They want to be successful. To do that, they need quality in their squads, quality in-depth. And so it is understandable for them, to be driven by their pursuit of success and the pressure of high expectations to buy players, big players. You want to purchase big players? You pay money, a lot of money. But realistically, will you always have the money to sustain such extravagance? In this era of chronic meltdowns and credit crunches? Is it more sensible, both financially and logically, to chose to spend money on something that does not give 100% guarantees in today's harsh financial atmosphere?

Whatever happened to scouting too? Whatever happened to scouting quality talents, paying less and giving them a platform? Does that not sense anymore? Because, in so doing, You'll pay less for quality and potential, and take minimal risks. Why? If they do succeed, you know you paid less, and so you get to reap financial profits. Makes perfect sense. Than to waste money on a purchase that could go wrong, thus risking financial loss.

Besides, there is also the part it plays in widening further, the gap between the 'big clubs' and the 'small clubs', compromising level playing field, etc etc. In that respect, it is unhealthy for football, whichever way you look at it.

Whilst it is true that spending does have it rewards(case in point - Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid etc), it is also important to know that it does not guarantee success. What can guarantee success is a squad characterized by hard work, hunger, desire, determination, perseverance mental strength et al in addition to the required quality across both the playing body and technical body. And oh, look at Barcelona, who have been devastating over the last few years. Did they have to adher to the 'big club peer pressure' to spend big?And this is a team that is arguably the greatest of all time.

If Barca, a huge club, engrossed in arguably football most heated political battles with Real Madrid, can achieve this amount of success by being prudent and making use of their academy, does that not say something? And this was a club that had been pressured into buying, buying and buying, just to match the galacticos of the arch rivals. All futile. Since I've mentioned Real Madrid, can I ask if he Galactico era lasted? How many years were they able to sustain their success? Were they as ruthless as Barca are now?
Football can exist without utterly ridiculous sums being paid for players in the name of 'getting at par competitvely with rivals' . We need to dispel the notion that this is 'necessary'. Clubs need to harness the potentials of their academies and scouting networks. The lame excuse given that there is no value for money in the transfer market is just that, an excuse, baseless excuse for that matter. Porto got Radamel Falcao Garcia from Riverplate for €3.93M and Lisandro Lopez for €2.3M from Racing Club de Avellaneda. The list is endless. Even more recently, Liverpool spent less than £3M on Morrocan Oussama Assaidi, a top top player in the Eridivise. Immaculate proof.

The short termism that motivates these expenditures must be substituted for long termism. This madness has got to stop somehow..

After all is said and done, football is football, and should remain as such, despite the increasingly worrying metamorphosis into an insensitive, illogically sophisticated business jungle.

In as much as this issue is clearly debatable, it is clear which side has more pros than cons.

We need to lay bare the misconception that you need to spend to be successful.

Success can also come through strategic prudence. Big names don't play football. Quality does, and quality can be acquired without profligacy in player transfer expenditure.

Fiifi Anaman.
@fiifianaman on twitter.

*This post first appeared on as ''Are Big Price tags justified in football?'', August 28,2012*

Monday, 27 August 2012

Living the Dream: The Story of Ghana's 'Chelsea'

The story the meteoric rise a small club from Ghana with a familiar name.

Parallel Stories?
In a poetic journey that culminated in Munich, Chelsea won their first UEFA Champions League title in this year. Roman Abramovic could not hide his joy. This was what he had always wanted, always worked towards. Years and years of money injection, player purchases, and manager sackings, had finally yielded result. The dream for him, and his club, was to conquer Europe and secure the long craved ''We've also won it!'' bragging rights for their fans. And he was living the reality version of that dream.

Somewhere in Africa, a club with a similar name, were also plotting a merger between dream and reality.

The CAF Champions League is Africa's own modest version of the prestigious UEFA Champions League. It is the highest level of competition for any African Football club. The prestige, the money, it's all in there. Elite traditional clubs with enormous reputations feature, year in year out. More often than not, the participants list totally dominated by teams who have lifted the trophy before. The expectations and intimidation is is raging.

When the group stage draw for the 2012 edition was made, there was an unfamiliar name in Group B. The group all pundits easily labelled ''the group of death''.

It had African Football powerhouse Ah Ahly, their arch rival and multiple winners Zamalek, and 2009 and 2010 back to back winners TP Mazembe. The surprising name that completed the pack? Berekum Chelsea FC. A small, small club from Ghana, with big, big ambitions.

Featuring at the level is every football administrator's dream. From that very hour, when that golden idea of creating a Football Club is formed, the dream draws out itself automatically, and later on, becomes the fuel for all efforts to progress. The chance to make that enviable progress from the bottom divisions to the Premier division is already a dream ginormous enough, but to get there, and win it, and further get the chance to represent a whole nation in the continent's flagship competition is something else. Remarkable is an understatement. That makes for a perfect journey, a beautifully rolled out fairy tale, more often against the odds. We all love such stories. It brings out a rare passionate sympathy out of every football fan.

How it all began 


Deep in the heart of football passionate Ghana, a team was only founded in 2000 by duo Emmanuel Kyeremeh and Obed Nana Nketia, with the original name Semereka FC (translated to mean If I had the opportunity to say[something]). Berekum is a suburb of the Brong Ahafo Region(like a province of state) of Ghana. Kyeremeh had been into football administration for many years, and felt driven by his passion to form a football team, and get the dream chance exercise his passion.

The team was reformed and renamed in 2004. The current name, Berekum Chelsea Football Club was inspired by it's name sake Chelsea Football Club in England, of which he and his partner are ardent fans. The club explains that the naming was also partly influenced by the boom in the popularity of Chelsea during that time in Ghana, due to the presence of Michael Essien in the team.

Kyeremeh, a seasoned business man himself, had always been inspired by Roman Abramovic and how he had pumped money into Chelsea and transformed them into world beaters. He had similar dreams for his new club, from the infant phase. He knew it would require heavy risks, finance-wise, effort- wise, all that. But he knew what he was in for. And he had the money to make it happen. Abramovic-esque.

Football is a game where traditional clubs wield entrenched reputations and statuses, making it difficult for new ones to attain an equal standing. Thus most business magnates with grand plans(intrinsically related to dreams, backed by abundant funds) buy teams, usually ones with the dormant potentials, as opposed to actually forming clubs. Starting from the ground up therefore is a rare process in contemporary football. Kyeremeh and his team were fully aware. The prospect of actually forming a club from he scratch and leading it to an ''established force to reckon with'' status, although a tall order, was also an exciting idea. .

More than just a club
Of course, they also had to build a tradition around their creation. That is the core value of club football. The tradition, culture, sense of pride, of belonging. Berekum Chelsea was formed in the surburb of Berekum in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. The people of Berekum are passionate about their football, as was evident in the large number of clubs in the area. The first squad of the club was made up of about 75% of indigenes of Berekum. Infact, both founders were natives of Berekum, and listed in their club vision :The main objective for the establishment of the club was to create jobs for the young footballers of Berekum and to promote football in the Brong Ahafo Region. The aim was to build a club that would would empower and put the region on the Ghana football map.

It was ideally, a good setting to develop a new club too, as they could play some positives off the football activity there. Some sections of football fans in Berekum, as they say, ''fell in love'' with the fresh air of newness and optimism of the side. This was a club starting out, and they could be pioneer supporters who would define it's tradition. They were availed the exciting opportunity of having a team to proudly call their own. Chelsea fit the bill perfectly, and exploited a win-win situation--because it gave them the opportunity to build a following, and forge a tradition.

The number of clubs in Berekum was a decent advantage, but also posed some demerits. Like the Ancient Ethiopians, Berekum Chelsea got wind of the idea that being being away in solitude would provide a productive atmosphere to develop their ethos. Thus, the owners of the side, somewhere along the line moved the club to a neighbouring community called Bechem, which had only one football team(Bechem FC), and would hopefully serve as a conducive atmosphere for the club to grow. In conformity with their new home, the team was renamed Bechem Chelsea FC.

The move made the club amass even more sympathizers, who morphed over time into full fledged supporters. By this time too, they had managed to develop a rivalry with traditional side Berekum Arsenal (yes, Ghana is that obsessed with the EPL too!). They were steadily creating a culture, tradition and reputation around their infant club.

Again, the club had to move back to Berekum from Bechem in 2010, after the original fans they aquired in Berekum called for the club to ''return to it's founding home''. This was partly due to the fact that the fans felt frustrated having to travel from Berekum to Bechem just to see their side in action. Upon their return to where it all began, the club was renamed Berekum Chelsea FC.

A Remarkable Journey
The footballing journey was long and hard. Through the lower leagues, the club's management kept faith, making financial sacrifices and turning their back on the idea of giving up. After years in the wilderness of the bottom leagues, they finally made a break through into the the second tier. The motivation heightened from then on, and before long, the team's on-the-pitch performances elevated them into the Division 1 league(quasi Championship), where they qualified from with ease into the middle league(quasi pay-offs), the final hurdle on the path to Ghana's top flight. After 2 wins and a draw, they finally made the breakthrough and became the newest members of the Ghana Premier League for the 2008/09 season.

The culmination was all so surreal, they had finally made it. After years and years of discouraging frustrations and hardships. Through a mountainous obstacle course, they clung on to their undying hope, and finally announced themselves on the Top Flight football scene in Ghana. Realistically, they had a tough first season, but they successfully juggled settling in and being competitive, eventually being rewarded with a deserved survival.

The second season was mixed, they had a lukewarm campaign. In a season in which new comers (Aduana Stars) won the league in their first attempt in the top flight (an unprecedented record), Chelsea felt they needed to upgrade their ambitions. Aduana's win had proved that any team could win the league, with the right preparation, attitude and focus.

Management took drastic steps, and restructured the administrative and technical structure. Coach Kwabena Amissah was sown the exit door, with a young vibrant manager Orlando Wellington brought in as his replacement. Kyeremeh's partner, Mr. Obed Nana Nketiah, came in to take charge as CEO. They made the right plans, and hired the right people. They wanted radical results.

Just a season later, they found themselves at the summit of their self actualization ambitions--They won the League.

Ghana's Darling Club
The club currently the country's sole representative in the CAF Champions League(As The Ghana Premier League Champions) are enjoying massive support in Ghana. The support they enjoy these days can be likened to that of what Ghanaians give when the National Footall Team--The Black Sars are playing. Yes, they are that loved. They have effected this auror of renaissance at the moment, arousing public interest in the local football scene even more.

In all fairness, their giant strides shown in some courageous and mesmerising attacking football displays has won over the hearts and as well as united the majority of Ghana football's fandom. This is at a time when Ghana's participation and performance in African Club football competition has been abysmal over the past few years.

The club made it through the preliminary qualifiers after 9 grueling encounters both at home and abroad. Currently in the group stage cum 'money zone', they are still in with a chance of making it through to thee Quarter Final, with 5 points from 4 games (highly impressive,considering they are overwhelming underdogs).

Like their mentors in London, the club is on a high. In years to come, they will, at this rate become a powerhouse in Ghana football and break the dominance of the duopoly that is Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. They even have on going projects that include a new state of the art stadium and a first-of-it's-kind club village in Berekum. Vision. Only a hand full of football clubs actually own stadiums in Ghana, not even Kotoko or Hearts.

Berekum Chelsea FC has grown from strength to strength as a football club. Chairman, co-owner and bank roller Emmanuel Kyeremeh couldn't have asked for more. After barely 12 years existence, they are already rubbing shoulders with African Football's finest.

Who knows, we might see Chelsea V Chelsea, protege v mentor, in the Club World Cup, in the near future, perhaps.

Fiifi Anaman

Thursday, 23 August 2012

''Work in Progress'' The LFC Status Quo.

Football's darling league returned to TV Screens on Saturday afternoon. We had all tried desperately over the summer to convince ourselves the Olympic football tournament was good enough to satisfy our intense craving for some quality exciting Premier League action. It was quality, and exciting alright, but it wasnt the premier league. We all had to pretend we were sad when Mexico beat Brazil at Wembley to claim gold to draw down the curtains down in London. But at the back of our minds, it was a heavy sigh of relief that reigned supreme. ''Thank Goodness! Finally! Now we can all have ourselves some EPL Drama at last!''. Yes, we're that hooked. Helplessly Addicted.

And then for Liverpool fans who had been particularly overly optimistic prior to Saturday--owing to an exciting new era--the charged anticipation quelled almost immediately and was forgotten after 90 minutes of excruciating frustration at the Hawthorns. West Brom (unexpectedly) thrashed Liverpool by 3 goals to nil. Well, 'thrashed' is actually harsh, as Liverpool had controlled the game for most parts, especially in the first half, with the Brendan Rodgers passing philosophy slightly showing signs of promise. But in the long run, a wonder strike by Hungarian Zoltan Gera, a penalty from Odemwingie and a far post header from 'Chelsea reject' Romelu Lukaku made sure Brendan Rodgers underwent the cliche ''Baptism of fire''. A red card to Agger and another Joe Cole hamstring episode somewhere in between made it all the worse.

The inevitable knee jerk reactions caught fire in earnest. Some sections of LFC passionate twitter folk were quick to launch spurious assertions that Brendan Rodgers ''cannot manage the club'' and should be sacked, blah blah. Yes, just after one game, ONE GAME. Ridiculous doesn't quite capture what these assertions are. You could forgive this impetuous show in the reactions as the expectations of fans had swelled massively in the run up to the game, with preseason having gone relatively well, and Rodgers preaching his tiki taka philosophy, convincing even the staunchest skeptics. High expectations have always been a sine qua non for disappointments and overreactions.

Truth is, the realists foresaw this 'early setback'. Reality checks this early our healthy, not abnormal. This loss will afford Rodgers the golden opportunity to assess his side's strengths and weaknesses in the real deal situation. It was clear throughout the game that Rodgers had emphasized ball possession with penetration at the expense of defensive organization, which cost the side. Being astute as he is, Im sure he noted it, literally, as he was seen jotting down some words in his mini note pad throughout the game. This I guess was one of numerous flaws in his side's disposition that he marked out for correction. Life for a topside in the Premier League in relation to the small sides is not all rosy and easy, and Brendan Rodgers learned the harsh way.

The status quo at Liverpool is delicate, as it's in an early stage of a highly sophisticated long term project. A project that will take time, ideally, to fall in place and come good. Expecting too much from an unfinished act is unfair. During these early stages, experimenting and failing is common, and requires immense patience from fans to sustain the effort to move on. Building a formidable side from a host of average squad players(with a few world class ones) is an onerous task. To worsen an already mountanous quandary, the new gaffer does not have the privilege of abundant transfer kitty his predecessor had, to bring in guaranteed quality. And then there's the difficult process of fully imparting a defined philosophy.

The auror of excitement that has enveloped this new era is in no way going to translate into a miraculously good campaign. The reality is that Liverpool has many pressing issues that will take time to solve. 39 year old Brendan Rodgers might be a brilliant trainer and tactician, but he sure is not a magician. Currently, it's fair to say he has not had a full squad with adequate depth and quality to work with.(case in point-the shallow depth on the bench). And even if he had(which I highly doubt), it would take time to achieve that fluidity and chemistry to hit the ground running. And all this is happening in arguably the world's most competitive league. Surely, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Let's not also forget the circumstances of the loss. West Brom were brilliant on the day. Former L4 assistant manager Steve Clarke took a very conservative approach and closed defensive gaps. Their counter attacking too was superb on the day. Despite this, at the risk of sounding like Im taking something away from their deserved victory, despite the resilience of West Brom(epitomized by the robust nature of Mulumbu and Fortune), it was clear that the scoreline wasn't entirely a reflection of what transpired. There was an unstoppable goal, and highly debatable penalty calls and a reduction to 10 men. But that is just to disprove the critics who did not even see the whole game and made quick judgements hinged on their stereotypical views about Liverpool of the last 3-4 years.

Despite the numerous other glaring negatives from the game(defensive disorganization, Gerrard rustiness, Downing's back tracking into anonymity, lack of purposeful cutting edge, a discouraging bench etc etc),there are, most definitely, some positives to pick from the fiasco. Joe Allen was thrown in at the deep end on his debut and put in an assured display. "I thought he was outstanding," Rodgers observed. "For a boy to walk into a new team and perform like that, I thought he was superb. His body work, passing and ability to get on the ball was excellent."

Overall, the side looked stable and comfortable before that wonderful Gera strike(which in opinion was not only against the run of play, but changed the course of the game as well)

From Rodgers to Gerrard to Allen down to Reina, the unanimous resolution is to put the disappointment behind, dust up, get up, and rise up to a tall order of a challenge against City. Easier said than done. But it is possible if the group work hard to improve. The key will surely be to draw inspiration from the positives, correct the negatives and develop a mental strength to recover early and soldier on. The Premier League's heavy tides does not allow for a loss of focus.

Whether or not Liverpool hit the right notes in this infant stage of this new era/ journey, will strongly depend on how well they fair in identifying mistakes and curbing them, early enough. Practice makes perfect, and practice requires patience, endurance and determination. The fans must make that painful sacrifice of lowering their expectations to beat down pressure on the team. The lesser the pressure, the more conducive the atmosphere for growth.

After all is said and done, it's a 38 game championship. Familiar Analogy: A marathon, not a sprint.

Fiifi Anaman.
Contact/ Follow me on twitter:  @fiifianaman

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Agger Saga. twitter wars, perspectives

We all have come to hate the transfer window. Wait a minute, we do love it too. So I guess it's the typical love-hate relationship module, more like an epitomy of the relationship between football and it's passionate fans. The mixture is surreal; we want to hear what we want to hear, and so any other thing that contradicts our personal wishes becomes a case, spawning hate attacks on news agencies and ''ITKS''(People claiming to be in the know regarding transfers), especially over twitter.

Especially from an Liverpool FC perspective(I'm a fan,and doing this piece because of the recent Agger meltdown on twitter),we hear Messi linked with LFC and with tell reality to f*ck off and bask in the absurd fantasy of entertaining the story. On the other hand, we hear Agger might leave, and then it's a whole new reaction of a high magnitude bitterness. Fans experience the inevitable heated opinion divide. The passionate (dare I say subjective) side that says ''We cant lose Agger, he is irreplaceable,'' and the realists lot who believe footballers in general, not only Agger per se, come and go. It's a business after all, of hurtful sacrifices for business purposes. In addition, it sometimes comes down to the small group of parties involved, Agger, his agent, Liverpool Football Club and the buyers. The fans sadly, dont count as a relevant party.

Sometimes, we need make that matured step of sidelining allegiances/loyalty for objectivity. Passion is beautiful and all, yes, no doubt, but the sine qua non of stability is painful objectivity and realism. That is how we are able to see the true picture, to understand the dynamics of the issue at hand and move forward. Thing is, every transfer window infused with a lot of bogus stories-which can get the average fan that thrives on only passion utterly discombobulated. In such a season of craziness,the football fan must be discerning. He must be able to reach that ultimate conclusion that no matter how credible a ''source'' is, no transfer is true until officially confirmed otherwise. Thus taking up a mere story and analyzing it seriously either from a condemnation or praise/excitement angle is not only premature and unecessary, but a waste of time and energy as well.

Of course, that is not to say stay ignorantly locked in the present without making any future projections to as they say ''stay ahead''. It is important to do so. It's dicey really. Here's the thing, if it must be done, it must be done in a way that ensures it's objective and devoid of passion. In short, it must not be corrupted by loyalty induced subjectivity. It must be realistic and empirical. You cant afford to invest emotions in such analysis. Thus for instance, saying Agger is ''irreplaceable'' is as impetuous as subjective. As in the long run, we all do know Agger is seriously injury prone, and that even though he is more often than not a key player, cashing in on him(20m+) from every logical angle is considerable. You get an absurd assessment when you let passion talk. You don't want that, really. That is not how things work.(That is not in anyway to say I believe that he's leaving or I want him sold)

Football is now a complex sport. It is still hard for fans to accept that though they virtually own their clubs through their support, the mantle of decision making is not theirs for exercise. Clubs are run by people, people who have been put there to make decisions. No matter how much a clubs fan base clamour for a dream signing for eg, there wouldn't be the slightest influence exerted on the decision makers. So, that said, if a club decides to sell a player, they will sell the player. The fans will in the long run have their efforts rendered cos 90. That is the harsh reality. Fans are supposed to be the engine of football, but sadly the exact border of their influence and functions have been blurred by the fans themselves through their countless expectations . But the influence actually ends there and then, with support. You cant make the decisions as well. Everyone has a part to play, and so another harsh truth is that it's only logical for administrators to make the decisons, and fans stick to supporting. After all is said and done, a true fan will not relinquish the pride of supporting his team because he disagreed with a particular transfer. Look at the bigger picture.

Twitter is the magical all-embracing forum, where it all happens. That is where people hide the mysterious obscurity behind their 'handles' and say whatever they want, to whoever they damn well please. Afterall, not everyone knows who you are, you're frustrated, and want to vent, so why not? Abusive language is quotidian on there, especially in the football circles. Fans are extremely protective and possessive of their clubs on there. There's tense auror of sensitivity regarding club support, as of course there is in the real world, only crazier. Give one strong opinion, and your mentions will be flooded by keyboard warriors, threatening to find you and kill you. Sounds funny now that I think about it.

It is quite sad how people are able to form concrete opinions from baseless rumours. Let me use the Liverpool case for jux apposition. Most fans over the past few days have become detemined to believe owners FSG are ''useless'' and have started throwing in all the ugly and bitter insults and credibility questionings. All because of anonymously fabricated twitter rumours(which is the hallmark of tranfer windows on twitter). Now regarding the Agger case for eg, some fans have made the wrong decision to be ignorant, judging the owners of being ''incompetent'' in selling an ''irreplaceable'' player. Clearly, those are opinions corrupted by(passion fueled) subjectivity and quick conclusions.

Thing is, nobody knows for a fact the player will even leave, and even if he does, Liverpool FC will not cease to exist, and FSG will not leave the club and handover management to fans. The more you look at the bigger picture, the more interesting it gets. From a birds eye view, it all seems like uninformed child's play. Fans acting spoiled, forcing their personal opinions on others and ridiculously taking things too personal by attacking ''ITKs'', even going to the embarassing extent of sending death threats. It all looks like sophisticated comedy, very laughable to the intelligent onlooker. But it is in many ways, grave.

Opinions are ubiquitous, and diverse. The trained mind knows how to respect them, even when grossly inappropriate/irrelevant. In the long run however, we find out that we stay fighting over opinion imposition while the relevant decisions are made by the people who actually matter. Thus fans will keep battling, ''hating'' on each other and their opinions busily, only to turn back and see FSG sell Agger or keep him. Either way, a decision would have been made, without the input of the lot busy battling. That is the reality. The fundamental thing here is, fans worry too much, heck, we talk too much. Most of the inappropriate acts, like insulting people who say something that does not tally with what we want to believe is just wrong. Why follow an ITK just so you can tell him how much of a 'liar' he is, or why curse at news agencies when they report something that you dont know for a fact is true or not? Just because you dont feel comfortable with it? (like it being true of false depends on what you want)

The fact is that, the large chunk of speculative info making rounds is just that;speculative. So hastily making extreme assessments without knowing for a fact it's credibility of falsehood makes one a victim of subjective thinking. Besides, I'm sure Jack Dorsey did not have in mind a forum of disagreements and chaos when he was creating twitter. It is supposed to be for fun, for interacting, agreeing to disagree. But alas, the (beautiful) game of football found it's way to the address, and settled there, with all it's widspread problems.

It is also worth mentioning that some of this 'madness' is inevitable, as long as passion rears up it's head in any situation. It is also an undeniable fact that fans run football clubs through their support and revenue injection. Which means club's are obliged in that respect to satisfy the needs, wishes and desires of fans. But that logical arrangement does not practically transcend the realm of ''Supposed to be''. It is stuck there, unfairly, in limbo, disconnected from it's intended 'destiny'. That is what it actually is. So in all, it is essential to note that it is possible to accept the unfortunate reality, and deal with it with the required attitude and effort.

Maybe fans should just withdraw their energy from all this hectic hullabaloo and channel it into something else-say, supporting? Maybe we should all admit the sad reality that nagging and brooding etc will not magically carry our personal wishes across to the administrators as influential factors. Maybe we could just be a little more logical than engaging in pointless bouts of twitter ''hatership'' and ''opinion imposition/discrimination''. Maybe, just maybe, we could actually do what we are naturally supposed to do, support our clubs ultimately, no mater what.

Fiifi Anaman.
Tuesday August 7, 2012
( You can follow me @fiifianaman on twitter for the best in Ghanaian and European Football news and opinion )