Wenger: Not so clever, boy!

Im writing this on the night Tottenham have dispatched Internazionale 3-0 in the first leg of their Last 16 match up of the Europa League at White Hart Lane. Inter were so outclassed it was shocking. Spurs play a fluent, passing game with a lot of mobility in their shape but Inter looked like QPR on saline. It’ll take a historic performance in the second leg in Italy for Inter to qualify for the Quarters but I think that’s beyond this team on current form.

Anyway, four days before running the rule over Inter, Spurs dominated Arsenal in the North London Derby, winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

They could have scored much more. Following which, of course, Arsene Wenger claimed that all Tottenham had done after gaining a 2-0 lead was “defend well”. Nice try but unbecoming of a club like Arsenal. It’s interesting, but it’s extraordinary how Arsenal seem to be harbouring the same delusions that Milan did for the past 4-5 seasons, vainly claiming the club was good enough to challenge for trophies when it was clearly regressing.

On March 6, I wrote a piece on the Arsenal capitulation, and what it could mean for their future. It’s come out well. One of the rare recent instances in which I was kinda “alright'” with what I wrote.

Here:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64373/epl-arsenal-in-freefall.html

The only glitch was that they failed to add the hyperlink I’d sent them to add in the 5th para. I mean it’s alright if people know Spurs are also known as ‘Lillywhites’ but the hyperlink was for those who didn’t. Anyway, I was promised it would be corrected, but it’s all helium so far.

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A Beautiful Offer

The GRE’s over and Im midway through this admissions process. Did surprisingly well in GRE, and was over the moon with my marks till I discovered all scores are calculated only between 130 and 170. That was quite a blow. I was sitting in front of the comp after my GRE test like Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Rocket Singh’, staring at the figures that had come up showing my unofficial score. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I’d scored more than 90% in Verbal and about 85% in Quantitative.

Later, of course, I came to know how exactly these guys scored GRE and was brought back down to earth.

In the meanwhile, I wrote these blogs on Ibnlive.in.com. Football helps me keep my sanity, with its fascinating tactical theories of how space is used. As if to prove the point, I lost my copy of Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics’  and have been trying to forgive myself ever since.

Here we go, starting with the most recent blog and then working backwards.

1) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64334/serie-a-fiorentina-spice-up-italian-topflight.html

Vincenzo Montella’s team were fabulous against Inter, who looked out of depth and out of breath. They were probably exhausted by their Europa League match, but a big club can’t be citing fatigue as an excuse. Fiorentina’s fluid attacking shape, if in form, can trouble even the best teams, and Inter at the moment are not one of those.

2) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64301/steven-gerrard-still-pushing-boundaries-at-32.html

Gerrard has been playing deeper as he’s gotten older, probably taking a leaf out of Roy Keane’s book, but has not lost much of his influence of old. If Brendan Rodgers is to create a legacy of any worth at Liverpool, he needs his captain to be on the same page and he does seem convinced.

3) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64187/epl-robin-van-persie-leads-the-line-for-united.html

Van Persie’s already been compared to Cantona in terms of the influence he has had on United ever since he joined them. As of today, United are 15 points — 15 — clear at the top of the EPL. Much of that is down to Van Persie. Roberto Mancini, otherwise a decent man, has whined this season that his club did not adequately strengthen themselves in the summer and has cited that as the  reason behind a lacklustre season after City won the title last year. But Im only reminded of Brian Clough, who won the old First Division — twice — with teams he had led to promotion from Division Two, Derby County and Nottingham Forrest. Different times, yes, but somehow you’d think Mancini had a better excuse.

4) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64138/epl-united-silence-noisy-neighbours-but-city-still-in-this-fight.html

Highly charged match, with United leaving with the honours. I hate doing ‘I told you so’ but I did in fact say the effect of this loss on City could be more psychological. And so it seems.

Pick a Number.

Preparing for the GRE when you’ve been out of the loop for 10 years in mathematics is enough to make a grown man wince. At 27, I wince every day nowadays.

What on earth is the connection between journalism (the normal see stuff, observe stuff, reflect stuff, write stuff genre and not the astrophysics and gene mutation genre) and mathematics? Mathematics? As Thompson would ask, what in the name of crippled, half-mad jesus are they trying to pull?!

“That’s it,” I told my mom a couple of days ago. “Im not giving the GRE. What’s the connection between journalism and maths? It makes no sense”. I threw my mobile down and sat on the cot.

My mom is a chemistry major — no, wait — but she’s also my mom, so she understood. However, I’ve been banging my head against maths for a month now and she said I might as well give it a go.

So Im gonna give it a go, one-hard-spank-in-the-ass and that’s it.

In other news, here are two other articles I managed to push through for IBNlive.in.com. I had to blank it in one of the intervening weeks due to the ridiculous power outages in Tamil Nadu, thanks to dear old lady J. As Dame M would say, “you got a bloody cheek”. She can say that.

1) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64098/serie-a-capricious-milan-roll-over-mighty-juve.html

That went up today, and it was a fantastic match. Milan had looked lost as recently as two weeks ago, but they’ve started showing encouraging signs since the 2-2 draw with Napoli on Nov 17. Ricardo Montolivo has finally been handed the opportunity to play for a big club and he’s come of age this season, emerging as one of the real leaders of a still-evolving Milan. El Sharaawy, who has 12 goals already this season, didn’t score against Juve but his energy seemed to translate to the entire team. I still can’t believe he had scored only 4 top-flight goals before the start of this season.

2)  http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64080/la-liga-atletico-madrid-gatecrash-realbarca-party.html

This was a tribute to Atletico’s brilliant start to the season, in which they trail Barcelona by just three points. Falcao’s certainly the headboy of this team but they also got some serious talent like Arda Turan, Raul Garcia and Diego Costa. Add to that a coach that doesn’t seem to have a price, they’re certainly on to something.

Outage and Outrage

Tamil Nadu, one of India’s most industrialized states, has been suffering power cuts of 16 to 18 hours a day lately. By ‘lately’, I mean the past couple of weeks. This is inexcusable, and a similar callous government in the West would have been sued by now. This is a State — with a population of over 70 million — that suffered no power outage between 1987 to 2007, save for the weekly shut-down that was enforced to carry out maintenance work. Adding to the outrage among citizens here, Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, loses power only 2 hours a day. I mean, I know it’s the capital but this is grossly disproportionate and unfair. It’s even illegal, harming our fundamental rights. As things stand, the present government in Tamil Nadu is busy blaming the previous regime in the State and the Central government of India (we have a federal set up) for this almighty mess.

All of which makes watching a game of football, writing your blog or even taking a long, warm bath impossible. I can’t even watch Seinfeld. Yesterday, I read to my mom funny anecdotes from Reader’s Digest. It was fun, but the rate the power is failing on us I’ll run out of jokes soon. It’s a vicious thing wiling away your time cussing and bitching about your government. After a while, the rage and indignation fade away, replaced by resignation and negativity.

Anyway, I did manage to string along a couple of articles for IBNlive.in.com, and I have no idea how Im gonna turn in the one Im due tomorrow.  They’re killing Independent Arun!

1)The most recent article, on Nov 5:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64042/rudderless-arsenal-exposed-by-clinical-united.html

It wasn’t a dramatic game, but the fascination lay with Wayne Rooney’s tactical evolution. As I’ve said in the article, he was everywhere. If United keep up this momentum and rate of scoring (Ferguson has targeted 100 league goals this season after 29 in their first 11 matches), they’ll be very, very hard to stop.

2) The previous article on Oct 29:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64020/epl-david-moyes-brings-new-steel-to-everton.html

For the first time in many a meeting with their illustrious cross-town rivals, Everton looked confident and self-assured. The dramatic fall in quality in Liverpool’s line-up over the years also had something to do with it, but David Moyes would tell you it was more of a “mental thing”. Kevin Mirallas was outstanding on the left flank for Everton, and would surely have been Man of the Match had he not be injured just before half-time.

And Luis Suarez. What an utterly compelling whacko.

The guy’s still a cheating bastard, but seems to be one of those who’s at his best when goaded by the opposition.  He was brilliant against Everton. If only he could stop diving and winding people up — but you would’ve lost a matchwinner then.

I was with Two Italians, One Argentine, One Portuguese

Hey ya! Here’s the next batch of my blog posts on IBNlive.co.in.

1) I’ll start with the most recent post, and proceed backwards. It was published on Oct 23, focusing on Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea’s Italian hotshot who guided the club to its maiden European Cup win last season and has inspired an unbeaten start to the new EPL season.

Link: http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64007/epl-an-unlikely-saviour-rejuvenates-chelsea.html

2) The previous  post was published on Oct 8. Due to club football being suspended during the international break for World Cup qualification, I had to give the blog the slip for a weekend ending Oct 13th.

The blog was on the eagerly expected El Clasico face-off between Barcelona and Real Madrid. In a memorable match, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two totems of present-day football, scored twice each to claim a 2-2 draw.

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63970/el-clasico-messi-and-ronaldo-bring-out-the-best-in-each-other.html

3) The final entry, published on Oct 2, was about Juventus’ unbeaten start to the Serie A season. The Turin giants have picked up where they left off last season, which they finished unbeaten, and are now three points clear at the top of the table with 8 games played.

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63945/serie-a-unbeaten-juventus-aim-to-keep-flag-flying.html

 

I’ll add my next blog in a couple of days, as soon as it’s up and running! Thanks for reading 🙂

What I Wrote About When I Was Not Writing

And, we’re back — not that I ever stopped writing.

In the days leading up to my last post on this blog (‘The Power of Rajinikanth’), I wangled a deal, thanks to good friend Sattwik Biswal, to write for the website of CNN-IBN, one of India’s leading English news channels. I’d write on football and tennis, thanks to my record as a sports journalist and experience in covering both sports. I’d have loved to write on cricket too, considering I’ve covered international cricket tournaments, but in India it’s better to be a sportswriter willing to write on cricket and being turned down than the other way around, believe me. There are just too many writing on cricket in India.

Anyway, as luck would have it, Andy Roddick had announced he would retire from the sport when his 2012 US Open campaign came to an end. He lost in the fourth round to Juan Martin Del Potro in four sets,  and on Sept 7, I wrote a tribute on the IBN blog:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63877/andy-roddick-carried-usa-hopes-admirably.html

(They’ve got a fancy banner in the blog with my pic on it, and Im desperately searching for a better pic. Taking a presentable photo of yourself  on your own has to be up there with reviving Mel Gibson’s acting career.)

The piece had come out kind of alrighty, though I told myself later that it had a rushed feel to it and I could’ve done much better in a calmer state of mind.

The following two weeks saw me write on Italian and English Football, both of which impressed the editor.

A write-up on the tribulations of AC Milan this season (Sept 17):

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63909/champions-league-ac-milan-in-battle-to-reclaim-lost-glory.html

My latest article, a piece on Arsenal’s unbeaten season to the English Premier League season (Sept 25):

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/63929/epl-arsenal-start-to-dream.html

Watching the Spanish League at Indian hours, with matches kicking off at 1 am and even later, is inhuman. But Im a night person and making notes while catching the matches means Im seldom passive, and by extension, bored. And the commentary is excellent — restrained and insightful.

The Power Of Rajinikanth

Superstar: Rajinikanth’s Star Power Is Jaw-dropping

I had failed to make a train reservation. It was the festive season and college would not reopen till a week later. I had no idea how to make a Tatkal booking online and I shuddered at the thought of rising early — around 4 am — to make the quick walk across the road from our college to the railway station and make the booking in person if I was to have a chance of landing a train berth.

So I decided to take the bus home. Long-distance travel by bus in Tamil Nadu is a fascinating, if exacting, experience. I’m not referring to the air-conditioned, heavy suspension buses that have sleeper ‘births’ similar to the ones in trains. I’m talking about the lean, metal-jangling beasts of the road with clattering windows and minuscule baggage racks. They usually have fellow passengers who doze off with old Illayaraja songs blaring from the mobiles in their shirt pockets (few carry earphones).

Some wonder if you could lend the magazine on your lap, if you’re not reading it.

These buses are a paradox. They are incredibly cramped, yet remarkably airy. If you can find a seat by the window, you’ll have the luxury of going to sleep with the moon shining down on you. You can see small towns become bigger and bigger as you near them and then vanish back into obscurity.

The tera-bad suspensions will wreak havoc on your sleep, but you can make plans.

Travel, in my opinion, is the best time to make plans. They turn out to be more optimistic if you’re seated by the window, as if the certainty of progress outside — non-negotiable, and only in one direction, forward — makes you upbeat over how you will fare in your own plans.

But traveling in these buses is by no means a simple point-to-point affair.

The vehicle would not have crossed the city limits when the first voice of concern is raised. “Yen Saar, padam podaliya?” (‘Sir, aren’t you screening a movie yet?’)

Any frequent patron of these long-distance buses will tell you that more often than not, the movies screened in the TV sets installed in these vehicles are crass offerings with an overload of violence and machismo. To listen to the speakers installed somewhere in the middle of the bus, you’d think someone was roasting corn in the background. The volume would suddenly surge during the middle of a conversation in the movie, then drop off as impulsively.

Frequent travelers like me have grown to stay unperturbed by such intrusions. We have learned to repudiate them by pretending they do not exist, even as we try to align ourselves to the rickety rhythm of our ride and fall asleep. A staple feature of most of these rides is the screening of back-to-back movies. The first movie would scarcely have ended and the ears would have just started to recuperate when the second would start. It was during one of those ‘second’ shows that I realised the magnetic effect Rajinikanth has on Tamilians.

It was well past midnight when they screened ‘Baasha,’ the second movie of the journey. ‘Baasha,’ a flick about a common man turning a dreaded don after another don kills his close friend, is agreed to have been the movie that catapulted Rajinikanth to superstardom from mere stardom. After ‘Baasha,’ Rajini pulled away into a rarefied space of stratospheric wage, expectations and pulling power. Today, his status is only getting bigger — he’s the highest paid actor in India now — 17 years after Baasha’s release in 1995.

When I was making this trip home, it had been 8 or 9 years since Baasha’s release. The film is one of the most frequently telecast on cable TV, and Rajini had starred in a handful of movies since then. However, I was curious how many were still interested in watching the film. Only a few were braving sleep and watching, with the rest content to give the flick a miss this time around.

Or so I thought. A celebrated scene in the movie has an enraged Rajini, now reformed and in disguise as an autorickshaw driver, escorting his sister to meet a minister who had demanded that she sleep with him in order to get admission to medical school. Instructing his sister to wait outside the minister’s room as he talks to the minister, Rajini reveals his bloodstained past with remarkable sang froid, a nonchalant smile playing on his lips.

(A link to the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-XicHO7ETw)
(Watch from 2.00 minutes)

We don’t get to actually hear what Rajini tells the minister, and the affair is seen only from behind a closed door. As Rajini recounts his trigger-happy days, the look of terror brought about in the minister by the revelations is what makes this scene terrific. The music director of the movie has nicked Brad Fiedel’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ theme to use in this scene, as in many other important moments in ‘Baasha’. But that should not detract from the fact that the scene remains one of the most iconic in Tamil cinema.

I knew how popular the scene was among Tamilians, so when it was about to begin, I was curious if anyone would actually wake up from sleep to watch it. I was about to turn around to check when,

Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack.

Practically half the passengers in the bus were releasing the hatches of their push-back seats and sitting back upright, shaking off sleep, eyes still bleary.

They wanted to watch.

It was almost 3 am.

It was extraordinary. People waking themselves from sleep — which can be hard to earn on a bus like this — to catch a minute of a flick they might have seen hundreds of times.

It was then I understood, the pull Rajinikanth has on the ordinary Tamilian. That’s the best illustration of star power I have ever seen, including the ones in all those movies.