How Arsene Wenger lost his way, and the Arsenal fans

After 22 years in charge Arsene Wenger is to leave Arsenal at the end of the season - can he leave on a high with a Europa Cup win?
Updated 21 April 2018
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How Arsene Wenger lost his way, and the Arsenal fans

  • Arsene Wenger had "carried on as normal" despite new arrivals behind the scenes.
  • Arsenal have not won a single league point away from home this year.

As the news broke just before 
10am on Friday morning, Arsenal fans suddenly felt able to relive the glory years under Arsene Wenger. Previous apathy could give way to a warm wash of nostalgia and the anticipation that change can bring.   
The Arsenal years from 1996 to 2006 were a time of pulsating football and heart-stopping excitement. And the contrast could hardly have been greater to what had become of the club. With little riding on it, today’s London derby with West Ham was set to be played in front of an Emirates Stadium pockmarked with great swathes of empty seats. But now, with three home games left for Arsenal this season, the stage is instead set for what chief executive Ivan Gazidis on Friday described as “the send off he deserves.”
While Sir Alex Ferguson, his great rival from Manchester United and now retired for five years, got to write his own epitaph with a final, 13th Premier League title, Wenger hung on far too long and leaves at the lowest ebb of 22 years as manager of Arsenal. 
Arsenal are all but guaranteed to finish the season sixth in the Premier League table, their worst in 23 years. They have forged on in the Europa League but news of pulling Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the semifinal draw was greeted with a pessimistic gloom now converted into the hope that Wenger signs off with the European trophy missing from his curriculum vitae. 
Something had to give. Arsenal have not collected a single league point away from home in 2018, the worst record of any club in the top five divisions of English professional football. And those empty Emirates seats attested to a fanbase that had found something better to do. 
Gate money was still rolling in, since almost every seat is tied to a season ticket, but there were concerns within the club that the waiting list for those tickets, previously as long as 10 years, had shrunk. A once buoyant resale market for individual matches was barren.
Wenger’s abdication was a shock but not surprising. Behind the scenes, the organization’s tectonic plates had been shifting, with an influx of new executives working around the previously omnipotent Wenger. Ex-Borussia Dortmund chief scout Sven Misilintat and former Barcelona negotiator Raul Sanllehi came into the fold, while Josh Kroenke, son of American majority owner Stan Kroenke, has been spending time in London.  
The word, though, from a source close to the club, is that such arrivals had not prevented Wenger from attempting to carry on regardless. Eventually, matters came to a head and once Wenger was informed that Kroenke and Gazidis had decided his contract, with a year left to run, would be terminated it was agreed his departure would be stage-managed as a long goodbye that paid tribute to his historic achievements in North London. Misilintat and Sanllehi can now begin to properly prepare for a future beyond Wenger.
They and whomever the new Arsenal manager might be have a considerable rebuilding job, with many cobwebs to clear. At least Arsenal have started to spend big, having previously been hamstrung by repayments on building the Emirates, opened in 2006. 
In January, Mesut Ozil signed a new contract worth £350,000 ($490,000) a week and strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette cost a combined transfer outlay of around £100 million. Such expenditure, though, has brought no improvement to a team with great, aching deficiencies in midfield and defense. In this season’s Premier League, Arsenal have lost touch with their peers in English football’s top six. 
Off the pitch, further modernizsation is required. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire sees Wenger’s later years as a litany of missed opportunities. “Look at their commercial brand compared to Manchester United and Liverpool,” he told Arab News. “Arsenal should be the premier club in London but they have let Spurs and Chelsea catch up.”
Maguire thinks Wenger, historically resistant to lucrative pre-season tours from which clubs pull in multimillion pound deals and endorsements even if in recent years he had agreed to Far East junkets, had hampered Arsenal’s bottom line. “It helps when the manager is as big as your best player. What we have seen with (Liverpool manager) Jurgen Klopp and (Manchester City manager) Pep Guardiola is that they can expand the number of sponsors. Klopp is a fantastic ambassador.” 
And meanwhile, fans like Tim Stillman, who has not missed a home game for 19 years or an away match for 16, have the change they waited for. “Even if the next thing after Wenger is a failure then at least it’s something else,” he says. “At the moment, it feels like Arsenal has been cryogenically frozen.”
Arsenal, and the fans’ regard for their club’s greatest ever manager, can now thaw out.


Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

Updated 16 February 2019
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Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

  • Descendants of Indian immigrants carry banner for Uruguay in the cricket field

MONTEVIDEO: Every Sunday, close to a statue of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a group of Indian ex-pats take over a patch of land in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo for a game of cricket.
Tucked in between the Rio de la Plata estuary and the long promenade known as the “rambla” that stretches from one side of Montevideo to the other, Avijit Mukherjee prepares to bat, watched eagerly by his Uruguayan girlfriend.
“I played in my country but with a lot more infrastructure,” said the 28-year-old Mukherjee, whose girlfriend Veronica is the main reason he has stayed in Uruguay.
“There are stadiums and many places to play in India, whereas here we only have one.”
Although cricket was first played in Montevideo by British expat workers even before the foundation of the independent republic in 1828, its practice died out in the 1980s.
But following an influx of Indian immigrants to Uruguay at the turn of the century, cricket steadily returned to Montevideo.
First there were one-off matches. Then, the players organized their own league and even set up a Uruguayan national team.
At the end of last year, Uruguay, whose team was made up almost entirely of Indian expats, finished second in the South American championships in Colombia.
While the cricketers are now established on their little patch of land, their initial appearance was not entirely welcomed by local footballers playing on an adjacent pitch.
“We came like spiders and rebuked them,” recalls Daniel Mosco, a local resident who has been playing football in that field for 30 years.
The issue was quickly resolved, though, and the cricketers agreed to start playing only once the football matches had finished.
With no fixed cricket markings, players use flour to draw white lines.
Now, bat can be heard crashing against ball until sunset.
Even though they’ve been here for years, the shouts of “howzat!” and “wait on” still elicit glances from locals making their way along the rambla.
They make a curious spectacle for people little accustomed with either cricket or India.
Mosco, for one, was surprised that the players speak to each other in English.
And there’s another surprise in the form of 29-year-old doctor Saied Muhammad Asif Raza: he’s from Pakistan.
“Between the governments and in (professional) cricket there are always problems, but the people get on really well and within the team the are no problems whatsoever,” said Asif.
He left his home town of Multan, 10 hours from Islamabad, at 19 and moved to Cuba thanks to a Fidel Castro scholarship.
After returning home, he found he couldn’t readapt to his own culture.
“I didn’t come here to find a better life economically, I had a better life in my country because in my family we didn’t lack for anything,” said Asif.
“The thing is that when you live many years away, nowhere is home, and cricket brings me close to it.”
Although now at home on their small patch, finding something more permanent is crucial to Montevideo’s cricketers.
“We’re looking for a permanent ground,” Beerbal Maniyattukudy, the Uruguayan cricket association’s secretary, told AFP.
“We have 120 players this year. On top of that we’re starting some women’s teams and for now we have 20 people interested. We also have plans for an under-15s league.”
The solution may lie with Uruguay’s most popular football team: Penarol.
Penarol started life as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club (CURCC), founded by British railway workers in 1891.
It was a multisport club — but just over 20 years later, its football section broke off and was absorbed by a newly created team, Penarol.
The original club’s cricket section disappeared as football became the main focus — but it was relaunched a week ago.
And crucially, Penarol are planning to build a cricket pitch an hour outside Montevideo.
“When we raised the idea of cricket, there wasn’t much to sort out; everyone was aware of what it meant to the history of the club, we just needed to work out how to make it happen,” said Leonardo Vinas, who is heading up the project.
While many club members signed up to be involved, very few have ever played cricket.
Vinas says the project will take time, not just to spread interest in the sport, but also for the club’s staff to get their heads around the rules of the game.
“Even now, we’re still not clear about certain rules.”