Category Archives: fiction

Zinchenko reaches out to Mudryk…

Mykhailo felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Looking to the screen, he saw “Olek” and answered quickly. “Zinny!” he exclaimed. “You are ready for this match tomorrow, yes?”

“I am, Mykhailo. The question is, are you?”

There was a long sigh followed by several seconds of silence. Zinchenko started to wonder if Mudryk had hung up. “Misha, are you there?”

Continue reading

A chance encounter between Shawcross and Ramsey

Ryan and a few mates were sittin’ at Delilah’s, having a pint or two, trying to relax, when Ryan’s eyes widened over the lip of his glass and saw him. Him. The man who very nearly ruined his carer. What was he doing here, in Delilah’s, for crissakes? Ryan could feel the rage boiling up in him, threatening to erupt. For almost four years, Ryan had simmered and fumed, and now, here was his chance to confront his tormentor, the man who had cast himself as a victim and made Ryan into a schoolyard bully, a monster, an orc. Well, it was time to set things right. With a look of grim determination, Ryan finished his pint and slammed it down on the bar with an immediacy that silenced those around him. This was a moment he had waited for since the 27th of February, 2010…

Wiping his lip with the back of his hand, he strode purposefully over to Aaron.

“Hey. You.”
Aaron turned around, expecting a fan or autograph-seeker. His smiled faded immediately, replaced with a grim stare. The muscles in his jaw flexed. Around them an awed hush grew as patrons, some wide-eyed with shock, others steely-eyed in enmity, took in the scene.
“Why are you here?”

“Well, we’ll be playing you on Saturday, so…”
“No. I mean, here. Delilah’s.”
“Hm? No reason in particular. Just needed somewhere to, you know, kick back and relax.”
Ryan looked away as if searching the walls for what to say next. “Why’d you have to go and do it?”
Aaron, who was peering innocently at the ceiling, shot Ryan a look that could bore through steel. “Do what, exactly?”
“The finger. The shushing our fans when you scored. Back in September.”
“Oh, that. I thought you meant—but, no, you’d never refer to, well, you know. Having the bad manners to get hurt on your precious pitch?”
“No, no. Aaron, I meant the celebration. Couldn’t you just let it go? It’s been four years. Four years, almost to the day, of agony and misery. Don’t you know how much I’ve suffered since that day?”
“You? Suffered? Do you even know what you sound—oh, excuse me, I’m getting a text. You know how vitally important texts are, don’t you, Ryan? Only the most important messages come via text. Let’s see—ah, yes. My point exactly. See this, Ryan? Here’s a text that says “sry m8. BFFNMW?”
Ryan looked confused, then vexed. “Aaron, that’s my—I was trying to apologize.”
“With a text message? A text, Ryan? You broke my leg. In two places! Where were you when you texted me? Takin’ the piss or just havin’ one?”
“Aaron, they wouldn’t let me see you? I tried and I tried and—”
“Not hard enough, ‘mate.’ You up and switched countries rather than face me. How’s that working out for you? How many caps do you have? One? Two? Must be grand ridin’ the bench behind Terry and Cahill and all the others.”
“Aaron, I didn’t decided to represent England because of all this…it’s more than that. I wasn’t avoiding you. It’s…that’s beside the point. I wanted to come and apologize, but it’s hard to find the words.”
“Wait, Aaron. Listen.”
“To what?” Aaron checked his watch.
“I want to explain.”
“Not much to explain, Ryan. You broke my leg in two places. Your fans booed me as I was stretchered off. They still boo me. Why? Is it my fault my bones aren’t made of steel? My fault that you broke my god-damned leg? Ryan, have you seen the angle that my ankle was hanging at? Have you watched the video?”
Ryan, staring at the floor, muttered to himself.
Aaron’s eyes popped out and the spit flew from his lips. “What? WHAT??? What did you just say?”
Ryan looked up. I said, “every day.”
“What do you mean, ‘every day’? What’s that mean?”
“Aaron, I watch the clip every day.”
“What? Why would you…” Aaron recoiled as the disgust overwhelmed him. “That’s vile, Ryan. What, do you get off on that? Is it like porn for you or something?”
“Then why the f—”
“Because, Aaron. Because I don’t want to ever forget what I did. I was young. I was stupid. Coach was always going on about Arsenal being sissies and all, and if we just knocked you guys around, we’d win. He was always saying to get rough, you know? Get inside your heads. I was just—”
“Rough’s one thing, Ryan. Breaking bones is something else entirely.”
“I never meant to hurt you, Rambo, I—”
“Don’t call me Rambo.”
“Okay. Sorry. What I mean is—”
“Oh, so you do know how to say it.”
“Aaron, slow down. C’mon. I’m trying to say it. Coach always wanted us to be tough. My da, he never let me be weak. ‘Never let ’em see you soft, boy’ he’d say. I—I was just doin’ what they wanted.”
“So what?”
“So I wasn’t bein’ dirty. Honest. Just rough. When I went in for the ball—”
“You weren’t going for the ball.”
“I was, I swear. Aaron, you gotta believe me. It was an accident and I can never forgive myself even if you did forgive me.”
Aaron glared. “I don’t know if I can forgive someone who’s never apologized to my face.”
Ryan froze, the words he was prepared to say no longer quite fitting the moment. He blinked. Somewhere, of course, because it just has to at times like this, a forked clattered to the ground.
Aaron waited. Ryan swallowed. With difficulty.
“I…I’m sorry, Aaron.”

I offer that little bit in hopes of finding some kind of piece with the horror that was Shawcross’s tackle, if only for myself. As to Shawcross and Ramsey, I don’t know when this issue will be resolved. It’s up to the two men to settle this. I doubt we’ll see any kind of resolution before Saturday’s trip to Brittania. Even if the two were to schedule a press-conference and rent out billboards all around the stadium to announce that Shawcross had apologized and Ramsey had accepted, each club’s fanbase has sections or elements that may never be mollified. From where I stand, for what it’s worth, I don’t think Shawcross meant to injure Ramsey, something I mentioned here, and I certainly believe that he didn’t intend on breaking bones. However, playing rough dramatically increases the chances that injuries will occur, and it also fuels the perception that the injuries that do occur are intentional. I’d love to see or hear that the two men have resolved this. It’s all become a little too macabre for me, with fans on each side wishing harm on each other.

One of the whole points of sports is to allow societies and cultures to settle their differences without actually hurting or killing each other, after all. It’s ironic then to see football revert back to primeval states in which we’re back to injuring each other in the name of sports.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Mesut Özil unveiling, circa 2031

Mesut Özil has gone down in history as one of the Club’s greatest players of all time, having delivered a club-record 129 assists from 417 appearances over ten trophy-laden seasons with Arsenal.

After joining from Real Madrid in September 2013, Özil, then 25, made his Gunners debut in the fourth match of the 2013-14 season—a 3-1 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on 14 September 2013. Only 11 minutes into the game, Özil tallied his first assist as a Gunner, collecting a pass along the left flank and slid a pass through the penalty-area for teammate Olivier Giroud to slot home. The assist ratcheted up expectations around the new player to unreasonable levels, especially for a fan-base starved for silverware and weary of player-departures.

His first competitive goal for the Club came eight minutes into his fifth game—a well-struck if languid one -touch volley from just inside the area in a 2-0 Champions League group-stage win over Napoli on 1 October 2013. He also turned provided on the second goal, dribbling along the end-line before flicking into the box for Giroud to put it home.

In all, Özil finished with 15 assists and 8 goals in his debut season from 43 games—including 14 assists and five goals in 30 league games—leading the team in assists for the season.

This was just the beginning of an illustrious career that saw Özil register double-digit assists in each of his ten seasons with the club, including a high of 21 in 2014-15, which surpassed club legend Dennis Bergkamp’s 20 in 1997-98.

On average, Özil played 41.7 games and 12.9 assists per season for Arsenal. He started 337 of his 417 games and appeared in five different competitions. During his ten-year career, he won nine major honors (two league titles, four FA Cups, and three Charity Shields) and a host of individual awards. Chief among these were the Football Writers’ Association and Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year Award in 2015.

His arrival signaled a daring change in manager Arsène Wenger’s approach to the transfer-window. Previously known for excessive caution in signing new players, Wenger’s signing of Özil for a sum of some £42.5m nearly tripled the manager’s previous transfer-fee record paid out for Andrei Arshavin. After a series of seasons marked by high-profile departures and a mixture of mid-level signings, Özil heralded the arrival, not just of a new financial approach, but of a more incisive, aggressive style.

Of course, the early days seemed to stumble from the early moments of promise. After registering three goals and four assists in his first seven appearances for the club, Özil added a solitary assist over his next eight appearances. Another flurry of two goals and four assists in six appearances assuaged fears within the club but did nothing to dissaude tabloid-media from branding the player “Ö-verrated”, a label that stuck and stung all the more when Özil could only add two assists to his total over the next thirteen matches. His inaugural season may have hit its nadir in an 0-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the first round of the Champions League knockout-round when his tame penalty-kick was saved, denying the club a chance to seize an early lead. How wrong they were. After resting the following match, Özil chastened his critics with two assists in a 4-0 demolition of Stoke in which he assisted two goals. He never looked back, assisting in five of Arsenal’s last ten games of the season while adding three more goals.

Numbers, of course, can only tell the story, especially for a player who was just as good at unlocking a defense with an intelligent run to pull defenders out of position as he was at placing a pass where only a teammate could get to it. His languid, almost effortless style took some time to grow on Prem fans, who had grown accustomed to higher-energy, frenetic players such as Jack Wilshere, Tomáš Rosický, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Floating through games—”ghosting”, it was sometimes called—frequently led to intemperate charges of disappearing from games. Later scrutiny would frequently reveal a broader view, that Özil, seeing that he was man-marked and drawing attention from a more zonal-defender, would drift away from the action to test the defenders’ reactions. In many cases, both defenders would follow him in a “pied-piper” routine that invited Özil’s teammates to pour forward. Over time, this tactic became just as much a trademark as Özil’s well-placed passes, but so good was he at both that it mattered little how much managers yelled to their players to stay in position.

Between the deft touch of his left foot, his ethereal running style, and his all-seeing vision, Özil was the creative hub of Arsenal’s attack for a decade, thrilling fans to each sublime pass, each vital run, each chance created. By the time that he decided that his time with the club was up, he had all but redefined the assist as a statistic. His average of an assist every 3.09 games sets a new benchmark; although only Ryan Giggs tallied more assists in the Prem, he did so by playing more than 250 games more than Özil.

It may have been to tell in those early days that Özil would emerge at the other end of his time with Arsenal in such rare form. Even his defenders wondered if he was overrated, if he was worth the transfer-fee, if he could adjust to rigors of life in the Prem. Ten years later, it seems, Özil answered their doubts well enough to join the pantheon of club legends.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);