The extinction of the single handed backhand

federer-backhand

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty of that shot. It could hold its own in the midst of the silence of an Opera classic or the grace of an international ballet company. There is an innate beauty to the single handed backhand in tennis – it exudes grace and ceases to be just a simple shot in that moment, a sublime blend of skill and technique which can take your breath away amongst the monotony that the sport has become. My love affair with Federer started with this shot, a moment of pure magnificence in a world of violent hitting accompanied by even more violent shrieks. It requires immense training to make it a weapon as the balance and complexity required to perfect the shot is only outweighed by the sexiness of the shot. If only tennis players could be rated on aesthetics.

A simple stat which shows how the popularity of this shot has gone down is in the number of grand slams won before Nadal and after. I like to call this the ‘Advent of Nadal’ – In the period from 1995-2004 before Nadal won a single grand slam, 26 out of the 40 grand slams were won by single handers – Sampras ruled the roost here. However, from 2005-2016 a strange thing happened, the number of single handed backhands dropped rapidly and only 16 out of the 48 slams were won by singe handers, albeit 13 of them came from Federer with Wawrinka being the only other exception. Currently, there are a meager 24 single handers in the mens top 100 and only 3 on the women’s side. A startling decline from a decade ago when more than half of the draw comprised of single handers.

Let’s take a closer look at the reasons for this rapid drop.

Firstly, the size and nature of the tennis racquet have drastically changed – lighter racquets with bigger heads and polyester strings are the norm currently. These allow players to produce approximately 20% more topspin on their shots as compared to the older heavier racquets. Increased topspin makes the ball bounce more and you end up returning the ball at around shoulder height – this is not the most conducive position to hit a single handed return as it affects both the pace and depth of the shot. ‘The Nadal Effect’ – Data shows that Rafael Nadal, who is the prime exponent of top spin shots imparts 4900 revolutions on the ball, compare this with a pedestrian 1900 for Sampras in his prime. It is no surprise that Rafael Nadal has a favourable record against Federer – using top spin to nullify Federer’s single handed backhand and inducing errors.

Secondly, all the courts around the world – hard, clay and grass have slowed down over the years. The hallowed courts of Wimbledon were the last bastian, once the authorities altered the seed mix to ensure that men’s matches didn’t descend into ace-hitting contests, it also moved over to the dark side. Consequently, there was a demise of the serve and volley game, as the returner has far more time to hit a passing shot from deep in his own court. The single handed backhand is a weapon which relies on precision and speed – the slower courts reducing the probability of such winners. The leading example of this is in the resurgence of defensive players like Murray and Djokovic coming to the fore over the last 4-5 years at the grand slams.

Last and most important, a change in emphasis on playing styles at the grassroots level has been a massive influencer of this change. As a kid, the single hander is a difficult shot to practice due to the lack of strength, and most coaches make their pupils switch to the double fisted one very early in their careers. Barring exceptions that is – James Blake switched over to the single hander because his brother kept telling him that he wasn’t strong enough to succeed with the shot. In addition, the parents and coaches right now are more worried about their kids making rapid strides in the early parts of their careers and hence shy away from the long term project of developing a single hander. According to Carlos Rodriguez – coach of Justin Henin who is widely considered to possess one of the best single handers ever, this reason is the prime reason of this shift.

Dr. Jack Groppel, a founder of Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute, analyzed the biomechanics of each tennis shot for his dissertation in the late 1970s. Groppel found that while the two hander required coordination between the hips, legs, trunk and arms, the one hander demanded synchrony between the hips, legs, trunk, upper arm, forearm and hand. In layman terms, the two hander is much easier to master. This makes coaches often adopt the easier route in going to the double hander early in a player’s career.

We will never know how many Federers, Samprases, Henins and Grafs we missed out on over the last 20 years in this search for quick results and success. Tennis used to be a sport of gamblers and swashbucklers, now it has evolved into one for efficient sporting machines.

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The Decision

Leave when people ask why and not why not.

I have often pondered this thought about sportspersons deciding to call it a day. Be it Sachin’s prolonged end, Dravid’s hasty exit or Federer’s continuing struggles, it is a conundrum every athlete goes through as their success at the top of the sport wanes. It is understandable, this struggle. At the highest level, the pressure of performance, fame and adulation of supporters can give you an adrenaline rush that compares with few others in life. Add the financial benefits and every athlete feels the need to stay in the sport as long as possible. How long is too long? In my opinion, every athlete should be given the freedom to choose when they want to walk away from the game, however doesn’t it make sense to walk away at the top? If only every sportsperson was able to accept their impending decline, to step away.

This is what makes MS Dhoni a special sportsperson. Be it the day he announced himself as the long haired swashbuckler in Vizag or his swagger while leading his team to all the cricketing honours achievable, the one common thread – doing it on his terms. It is something that defined the way he went about not just the game, but his life as well. His public admission of treating national cricket as a regular job and the desire to serve in the armed forces were not something commonly seen among sporting superstars. The one true charming quality of MSD has been his ability to focus on team glory sacrificing personal milestones through his captaincy career – be it for India or for his franchise teams. Along with his street smarts, this has etched his name as one of the greatest leaders in sporting history.

It was not a big surprise to the MSD fan that he resigned from captaincy the way he did – no fuss, practical and simple. There was no time to celebrate or dwell on his success, MSD the person wouldn’t want that as it would take away from the next task at hand for Indian cricket. Ever the pragmatist, you can almost imagine Dhoni drawing this decision out on a whiteboard. This is why it makes sense.

  • Virat Kohli has seamlessly taken over test captaincy to lead India into the next chapter of its cricketing journey. Recent success abroad and home for the Indian team under Kohli seems to have vindicated MSD’s decision of retiring from test matches last year mid series in Australia. Further proof of his ability to handle the dual pressure of being the batting talisman as well as being captain.
  • With the current cricket season for India packed with test matches, MSD spends most of his time away from the national team, which is not the most ideal situation for a captain. This could have resulted in a power vaccum when he does return to the limited overs squad as captain. Keeping the future calendar in mind, having a single figure of leadership leading the team makes sense.
  • At the twilight of his career, MSD can now return to the original finisher role which he has made famous over the years. He is easily the best wicketkeeper batsman in the world and along with an established role at no.4, we could see MSD play till the 2017 Champions Trophy at least if not the World Cup in 2019. The freedom which entails this decision could be the best gift for Indian cricket.

Sans the long hair, but still carrying the swagger which made us fall in love with MSD. This finally could be the second chapter for MSD the player, something he gave up a decade ago to serve his country at the time of his calling.

Here is to Mahi – The guy who has made every gully cricketer dream.

MLS and ISL – Drawing parallels

Two superpowers in their own right – USA and India. Over the last decade, both of them have embraced the need to expand their sporting community to Football – the most watched sport globally. Major League Soccer and the Indian Super League have forged their own timelines and identities over the last 5 years, but the path taken by both are very similar. Massive investments from the business community, aging but superstar names from the global football fraternity in order to draw viewership are just a couple of the commonalities between these initiatives.

An oft forgotten fact is that football was India’s main sport dating back to the early 20th century. India also showcases arguably the greatest rivalry in the sport across the world – Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal. Somewhere along the way, funding and infrastructure challenges hindered the growth of the sport in the country. In contrast with the ISL, the MLS has been around since 1993 and was set up as part of USA’s successful bid to host the 1994 Olympics. In spite of its reasonably longer history as compared to ISL, football in the US faces cultural challenges as the country has been brought up on the ‘Big Four’ – Baseball, American football, Basketball and Ice Hockey. Cricket in India and the ‘Big Four’ in the US bring similar challenges to the growth of football in their respective country, ISL has learnt a lesson or two from what the MLS has done to overcome them.

Superstar way to the Top

Currently, the MLS is in its 23rd season and has recently taken to the trend of attracting retired world class players who bring a lot to the game in terms of quality, brand appeal and exposure for the local players. Legendary Players like Pele, Beckenbauer and Cryuff paved the way for the current state of US Football in the latter part of the past century. This has progressed to the likes of Beckham, Henry, Kaka and Pirlo in recent years embracing big money post retirement and a chance of giving back to the game they love.

In early 2013, International Management Group and Reliance (IMG-Reliance) teamed up with the All India Football Federation with the aim of rejuvenating the sport in our country often marginalized by its flashier cousin – cricket. They have adopted the same strategy as the MLS by roping in retired superstars to play in the league. Robert Pires and Freddie Ljunberg – two legends from the 2004 Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ team are just two of the attractions that have managed to deliver on IMG’s vision of reinvigorating the national football community. Add Roberto Carlos, Trezeguet, Luis Enrique and Malouda to the mix and you have some serious star power catering to the Indian football fan. The global exposure that this vision has brought for the Indian players has helped increase their quality as footballers. There is a lot to learn for the Indian footballers and rubbing shoulders with these stalwarts helps understand nuances of the game not achievable through mere training.

Funding and Grassroots Development

There is a tremendous amount of funding available in the US which is being poured into the football scene in an effort to build up interest for the sport. TV agencies like NBC and Fox have become cognizant of this rising tide and have invested heavily in advertising and media rights for the top European leagues. This adds to the awareness that football has managed to create over the last few years which helps the next generation of football players approach football as a legitimate sports career. As a consequence, there has been a growing interest in developing the sport at the grassroots level – the US Soccer Development Academy becoming the hub for all soccer related activities for the youth athletes in the country. The Academy has immense support from the MLS and US Soccer which has helped create a supply line for quality players starting from the ground up. The most important aspect of the academy is scouting and the direct involvement of the MLS in this regard is a massive shot in the arm for US football.

Similar to the US, there has been a sharp uptick in investment for the sport in India. The ISL teams have managed to drum up a city wide loyalty among its fans only rivalled by the IPL. This level of financial support has also helped set up a family friendly environment in terms of infrastructure at the stadiums, and more importantly manage the lofty salaries of these marquee players. As IMG realized very quickly, this was the quickest way to attain nation wide audience and popularity on its way to becoming a global presence.  As evidenced in the MLS, a vital addition to ISL’s growth has been its investment at the grassroots level with city based training camps and the national ‘Reliance Foundation Young Champs’ program. This is aimed at youth development and bringing them to the next level. Every ISL team has invested heavily in scouting at the youth level with local schools forming the center piece of their efforts. The icing on the cake for these efforts was Thierry Henry, one of the most recognizable sporting faces in the world coming down to interact and train the RFYC kids. He agreed that the ISL has been doing good work and is on the way up – a sound testimonial from a bonafide superstar who has seen it all in football.

The ISL has slowly and steadily climbed up the popularity charts and now stands as the 4th most popular football league in the world behind only England, Germany and Spain. Again, ISL is currently 4th in the world ahead of the likes of Italy, Brazil, China and Argentina, with an average attendance of 24,000 people.  217 million people watched the ISL in 2016 – a steady increase of 9 million in its viewership from the last year. These numbers have been a result of the MSL mantra that ISL has modelled itself on – sign up marquee global superstars with massive brand appeal to intrigue the football fans in the country. Simple enough, but there was much doubt on how this strategy would aid the league over time rather than just being a flash in the pan. ISL has helped accelerate the ascent of Indian football, this needs to be sustained through focused investment and support at the grassroots level unlike the top only approach of the Chinese league. The initial signs are great and 2017 looks towards even greener pastures for Indian football with a proposed deal between AIFF and IMG to make the ISL the premier football competition in India. Football has truly arrived!

Test Cricket – Demise and Rebirth

It’s a warm afternoon in Birmingham on August 7, 2005. The ground is packed to the brim with bipartisan supporters. Australia and England are engaged in a battle for the ages on the fifth and final day of the second Ashes test match. Last over of the test match – 64 overs into the Australian innings, England needing 1 wicket to win and Australia 4 runs to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Ongoing last wicket partnership of 58. Crowd on the edge of their seats, nervous excitement in the air.

Ball 1 – Brett Lee takes a single off Harmison. 3 runs to win for Australia.

Ball 2 – 5 balls for no.11 Kasprowicz to win the game. Dot ball

Ball 3 – Snorter from Harmison takes the batsman’s glove and keeper takes the catch. England win! England win!

This is what test cricket is famous for – gripping encounters going into the fag end of day 5 capturing the supporter’s imagination with every over of the game. The ups and downs of every session seems almost melodic to the watcher, taking them on a journey one filled with happiness, disappointment, nervousness, fist pumping adrenaline. This is what makes the longer format the ultimate test, needing not just physical attributes but intelligence, patience, determination, concentration, and perseverance – In all a character building exercise.

However, no one at the ground on that day could have predicted the current predicament test cricket is in – minimal viewership, low revenue potential and a cramped cricket calendar have doomed the future of this beautiful game. Test cricket is at the brink of extinction and has taken a backseat to business interests and the glitz and glamour of the shorter formats. There is an immediate need for test cricket to reinvent itself so as to stay relevant with the changing times and changing perceptions of the format.

Over the next 12 months, there are 21 scheduled test matches – that is 21 tests over 365 days. The remaining 260 days of the year are occupied by 20 bilateral ODI’s and T20 series plus the ICC Champions Trophy and the 60 days of the IPL. This is where the ‘commodity aspect ‘of the game reigns supreme – as the cricketing calendar starts bursting at the seams, the cricket boards feel shortchanged and more and more test matches end up on the cutting block. Surprise, Surprise – the one with the least money making ability. Test match cricket is dying!

There is another piece to this puzzle – an indirect correlation of the cramped calendar to the adverse effect on test matches. The calendar impacts preparation time for teams and pitches, consequently reducing the quality of test cricket which in turn affects viewership and profitability. A vicious cycle dragging down test cricket and its about time we take steps to fix it.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has taken up this issue seriously and worked with the boards in hosting day night test matches on an experimental basis. 4 day-night test matches have been conducted over the last year and 3 more are scheduled to be held over the next season. The last test between Australia and Pakistan was an absolute humdinger with crowds of 20k thronging the Adelaide Oval during the game – it was a great advertisement for the format and evidence that this is the way forward. The fact that all the experimental day night games played till date have balanced the equation between bat and ball providing good result oriented games is vindication for the supporters and the ICC as well.

From a purely cricketing standpoint, the day night test match offers support to both batsman and bowler over the course of a day. The batsman enjoys the perfect conditions at the start of the day while the bowlers come into the fray over the last two sessions once the lights come into effect. The perfect balance between bat and ball is something that analysts believe will bring back the viewership to the format. Another important factor for increasing viewership is the timing of the game itself – most office goers and school/college kids will be able to come in and enjoy the day’s play after their routines. Add the TV viewers to this as well and the financial viability issue of the test match is addressed automatically. The only concern for this to grow across the global cricket landscape is from the players themselves. They need to become comfortable with the changing conditions of the game including that of the pink ball. Perfecting different formats of the pink ball across the different pitches in the world will be the ultimate challenge, but one that can be solved only by greater adoption of this format.

Freshness – Long demanded by the cricket watcher and the reason why t20 was an instant success as it bought all the positive elements of cricket into a four hour bottle at primetime. This is exactly what day night cricket would bring to the test arena – Freshness! Test cricket might not be dying after all!

The Great Indian Olympic Dream

The last decade for India in the sport has brought a lot of success – we won our second cricket world cup, became the no.1 ranked cricket side in the world, won five kabaddi world cups, ended 2016 with two top 10 shuttlers and so on. However, there is something which confounds us at the grandest sporting stage of all – the Olympic Games. The stage where global superpowers reassert their clout in the sporting arena; one where the second most populous nation finds a way to slink into the shadows at every opportunity. It is unfair for only the athletes to shoulder the blame for this, as they have managed to scale the ranks in a system which sets them up for failure at every turn. It runs deeper than that, it is a societal and cultural issue which has seeped up to the higher levels of organization and the government.

A return of 28 medals from 31 Olympic games is indeed a sad reality for a nation with such a rich sporting history. It is imperative that we try to understand the effort it takes to build a successful Olympic programme. In addition to the financial responsibility, we need to look at revamping the system which identifies and breeds talent in Olympic sports. The grass root level is the most important aspect of an Olympic programme and this is the reason the programme needs a lengthy roadmap to succeed. In an era of quick results, the support required to build such a long-term development programme is no easy task.

It is not just this absence of a plan, as a few private organizations have come along in the last decade namely, Olympic gold Quest(OGQ), JSW Sports Excellence Program(JSWSEP) and Anglian Medal Hunt Company(AMHC) who have managed to drum up sufficient funds and support to help the cause. This is all but the launch pad in our quest to become a competitive force at the Olympics with the Chinas, USAs and UKs of the world.

Now that we have identified the problem, lets take a closer look at developing a method to address this problem. This is nothing revolutionary, but putting together a mishmash of ideas from what other Olympic superpowers have implemented with great success over the years.

Funding for such a dedicated programme will be the primary obstacle. Let’s look at a simple comparison of the current state of the Indian and US Olympic programmes.

USA Medals won (2004-2014) Funding per medal(in USD)
Skiing/Snowboarding 48  1.4 Million
Track & Field 77  790 K
Swimming 90  590 K
India Medals won (2004-2014) Funding per medal(in USD)
Shooting 4  160 K
Wrestling 4  196 K
Boxing 2  72 K
Badminton 2  376 K

This is a staggering figure as US has won 215 medals in the categories identified as prime focus for their national team in the last decade alone. In contrast, India has won only 12 medals for the events identified as prime focus in the same time frame. There is definitely a direct correlation between the funding per medal as dedicated investment alone will reap rewards –  Greater the funding, higher the medal count and vice versa. It is important to note that there is no govt. funding provided to the US Olympic team. All Olympic investments are funded solely through private donors and crowd funding.

This could be an interesting solution to solving the Indian Olympic riddle as all the successful athletes are currently being supported in their efforts by private groups – OGQ, JSWSEP and AMHC in any case. An increased funding drive sponsored by the government and these private organizations starting off at the grassroots level is required in order to get this programme started.

China established an Olympic programme – ‘Project 119’ in 2001 with a roadmap to attain results at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. ‘119’ refers to the count of gold medals in the medal heavy sports (track & field, swimming, rowing, canoe/kayak and sailing) that the programme would focus on over the next eight years. We can learn something from this initiative to set up a template for the programme itself, along with a strong funding focus supported by the government.

Now that we have identified the problem and looked at some of the effective methods of successful Olympic nations, we should be looking at a three-part solution to implement an Olympic programme.

First – The Indian Olympic Association needs to identify 8-10 Olympic events where India is already competitive on the world stage. Currently, these would be Shooting, Wrestling, Badminton, Men’s and Women’s Hockey, Archery and Boxing – resulting in a total of 38 medal events. We need to aim to set a goal for the 2024 Olympics as being the acid test for this programme where all the efforts and training need to be focus towards.

Second – The private groups which are working on talent development should work hand in hand with the IOA and start off from the schools. They should aim at awareness and training programs to build talent at the grassroots level, and increase enrollment for this programme specifically focussing on the events identified as prime focus above.

Last – Its not sufficient to just set up a training programme but efficient safeguards need to be in place that will ensure that talent entering the system doesn’t seep out prior to achieving the objective. A separate steering committee needs to monitor and govern this programme as an independent organization. This committee needs to comprise of successful Indian sportsmen who will tirelessly work towards realizing the objectives of this programme; and eliminate the vicious powers of corruption and red tape which plagues the sporting fraternity in our country today.

There was a brilliant quote from the recent hindi movie ‘Dangal’ which echoes the sentiment of every sportsman in our country today – “Medallists don’t grow on trees, they need to raised and nurtured with care and attention from the ground up”. Hope this thought process changes in the near future – Project 2024!

The Year of the Underdog – Leicester City FC

Over the last decade, soccer has increasingly become a sport for the big spenders. A look at the top leagues around the world show that there have been only 3 such instances over the last decade when one of the richly endowed teams hasn’t won the title. Three out of forty championships (across England, Spain, Germany and Italy) – that is an extremely low return and points towards the growing monopolization of the sport by the deep pockets of global business magnates.

This is what makes Leicester City’s 2015 season a wonderful achievement and defies logical reason. Sustaining form over an entire season of 38 games is no mean feat, considering that they were up against the bottomless coffers and resources of the Big Four in England. Only four clubs had lifted the Premier League trophy in the previous 20 years (Man United 11, Chelsea 4, Arsenal 3, Man City 2). Leicester City sure made a Goliath-like entrance to that winners club last season.

Let’s take a closer look at the team and how they won the title against all odds, literally beating 5000:1 on the books.

Stable squad of players devoid of major injuries – One of the key aspects of this team was that they were able to scrape through the long English season making only 27 changes to the starting XI. To provide some context, the champion makes 94.5 changes in a season on average, Chelsea in the previous season made 86 inspite of their world class team. This resulted in only 18 players starting a game for Leicester in the season as compared to 23, 22 and 20 for Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham respectively. This stability and player rapport held them in good stead as the team was able to churn out consistent performances week in week out.

Leicester FC have been one of the pioneers in using data analytics over the 11 years that it has existed in the Premier League. They used data analytics and performance metrics to track player fitness, performance levels and preemptively address the injury issue plaguing other top teams. This helped the team understand their strengths, weaknesses and creating a personalized performance program for each player.

Playing style – Widely considered obsolete, Leicester used the much maligned 4-4-2 formation as the perfect foil to their rapid counter attacking style of play. Ranieri came up with the perfect system for the group of players he inherited at the start of the 2015 season. Leicester had a tendency to stay on the backfoot out of possession with a tight pressing style throughout the game. As soon as they won the ball through their press, they would launch a counter attack transitioning from defence to attack utilising the speed of the attackers – Vardy, Mahrez and Okazaki through a simple long ball or a diagonal pass into space. In the age of possession style football, this contrarian system helped them score the 3rd highest goals tally for the season. A solid defensive line along with Kasper Schemeichel deserve special mention as they were under constant pressure against the possession based teams.

Element of Surprise – Most teams were not prepared for Leicester’s modus operandi. They were often caught off guard by the frequency of the long diagonal balls played with the attacking players creating havoc using their speed and accuracy on the ball. Teams were not able come to terms with the fast paced direct nature of Leicester’s football and in the time that they took to adjust, Leicester would already be in front. Any efforts at a comeback would just prime them for the knockout blow as possession based attack played directly into Leicester’s strategy of counter attacking direct football. With teams using the offseason to study and come up with disruptive strategies – sitting back and counter attacking, Leicester have not had much success this season playing their way and are currently languishing at the bottom half of the table.

Rocky & Million Dollar Baby – Two of the greatest sports movies ever made. The common thread running through both was, an underdog with a massive chip on their shoulder rising against all odds to do the unthinkable. The 2015-16 sporting season seemed to follow a similar script for Leicester City demonstrating once more that sport is perfect fodder for the dreamers.

There is something about an underdog story, something unexplainable which brings a smile to the sports fan. Isn’t this why we watch sport in the first place?

Arsenal – An Emotion

 

12 years, 11 months and 15 days ago. This was the day Arsenal won the English Premier League 2004 season and in the process converted me, a die-hard David Beckham fan (consequently a ManU fan) into a supporter of the beautiful sport itself – ‘The Arsenal Way’.

There is a consensus amongst fellow arsenal supporters that I belong to the select ‘few’ Arsenal fans. The ones who were wooed by the beauty that is Arsenal style football on that fateful day. Football which seduces you slowly using subtle off the ball movement, silky touch and passing, breath-taking unselfish play culminating in the perfect goal – ‘The Arsenal Way’. Sounds perfect right? Wrong. The timing was the issue; I could have been celebrating my team as the premier league champions if I had only discovered ‘The Arsenal Way’ a day earlier. More than 4000 days later, the wait for another (or one in my case) premier league title continues.

Thankfully, I am one of those realistic Arsenal fans who understands their philosophy and know in my heart of hearts that we do not compete with the Madrids, Barcelonas and Munichs of the world. I dream of a solitary EPL title and not the champions league. Else, I would be living through the tragedy of an arsenal loss in the middle of the week come February. Right now it is limited to a dull throbbing washed over by a sharp realisation that it was the expected result every other weekend.
In my mind, every Arsenal season can be grouped into 5 stages of fan emotion by using the Hype curve for emerging technologies template. (Yes, I formed a correlation between technology products and sports – 5 years in consulting will do that to you).

Every season begins the same way for Arsenal, frustration at not being able to sign a big player during the entire transfer window up until the last day hinting at a sense of desperation. You must understand, Arsenal fans always believe that we are just one player away from ruling the world. With renewed vigour and hope after a last minute signing who will not be available for the first few games due to a ‘lack of match fitness’, we enter the season not knowing what to expect.

Understandably, there is nervousness for the first couple of weeks as the team takes its time to hit the stride. However, the next 2 months are what define the ‘Arsenal Way’ as stuff of dreams. We take the championship race by the scruff of the neck and hit peak form over that period. This takes us from ‘Early Season Jitters’ into the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations – (Read hopefully champions of the world). However, this is a fleeting emotion as the familiar curse with injuries and a cramped fixture list attribute to a rapid decline in performance over the next few months. We start losing ground to the eventual champions leading to the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ over the months of January and February.

As March rolls along, realisation dawns at another failed season and the team starts playing with renewed freedom and a sense of purpose. This ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ period is the most frustrating for every Arsenal fan, as they start playing like a champion side and string together a set of great results. It’s almost as if the team wants to be remembered as ‘also rans’, but the fans know better and they are left with a bitter ‘could have’ type of a season. April and May steadies the Arsenal ship and the team is able to ensure a top four finish with form which would have won the championship with ease if it had materialised in January. Every Arsenal fan ends the season with a tempered ‘Plateau of Reality’. This late season surge instils a sense of hope in us once again for the next season and the hype cycle repeats again.

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However, as they say sport is not just about winning. It represents an almost inexplicable emotion which takes you through immense highs and agonising lows, but the sheer joy of supporting your team is unparalleled and what keeps us going every season. Arsenal – An Emotion.