Monday, January 30, 2012

In defense of Arsene Wenger

So this is not Arsenal's season ... I get that, but I do not understand the chants for Wengers head, especially in the most recent match against Man Utd.

Less than 6 months ago we got the hammering of our lives (literally) going down at Old Trafford 8-2.

At that point there were daggers drawn against Wenger, and although I didn't agree with those voices, I understood why the fans felt the way they did.

We had just lost our 2 best players, at least one of whom we knew was going, and the feeling was that the manager didn't do enough to cover the gaps caused by their departure. Perhaps. I don't necessarily subscribe to that as I don't believe we (the general public) are privy to all the facts. Nasri played a full pre-season with Arsenal and I believe it was Wengers intention to keep him at the Emirates, but the powers that be (combined with Nasri's own greed) threw a spanner in the works at the eleventh hour.

Anyway, it happened and Arsenals dismal start to the season had fans irate at the manager. But he responded. He went on a shopping spree on the last day of the transfer window (which I documented and commented on here) and did what was necessary to strengthen the team. It took a week or two, but the team was transformed. They went on a fantastic run for 10 games and brought themselves into very realistic contention for a top 4 finish, and qualified for the Champions League knockout stages (no small feet considering that both Machester clubs didn't).

The Christmas period, however, saw a turn of fortunes. Some carelessness slipped in and points were dropped, but thanks to inconsistency from the other top 4 contenders, Arsenal remain very much in the fight (albeit in fifth place).

The latest challenge Arsenal have faced in the league was against, arch rivals, Manchester United ... In something of a grudge match following the thrashing they got earlier in the season. This time, the pundits were calling it a much more even fight. And as the game went on, Arsenal were putting on a real challenge. After equalizing from being 1-0 down, Arsenal took the game to the champions and were creating chances to win the game. The star on Arsenals part, a bright young player, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his first league start for The Gunners. He was fast and riveting, aggressively taking the game to United, and there was real excitement around the ground watching him ... and then the substitution. At 75 minutes, Wenger pulled off Chamberlain and replaced him with the faltering Russian captain, Andrey Arshavin.

It was an unbelievable moment ... Not so much for the substitution itself (which did puzzle me as much as 60,000 other people), but for the vocal reaction of the crowd. A deafening chorus of "boo's" echoed around the stadium ... the fans voicing their reaction to this apparently incredulous move.

Now here is my concern. Arsene Wenger has revived a dead team this season. He was accused in the summer for his inactivity in the transfer market, but he did buy Alex Oxlade - Chamberlain, for £15m. So now Wenger is being slated for substituting the player he was so criticized for buying. If the substitution is to be criticized, then what about congratulating him on the purchase?

This was one action in an isolated game ... how can opinions be turned and formed in such a short space of time? What about the phenomenal performance of the team in the 3 months prior to this?

The team currently has 4 full backs injured and is heavily compromised at the back. Their most up and coming player, Jack Wilshere, has been out injured all season, and this is bound to have an impact on the teams power.

It's quite understandable that the fans want wins and silverware (as do I), but this cannot (or at least should not) be bought, and I believe the Wenger way is the honorable and right way.

There are chants for the club (Wenger) to spend money on new talent, but I don't think the fans see the full picture. Look at Torres at Chelsea and Carroll at Liverpool. Big money purchases are not the easy answer they appear to be. Nor is it realistic to compare Arsenals alleged funds available to that of Chelsea or Man City who are being bank rolled by benevolent billionaire owners. In fact, the only club and manager that has been able to compete with "normal" means is Man Utd, and they have proven themselves to be the exception and not the rule.  Arsenal do (IMHO) a superb job of staying up amongst these top clubs while remaining financially sound (a fact that most people don't seem to understand the importance of).

Besides, apart from Wenger following his "youth" policy, It is also forgotten that there have been a number of purchases made ... Some not so good, but some excellent. Arshavin himself was the toast of North London when he arrived, but sadly his form and consistency has since dipped. Vermaelen is world class and Koscielny has finally settled into the club, and English football, after a shaky start. Szczesny has turned into an outstanding number one choice for goalkeeper and Gervinho is looking very promising in his first season.

All these players, including Mertesacker and Arteta, are solid players who form part of an efficient team ... not a disarray of star individuals (look at how Nasri is playing at Man City) ... and it works.

I think Arsenal will pull it together and I think this season is far from being written off. This team continues to play attractive football and competes with the best in the world. It has become the club it is because of and thanks to Arsene Wenger. Without him, the future could be very bleak.

Last night, Arsenal broke their run of 3 losses in a row with a dramatic FA Cup win over Aston Villa. This will have calmed tempers and frustrations for now … but other slip ups will occur and the daggers will be drawn again.

We need patients and to have realistic expectations. As I have written here before, to the Arsenal "faithful", be careful what of what you wish for ... It may come true!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Leaving Las Vegas

So another CES exhibition in Las Vegas has finished. It is claimed to have been the most attended in history .. That may well be, but I for one, was underwhelmed.

It was as big as before, with as many visitors, but there was no buzz of  excitement in the air. While most companies were displaying new products, I think there was a lack of innovative ideas. There were TV's bigger and thinner than before. Mobile phones faster and lighter than before. There was a plethora of headphones and I was taken aback by the number of iPhone and iPad cases that were on display. But what was truly "new"?

For sure we have become spoiled in recent years with advances in personal technology, that we are no longer awestruck to note that the smartphones in our pockets hold more computer processing power than NASA had to send Neil Armstrong to the moon … but I think there was a real lack of imagination shown at this years CES.

There was a section on healthcare … how the iGeneration of devices and their apps can help not only the aged and inform, but also monitor and improve the health of the physically fit and able. Amongst these were some obvious solutions, but the odd glimpse of true out of the box thinking did appear.

What did look like the next big emerging technology was gesture recognition. The Xbox Kinect was the big story last year, and this year more firms have taken it on. It is being incorporated into many TV's to replace remote controls, but there was a glimpse of wider applications coming through as well … I think "watch this space".

The Xbox and Kinect were again a major showpiece
Gesture control becoming more widespread

Beyond that, Nokia made an impression with their most lively stand for a long time and the Blackberry stand was a lot less crowded than last year when they displayed their Playbook for the first time. The impossibly thin new TV's from Samsung have already been much talked about,  and understandably so ... they are an incredible feat of engineering.

impossibly thin ...
... its even difficult to get a picture of it sideways

The huge amount of tablets that followed on iPads success last year were all gone, seemingly replaced by an unbelievable amount of headphones, following on from Beats success this past year.

I remain in hope for our own business with this dearth of imagination in the industry … it means the competition remains weak, but it saddens me at the same time. I hope for a much better effort in these coming 12 months so that CES 2013 will be something well worth looking forward to.

A bright future for Nokia?

Sony's vision of a future computer

Is this how we will all watch television in the future?

Its incredible how kids now will intuitively touch any screen

Some light hearted fun as well

The incredible fountains of the Bellagio hotel

Last but not least, our US customer put our Freeplay range on display ... nice to see we had a "presence" at the show!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What a load of rubbish!

Flying from Dubai to New York, you leave at 2am and  land at 7.30am (factoring in a 9 hour time difference). I was "lucky" enough to have a one hour delay in taking off as well.

Planning for such a flight is always a challenge. When to sleep and when to eat, so I just go with the flow and deal with the time difference consequences on arrival.

The other issue on a flight this long (assuming you don't sleep much ... which is the position I have found myself in) is what to do for so many hours! I find it difficult to work on a plane these days. In a world where we are switched on 24/7, I usually enjoy my solitary time on a flight and treat it as a "mini holiday". I could read, but I'm due at Harvard next week and have been studying so hard recently that I am all "read out". I will usually write a blog entry (here it is) and then I am left to choose between movies, TV shows and video games! Despite how it may sound, I take this time planning very seriously.

So far in this flight I have seen "Moneyball". An inspiring true story about a Baseball team and its manager (Brad Pitt) and how he takes a small professional baseball team to the play-offs. He competes with teams like the New York Yankees on a (comparatively) measly budget and changes the way the game is managed and played by showing the league around him that success is not all about big money individual stars, but about teams and a collection of the right mix of skills and abilities.

I also watched a rather cheesy, but entertaining family movie ... "Real Steel" (I must remember to download it for my kids to watch when I am back). Set in the future, this movie is about the world of robot boxing. Where a father and son team take a broken down robot from the scrap heap and work together to make it a champion. Think Transformers meets Rocky. A predictable story line and typical fairy tale ending, but good light hearted entertainment.

And then i watched "Killer Elite". I should have been warned off this movie by the incredibly unimaginable title, but the cast ... Jason Statham and Robert De Nero (and Clive Owen) ... how can you beat that? Jason Statham ... "Turkish" in Snatch, "Handsome Rob" in the Italian Job. An all action star in the Transporter movies and classic in "Lock, Stock" ... and Robert De Nero ... what even needs to be said about him ... Heat, Casino, The Godfather, etc.. etc.. etc..

But what the hell was this? This was truly rubbish (at least the first 30 minutes, and I just couldn't go beyond that). Apart from the story being so weak (Statham and De Nero are hired by an Arab Sheik to kill 3 SAS soldiers who killed the Sheiks sons), the acting was appalling. Shockingly so and especially for actors like these. A total and utter disappointment ... even on a flight this long with nothing else to do, I would rather get out my Harvard cases and continue studying than watch the rest of this drivel!

If you are flying on Emirates this month (or any other airline showing this), take my advice and avoid this disaster of a movie.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Out with the old ... in with the new

So as a fresh year starts, I look back with happiness on 2011 and look ahead for another good year.

2011 brought with it some challenges and successes at work, continuous travel (as usual) and great satisfaction from my family.

On the work front, there continues to be a lot to do to develop the business. To make sure we are staying different and competitive. We are focussing more and more on developing great products and outstanding experiences, and I am loving every minute of that. At the same time, we continue to try and break down the bureaucracy within the business and keep ourselves dynamic. We are making steady steps in that direction, but I wish it could be faster. Sometimes it can take a lot of time and effort to break down well established norms and cultures, but its an effort worth making and I know we will succeed and progress and be all the better for it.

In any case, I am satisfied with some great products we have launched in the past year, and other products that we have been developing that will see the light of day in 2012 … Its exciting times, as long as we can keep the momentum and excitement internally.

Personally, I ended 2010 having dropped 12 kilos in 3 short months, and so 2011 was a year of maintenance and getting fit. I am happy to report that I did indeed maintain my weight throughout the year, and feel fantastic for it. It took me 6 months before I went out and changed my wardrobe (to smaller and fitting clothes) as I was literally petrified (and remain so) that I would pile the pounds back on … but a mixture of extreme discipline and profound satisfaction at the results I have achieved keep me motivated enough to stay off the chips and greasy food (excepting the occasional indulgence). I have also used the opportunity to work on my fitness. Football games 3 times a week (when I am in Dubai), running with my kids, and 100 push ups, sit ups and squats every morning have all combined to give me a fantastic new lease of life. I feel more energetic and capable than I can remember from any point in my life!

For my family, my travel is always a challenge, but I try to ensure that my time at home is truly “time at home”. Reena continues to be amazingly understanding and supportive, and as a result the kids continue to do well and thrive. This year their piano skills have jumped, sportingly and academically they have grown and I’m glad for the amazing quality times we had travelling together (skiing twice, Scotland, London for the summer, a cruise to see so much of Europe and time in the region sailing in Oman). I look forward to more time creating memories in 2012.

And I cannot close a summary to my year without talking about Arsenal. They started the year competing for 4 trophies and ended the season in May with nothing! The new season began worse than disastrously, but they picked themselves up from an all time low point and ended 2011 in the top 4 of the Premier League and in the knock out stages of the Champions League. This not only makes me happy and proud, but it also inspires me. I take many lessons and analogies from Arsenal, none more than you can bounce back emphatically from being almost down and out.

So with a great year behind us, I look forward excitedly to 2012. I look forward to the kids growing and developing. I look forward to the exciting business prospects ahead, despite the threat of a global economic slowdown. I look forward to a successful season for the Arsenal, and I look forward for me to get more time with my family at home … could this be the year I finally get my travelling down to a more “normal” level? … I hope so.

I wish you all a Happy, successful and fun filled 2012.