Manchester United's defining challenges

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United has been falling from glory to what seems to be a bottomless hole of troubles. The club has had 4 managers in the span of 7 years while Sir Alex managed the club for more than 2 decades. Presence in Champions League that used to be a default is a luxury these days. Once a contender for important titles such as Premier League and Champions League, we are reduced to aim for Top 4 finish every year in the national league. The club is in shambles and faces defining challenges

Wrong coaches

I believe that we have had coaches that don’t fit with the club’s culture since Alex Ferguson’s retirement. David Moyes wasn’t good enough. Van Gaal wasn’t who he used to be. Mourinho was world class tactically, but he didn’t have the attacking mindset that the club is known for. Ole Gunnar Solskaer is a legend and familiar with the club’s culture. But he hasn’t shown that he has the tactical prowess to bring the team back to its former glorious self. We need a manager who is not only a household name, but also a great tactician and manager. As the club doesn’t have the appealing standing any more, another way to attract talent is to have a world-class coach that players admire. The coach also favors home-grown talent, a tradition that MU has carried for decades. Our current manager, unfortunately, doesn’t fit the bill.

An egregious transfer policy and a roster of insufficient players

The club was blessed with world-class players in the past, including Giggs, Vidic, Rio, Scholes, Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney, Van Persie, Carrick, just to name a few. We also have excellent role players who are willing to step up to the plate when needed such as Chicharito, Fletcher, Anderson, Nani, O’Shea. Nowadays, players that meet the standard at MU are in short supply. We have players who have the potential to be excellent such as Rashford, Martial, Scott, Greenwood, De Gea, Maguire, Wan-Bissaka and Pogba, but they need help and a coach to realize the full potential. Other players are simply just not good enough. The bench is thin and features players who should have been shipped out of the club a long time ago such as Young, Matic, Rojo and Jones.

We made seriously expensive mistakes in the transfer policy such as Alexis Sanchez. The failure to attract players with merit was offset by the willingness to overpay. To some extent, I was pleased to hear that we pulled out of the deal with Haaland due to the excessive demand from the player’s camp. We can’t keep overpaying for players to come to the club so that they succumb to pressure from a high price tag and flounder.

The current struggles can be a blessing in disguise. The club needs to develop home-grown talent and improve the scouting system. We need to get back to the basic by promoting potential young players and identifying gems that can be polished. A resource-rich club like MU, I firmly believe, is capable of discovering inexpensive potential players like we did with Evra, Vidic, Kawaga or Chicharito. That’s not to say that we can’t open the cheque book when necessary. The journey will take time, but I’d rather see that get started sooner or later.

Ed Woodward needs to go

A CEO either resigns or is let go if he or she doesn’t bring the required results. Hence, I am baffled and disappointed that Ed Woodward manages to keep his job after years of absolutely embarrassing performance on the football side. He may increase the revenue for the club, but what good does it do if the long-term sustainable state of MU is in danger. We need a better executive who knows football and cares more about our on-pitch performance.

Manchester United is blessed with a huge base of dedicated fans like myself, a household name, a great tradition and a lot of resources. We can return to the top, but we need much better leadership on and off the pitch.

Do host countries really benefit from F1 races?

Vietnam is going to hose our first ever F1 race in April 2020. It will be a historic moment for my home country since as far as I can remember, we never have an international sporting event. As an F1 fanatic, I am excited about my fellow Vietnamese getting to know the sport I love. However, do host countries usually benefit from hosting an F1 event? Let’s take a look at a few cases

The bull case

In 2017, Singapore Tourism Board announced its plan to retain the race through 2021. STB outlined its rational below:

The announcement comes against the background of a year-to-date 19% increase in ticket sales, with the weekend sales still to be included. In its first decade, the race has yielded significant economic benefits, attracting over 450,000 international visitors to Singapore and about S$1.4 billion in tourism receipts[1]. With more than 90% of the race organisation sub-contracted annually to Singapore-based companies, the race also contributes to the local economy, over and above the tourism outcomes. This event has also showcased Singapore as a beautiful, vibrant and attractive destination to over 780 million international broadcast viewers.

Source: Singapore Tourism Board

If you watch F1 often enough like I do, drivers love to come to Singapore and it’s one of the most anticipated races on the calendar. In 2018, the race attracted the second biggest crowd, only behind the inaugural race in 2008. Hence, it is safe to say that Singapore benefits from having an F1 race.

Bahrain became the first country in the Middle East to host an F1 race in 2004. Since then, it has become one of the favorite tracks of drivers and fans. According to an E&Y audit report in 2015, the race generated a net gain of $95 million for the country and added multiple jobs directly. It was also reported that the race ignited some aspects of the country’s economy. As a result, Bahrain is a beneficiary of F1’s draw.

I didn’t know much about Azerbaijan or its capital Baku until 2016 when it first joined the F1 calendar. Since then, Baku has been responsible for some of the most exciting races. In 2018, a PwC report claimed that “more than $270 million has been added to the local economy as a result of the race, $164 million of which is “direct spend” or money spent by visitors and participants”. the 2018 race attracted 94,000 attendees and was watched by millions of viewers around the world.

The bear case

  • Indian GP ran only for three years and was discontinued after 2013 due to the lack of attendance
  • Korean GP was cancelled after three years as well after failing to generate interest and money
  • Malaysian GP was stopped after almost 20 years of hosting a race since the “numbers don’t add up any more”

It is telling that two new Asian races were discontinued after 3 years due to financial infeasibility. Whether Vietnam will follow the footsteps of Singapore or become another example of the bear case category above remains to be seen. A lot will depend on the execution and whether the races will be good. For the sake of my country, I hope that we will strive to emulate the success that Singapore has had.

Future looks bleak for Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel is a 4-time Formula 1 champion. He is the first ballot hall of fame in the future with his trophy cabinet and the record of the youngest pole sitter ever. He has been the lead driver in Ferrari since 2015, and up to, possibly, today. In the Italian Grand Prix today, Vettel started fourth behind the Mercedes drivers and his much younger and less experienced teammate Charles Leclerc. Instead of fighting in the top, he spun, came back to the track dangerously, hit Lance Stroll and received a 10-second stop and go penalty, the most severe punishment behind only disqualification. His race was over at the point. Luckily for Ferrari and all the Tifosis, Charles Leclerc withstood the assaults from the Silver Arrows to win the race, first for Ferrari since 2010. As a result, Leclerc has now beaten Vettel in qualifying 7 races in a row, leapfrogged the German in the driver standing and been responsible for Ferrari’s two wins this season. The changing of the guards seems completed.

What went wrong for the 4-time champion? Every problem and mistake he has made for the past months looks to stem from his disastrous race in Germany last year. He was cruising to the win, but crashed out of the race on his own. Since then, he hasn’t been himself. Mistake after mistake and after each one, the pressure kept piling on. There is an argument that Vettel can’t cope with hungrier and younger teammates. At Red Bull, he was thoroughly beaten y Ricciardo. Now, Charles Leclerc has gotten the better of him. The pressure to win at Ferrari is incredible. His failure to win a world title with the Reds isn’t completely his fault. The team failed to give him a competitive car all year long. But his mistakes recently have been nobody’s but his and his alone.

Ferrari repeatedly said he would still race for the Red team next year and I am confident that is the case. Nonetheless, what if next year will be even worse since Leclerc will likely be more settled at Ferrari. He won’t secure a drive at Mercedes. Nor will he at Red Bull now that Max is the team leader and Red Bull is known for promoting drivers internally. Where would he go? Rumors of retirement have been circulating around the paddock and I would hate to see him retire at 33. He has still much to offer. But I think Ferrari should take him off the grid for the remainder of 2019 and install a young driver next to Charles. Doing so will give Vettel time to collect himself and get ready for next year as well as test a potential option in case the German walks after 2020. If a break can’t get him back to his formidable old self, I doubt leaving him on track for the rest of the season will do him any better.

Nonetheless, I wish for his sake and the team’s (I have been a Ferrari fan since 2005 and the last 10 years has been rough) that Vettel would find his way back to the top of the echelon of F1 soon.

If you are intellectually curious, these facts about Formula 1 will intrigue you

I am a Formula 1 fanatic. The sport is unpredictable, exciting and intellectually intriguing. Everything about the drivers and the cars is about maximizing every last drop of performance and gaining even one hundredth or one tenth of a second. The level of attention to details and state-of-the-art technologies that go to every aspect of the sport is astonishing. Here are a few clips that I found very helpful in understanding the sport. Even if you are not interested in the racing, I think it’s interesting when you are just curious about how stuff works

Car setup

A car setup is instrumental to the performance of the car. It’s more of an art and trial-error than science and there are a lot that go into the setup such as the nature of the tracks, driver preference, strengths & weaknesses of the cars, weather, tyre…The video below explains how one millimeter can mean the world in a car setup!

Braking System

Brakes are crucial in racing, even in commuter cars. As F1 cars travel at such a high speed and brake multiple times in one lap, brakes can get hot and fail, causing drivers to crash and fall out of races. The video below from Mercedes explains how brakes work and how setting up brake systems in certain races can be an engineering nightmare. For instance, Monaco Grand Prix is a twisty street track where speed is low and brakes are applied almost constantly. After every corner, brakes get increasingly hot. Cooling down brakes is a challenge as they are usually cooled when drivers accelerate in straights; which is, as mentioned, not what happens in Monaco.

In Baku Grand Prix, the challenge is different. Half of the track is made of long straights and the other half is a street circuit. At the end of long straights, brakes are cold and drivers run the risk of not having the best performance from brakes for the twisty part. Then, during the twisty part, there is not enough cooling for the brakes.

Logistics

A F1 calendar consists of around 21 races a year, spanning across the globe over a period of 9 months. Teams have to manage car parts, communication equipment, hospitality settings, fuel, kitchen, etc… Managing the logistics of a race, especially back-to-back races in different countries miles away from each other is a daunting challenge. This video explains very well this aspect of Formula 1

Steering wheel

Do you think you can remember how all the buttons work and make them work while driving at 180mph?

British GP – Some of The Best of F1

I have a love-hate relationship with F1. Normally, I am a crazy fan of the sport that is unpredictable, exciting, glamorous and sophisticated. To win a race, let alone a long season, a team/driver needs a perfect weekend, starting from preparation, practice to qualifying and the real race. Factors that play a significant role in a race include tires, strategy, luck, weather, drivers, pit crews and circuits. Nonetheless, F1 tends to be dominated by one or two teams before regulation changes. In the past, it was Ferrari with Schumacher, followed by McClaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. Some races are incredibly boring as there is no overtaking (I am talking about you street circuits and Australian GP)

The very last Grand Prix in UK featured some of the best F1 has to offer. The fastest pit stop ever is 1.91 seconds. In that insanely short amount of time, the pit crew lifted the car up, removed the old wheels, fitted in the new ones, lowered the car down, signaled to the driver and got out of the way. The muscle memory and the collaboration are unreal. Pit crew work can play a tremendous factor in a team’s success as you will see later on, but first enjoy the world’s record pit stop

The next highlight is the battle between two great young stars Charles LeClerc and Max Verstappen. Both of them are 21 years old or younger. The battle was enthralling and showed the talent two young men possessed. It’s incredible they fought at 180mph with the masterful control and techniques

The paradox of the NBA

NBA free agency started on Sunday night. It has been a melee with numerous deals announced after the 6pm mark. Bleacher Report claimed that the first day of the free agency saw $3bn in contracts signed.

That’s a lot of money. Players’ lives are changed over night. Career takes dramatic turns over night.

Yet, the irony in all this show of wealth is that while some players command attention, freedom and money, others may not be able to choose where to work. Grown men in the 20s or 30s don’t even get to choose where to work and live. If traded suddenly, they have to uproot their family and disrupt their spouses or kids’ lives.

That’s what I find very sad about the NBA. At least in soccer or what we call football, players have all the freedom in the world to choose where to work. If they don’t want to, their current clubs can’t force them out, unless contracts are broken and the players get all the contract value. Take Gareth Bale for instance. His manager doesn’t want him. His club doesn’t want him. His teammates don’t like him. The fans in Madrid don’t want to see him. Yet, unless he is willing to be transferred, there is nothing that Madrid can do.

Another disappointing aspect of the NBA is some hostile fans. By playing, players essentially trade their time and health for money. Injuries happen. Your body takes a toll. Continuous workouts are required. Media presence is mandated. Yet, players sometimes don’t get to choose where to play and live. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop hostile fans from throwing tantrums at players whenever they do what is in their best interest. Take Kevin Durant for instance. He did what he thought was best for him by signing with GSW. Yet, he is called soft, a snake and other vulgarities.

Money and fame do come at an expense. Costly expense.

Fan transgression and blemish on sports

Last night, an unfortunate event took place at Oracle Arena in the game between Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. The co-owner of GSW sat court side and upon contact with Kyle Lowry, the point guard of Toronto Raptors, who was trying to save a ball, laid hands on Lowry and hurled vulgar language towards the player. The culprit was suspended by the team for the rest of the series and fined by the league as well

Sports are about emotions and it’s alright to stay at home or a friend’s place and scream at the TV. However, it’s not OK to assault athletes, either physically or verbally. There is racism around Europe in soccer stadiums. Players threaten to walk out in cases like that and I think that they are justified. In basketball, fans touch and throw insults at players. Why? Players are just humans who are trying to do a job for which they are paid. There is no reason to act outside the realm of courtesy or decency.

In some cases, it gets more serious than just shoving or obscene language. A few weeks ago, Mkhitaryan, an Armenian football player at Arsenal, had to stay home to watch his teammates play in the Europa League. It is because the game took place in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which has political conflict with Armenia. If the fans could separate the beautiful game of football from a political conflict and realize that Mkhitaryan didn’t choose where he was born, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I hope that one day, we will forever discard all the blemishes on the sports we love and just enjoy the beautiful moments that sports bring. We don’t need what the co-owner of Golden State Warriors did to be a distraction away from moments like this.