Month: February 2011

The fire of protest spreads

A spark of pro-democracy protest – almost unnoticed in parts of ‘The West’ – appeared in Tunisia last month and has now turned into a fire of potentially historic proportions reaching across North Africa into the Middle East. The great Arab democratic revolt overthrew the governments of Tunisia and Egypt and now threatens the established regimes of Bahrain, Yemen and Libya while doubtless causing anxious glances from other states in the region, perhaps most notably Iran.

It’s impossible to say how this will end and how much blood will continue to be spilled by totalitarian regimes such as Gaddafi’s in Libya, but this passage of history bears a striking resemblance to the collapse of Soviet Communism in Europe in the last months of the 1980s. In that case a similar domino effect was witnessed as the supressed and impoverished people of each Eastern European state felt able to draw strength and confidence from neighbouring states who had risen up against the old order. Europe changed forever in the space of a few short months. It was a fascinating period of twentieth century history, and it was a privilege to be alive during such a time of immense change.

There is a similar feel to events in the Arab world at the moment, although the factors causing change are quite different from those which were at play in Europe twenty-two years ago. On the face of it, nationalism appears to be less of a factor in the Arab uprisings as Middle Eastern peoples have always had less regard for lines on a map than their European counterparts. In addition the Cold War backdrop of a chessboard for the Superpowers doesn’t apply in the Arab nations, at least not to the extent that it did in post-War Germany and the nations surrounding it.

The common factors, of course, are repression and economic suffering. A class of people have found the strength to articulate their strong view that their economic hardship should no longer be taken for granted and that they should have the democratic freedom to do what they can to put that right. I applaud the courage of those who live in political systems I can barely imagine who have taken to the streets to give voice to, in some cases, hundreds of years of simmering resentment. I hope that the Arab states can find their solutions, free if at all possible from Western interference, and that people will not have to keep dying in the pursuit of democracy. History is being written across North Africa and the Middle East, and it’s probably about time too.

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The madness of ‘Deadline Day’

Mercifully, this was my first ‘Transfer Deadline Day’ for some years which remained untouched by the hype and breathless speculation of Sky Sports News (I cancelled my subscription some months ago). As it turned out there was probably no need for that particular network’s passion for sensationalism, as another day of extraordinary gambling in the transfer market unfolded with Fernando Torres heading for Chelsea for £50m and – in perhaps the most eyebrow-raising move of recent years – an apparently reluctant Andy Carroll making the switch to Liverpool from Newcastle for £35m.

Every year one of the over-monied English Premier League clubs takes an extraordinary leap for a seemingly ordinary player, and every year there is the inevitable chorus of “this can’t go on”. Yet we know there will be more of the same in the summer and another rash of panic-buying a year from now. There seems no end in sight for a level of spending we all routinely refer to as unsustainable.

I’m no enthusiast for Tottenham Hotspur but – even for a club managed by Harry Redknapp – they too had a remarkable Deadline Day. Bids for Carroll, Blackpool’s Charlie Adams and a seemingly endless pool of £38.5m-rated Spanish centre-forwards were capped by a £500,000 approach for Everton’s Phil Neville, a move their manager David Moyes described as ‘insulting’.

Redknapp, of course, is great copy for the sports journalists during the transfer window. Not for him the quiet reticence of only speaking when you actually have something to say – Harry loves nothing better than discussing other clubs’ players, giving the nod to the journos about the ‘deals’ he’s working on. Some regard him as something of a national treasure, the coming saviour of the English national team. Others see him as a throwback to another era, when players moved on a nod and a wink and everyone in the game ‘looked after each other’ as it were.

Personally I see him simply as an irritant, someone who should learn the concept of good manners and not ‘tapping a player up’. I’d quite like him to take the England job, sooner rather than later preferably, because I’m fed up of Spurs looking like they might be successful. It’s hard to imagine him as a national coach, however. No transfer market and therefore no opportunity to make public overtures towards Spanish forwards who might be able to “come in and do a job for us”. It would be destined to end in tears, but would no doubt be hugely entertaining along the way.

I never quite understood the rationale behind the transfer window. It always seems to be unfairly restrictive on the clubs with the smallest squads and the tightest resources. Newcastle, for example, now find themselves a key striker down with no chance to bring in a replacement until the summer. The ‘big’ clubs, by contrast, can afford to splash out heavily with a few hours of the window remaining, thereby reinforcing their dominance on a league already controlled by sugar daddy owners with deep pockets (or, in the case of the Glazers at Manchester United, large overdraft facilities). Perhaps the worried cries of unsustainability over the years have been wide of the mark, but Deadline Day does rather preserve the status quo – the one reason above all others that nothing’s likely to change soon.