“Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people when they are committed to misunderstanding you!”
—Janine Van Wyck.
“At that level, every goal is like a knife in the ribs.”
Everybody loves a winner.
Even more so, a pretty one.
Like Federer, like Brazil in the 50s and 60s.
Sometimes, winning is everything.
So when the purists crib that Portugal were unaesthetic in the triumph at the European Cup this year, let’s put their comments in the right perspective.
It is Portugal’s name that will be inscribed on the trophy and history will record them as victors.
Will it matter , in a few years, how they emerged kings despite winning just one game in normal time? Will it matter that they barely made the pre-quarters, drawing all their three group Games?
It will not and Cristiano Ronaldo knows and recognises this better than anyone else.
Hobbling on the sidelines in the final, the man from Madeira cheered and spurred his teammates on inspiring them to the podium in his absence.
In the process, he went one better than his rival and the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi.
Messi may be beautiful, he may be sublime, but he has still to win a title for his native Argentina.
Ronaldo has his measure there.
Unlike tennis, badminton or squash, soccer is a team sport.
And one man does not a team make.
Winning need not be elegant, it need not be pleasing to the eye or the spectators.
Sometimes, it’s simply about getting the job done, doing what’s needed when it’s required.
Yes, we love to see our winners be gorgeous, heavenly and glorious.
But for every Federer, there’s a Nadal.
And for every Spain, there’s a Denmark, a Greece and now a Portugal.
What do you say to Lionel Messi when he loses yet another final and announces his retirement from internationals?
Are his fans to cry, “Come back, Messi, we’ll always love you, come what may”?
Or to join his plaintive chorus to ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina’.
“Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance.”
Truth be told, my first reaction to Messi’s missed penalty was the demoralising effect it would have on his teammates. To see their skipper miss his shot by a mile could only create more flutters and nerves in their midst.
And sure enough, his teammates missed another and that was the end of Argentina’s Copa America Centenario dreams.
That Messi would take this loss to heart and view it as a personal failure could only be foreseen in hindsight.
Will Messi be back?
The magician with the ball does know that soccer is a team game and that he’s not expected to shoulder the blame for his team’s inadequacies. And it’s not as though there isn’t a blueprint available on how to nullify the Messi threat personified by an Argentinean side. Germany have done it before and Chile did it to them twice.
Messi is hardly the first high-profile player to miss a crucial penalty. His Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo missed one in this year’s Euro. Roberto Baggio and Michel Platini are on that unfortunate list too.
Time is a great healer and it’s possible that the lure of another World Cup could draw the mercurial forward back.
Yes, it’s possible, and we certainly hope to see him back in national colours.
Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy his exploits with Neymar and Luis Suarez for Barca.
What he said:
“When you see what Huth is doing to Fellaini, that’s a penalty. Shall I grab you by your hair? What is your reaction when I grab your hair? Your hair is shorter than Fellaini but, when I do that, what are you doing then? It’s a reaction. Every human being who is grabbed by the hair, only with sex masochism, then it is allowed but not in other situations. They did it. They did it several times I think.”
Manchester United’s manager Louis Van Gaal can be quite surreal with his statements to the English press.
The Dutchman defended Marouane Fellaini’s elbowing of Leicester’s Robert Huth during their 1-1 draw on Sunday with the above statements moving to pull the questioning journalist’s hair.
What he really meant:
“Hair-pulling is quite a provocative act. A footballer who pulls his opponent’s hair deserves to be elbowed. I’d like to see you elbow me when I pull yours. Isn’t that bloody natural?”
What he definitely didn’t:
“That was the Hair of God and God’s elbow!”
It is proving to be a fairy tale finish for last year’s almost-relegated Leicester City in the English Premier League (EPL).
Even a 1-1 draw against Manchester United last evening couldn’t dim the jubilation in their joyous fans.
And it’s not just their die-hard fans who are celebrating.
The mid-level club has made fans all over the world with their glorious run to the title this season in an unlikely topsy-turvy EPL season.
Defending champions Chelsea are nowhere in the top four and will not qualify for next year’s Champions League.
They still lurk as potential spoilers for both title aspirants. Tottenham Hotspurs play them this evening and Chelsea encounter Leicester in their final game next week.
Should the Spurs drop any points to Chelsea, Leicester will be home and dry with two games in hand.
Should Chelsea lose, a win against Everton at home should suffice for the Foxes.
Either way, it’s looking very rosy for Claudio Ranieri’s men and the Italian manager will be looking forward to a two million pound bonus in his burgeoning kitty.
A couple of years ago, it was Atletico Madrid who made believers of sceptics knocking out Barcelona and Real Madrid on its way to its first La Liga title since 1996.
Atletico are in the running this year as well— a three-way race including Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It is always gratifying to see the small guy win and as this writer put it in his mid-season piece, “It’s not about whether you play as well as you can, it’s about simply doing better than the rest.”
That happens to be the story of this year’s EPL. None of the former champion sides could lift their standards high enough to take the fight to giant-slayers Leicester.
Leicester are deserving victors unless there’s an unlikely, nasty twist in the tale.
Former doubters disbelieve no more.
Luis Figo’s dream of introducing the five-a-side variant of soccer—futsal—to India may be still-born.
The Portuguese ex-footballer was in the country to sell his new venture Premier Futsal as its president.
The 10-day event is scheduled to begin in mid-July and will consist of eight city franchises whose squads will have 56 international players and 40 Indians.
Each side would have three international players, one international marquee soccer player and one Indian player.
Each squad would have 12 players.
The eight chosen cities are: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kochi, Hyderabad and Goa.
“It’s a new challenge and adventure I have taken up which I hope to make as a success and that s why I said yes to this new project.
People love soccer and cricket out here. India has a huge population, a huge market and it offers a huge opportunity for doing sports events with great success. I am doing something positive for the sport and the country and my experience as a soccer player will hopefully help me in this development.
Back in Portugal I have played futsal extensively growing up which instilled quick thinking, skills and close control.”
The proposed league hit a speed-breaker when the world body FIFA wrote to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) claiming that the Futsal Association of India is a non-affiliated group and thus the Futsal League is not sanctioned by them.
Futsal is played mainly indoors and consists of two halves of 20 minutes each.
The main differences between traditional soccer and futsal are listed below:
Futsal (Five-a-Side Soccer)
|#5 Ball||#4 Ball – 30% less bounce|
|11 players||5 players|
|3 substitutions||Unlimited “flying” substitutions (12 Players on a Team)|
|Running Clock||Stopped Clock|
|45 minute halves||20 minute halves|
|No time-outs||1 time-out per half|
|Goal kicks||Goal Clearance (throw)|
|Some contact||No shoulder charges or sliding tackles|
|No absolute time limit to restart game||4-second rule on restarts|
|Offside Rule||No Offside Rule|
|Goalkeeper steps||No restrictions, but limited to 4 seconds|
|Goalkeeper cannot touch by hand a ball kicked back||Goalkeeper cannot touch by hand a ball played back|
|Unlimited back passes to Goalkeeper||One back pass to Goalkeeper|
|No sub for player sent off||Player sent off can be substituted for after 2 minutes or other has scored|
|Corner kick placed in arch||Corner kick placed on corner|
The Futsal Association of India (FAI) was formed in 2007.
Namdev Shirgaonkar is the former president of the organization.
They are affiliated with Association Mundial de Futsal (AMF) since 2011. They claim to be Founder Members of Confederation of Asian Futsal (CAFS).
FIFA World Cups for Futsal have been held since 1989 and the next is scheduled in Bogota, Colombia this year.
FIFA has competition from the Asociación Mundial de Fútbol de Salón (AMF) which was founded in July 1971.
Futsal tournaments as organised by AMF predate any tourneys organised by FIFA.
The promoters FAI have probably foreseen opposition from FIFA and AIFF. Talent will be scouted from all over India for the league; it’s unlikely that existing AIFF players will participate in big numbers lest they fall foul of their parent body.
We can only hope that budding footballers are not penalised for being part of this league much like players in the now defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL) were.
If the concept takes off, expect the AIFF to consider floating a rival franchise.
Futsal , if it succeeds, could very well popularise the game further in the country making it more accessible to the masses. We could very well see Futsal leagues mushrooming nationwide and schools, colleges and universities taking part enthusiastically.
Yan Dhanda may be the latest footballer of Indian-origin to sign up for a English Premier League side but he’s not the first.
Michael Chopra and Neil Taylor have been there and done that before.
Chopra featured in the inaugural version of the Indian Soccer League in 2014 turning out for Kerala Blasters.
The former Newcastle United and Sunderland player has even expressed a desire to play for India. That will however be possible only if the former Magpie renounces his British passport as current Indian rules prevent persons of Indian origin (PIOs) from representing the country unless they have an Indian passport. The government has not yet delivered on its promise of allowing dual citizenship for Indians everywhere.
This would not be a first.
Arata Izumi gave up his Japanese citizenship in January, 2013 and became the first foreign-born player to play for the Blue Tigers, by adopting Indian citizenship. The Pune FC midfielder has represented India several times since.
In June last year, Chopra spoke of his wish to become eligible to play for India.
“I was going to play for them four years ago. But at that time I was only 26 and I was too young to give up my British passport and travel around the world at that age. I just had a little boy that was born and things like that, so it would have been difficult. My boy is six now and he has grown up and understands what his dad has got to do. So I plan to move to India and give up my British citizenship and get an Indian passport to play for the national team and take them forward.”
‘Rocky’ Chopra currently plays for Alloa Athletic, a Scottish championship club.
Chopra’s father is Indian and that makes him eligible to play for India as long as he surrenders his British passport in exchange for an Indian one.
Rocky is considered unlucky to be part of a NewCastle United line-up that included the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert.
Chopra harboured ambitions of managing and coaching his current side, Alloa Athletic, after the departure of Danny Lennon.
When Michael joined Alloa, he said:
‘I remember when I was at Newcastle and I was a young boy, I was playing with Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert and they gave me the best experience possible.
They made me the player I am today and I’ll be looking to try and help all the young boys at the club and passing my experience on.
I will stay up here a lot of the time, although I’m going back to Newcastle this weekend because my son plays football and I can’t miss his game!
Otherwise, I will be up here training and playing, and I’m hoping to be able to train with St Mirren on a Friday if that can be finalised.
I’m also going to be coaching the kids on a Wednesday night. I want to put something back in and community coaching will be good.”
About his time at Kerala Blasters where he spent most of the time on the bench, Chopra said:
“That was a great experience. My dad is Indian, so that made it more interesting as well. Unfortunately I suffered a hamstring injury early on and then I ruptured my ankle ligaments, but it was still great seeing it all.”
Michael did not get the job. Jack Ross is his new manager.
Neil Taylor is another Indian-origin player participating in the Premier League.
He is Welsh and turns out for Swansea and the national side.
Taylor has been capped more than 25 times for Wales and represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics.
Taylor’s mother hails from Kolkata.
Speaking to Goal.com in 2012, Neil said:
“My mother comes from Calcutta and I have close family both there and in Delhi. I have visited my aunts, uncles and cousin several times when growing up and love the country.
Since I turned professional as a footballer at 16 I haven’t been able to visit India but it is a place I will return whenever I get the chance.
I think India would be a great place to stage the football World Cup. Football is a growing sport there, the Indian public is so passionate about sport (that I think) it would be an absolute winner.
It would bring football in India along in leaps and bounds; a bit like the 1994 World Cup has done for the USA.
There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a World Cup in India – if Qatar can stage it so can India.
Football in India is becoming much more developed and the vivid colours and culture of the country would make for a really distinctive event.
It is a country with the infrastructure to support a World Cup as it has proven with cricket.
Football in India is growing and improving and I think that is proved by the Venky family buying Blackburn Rovers.
The Premier League in England is the toughest and best league in the world, I think that is why it is attracting owners from around the globe.
So many of the clubs are now owned by people from other countries it really is a global brand.”
Speaking to the Independent a year later, the mixed-parentage soccer player speaking about the lack of Indian soccer players added:
“I want to know whether it is that they are not encouraged by their parents. Do they prefer a different sport? From what I remember from India, and what a lot of people say about the Indian people, it could be that a lot of the young people are encouraged to be doctors, surgeons and get pushed down the education route. I just wanted to know, is there more talent out there?
There are more Korean and Japanese players through the British leagues now but there are over a billion people in India, you know, and there’s an incredible density to the place. What I remembered of the country was that it is just cricket-mad. But when I went out this time I saw the change. It was monsoon time and you couldn’t even take your feet out of the grass. Sopping! But all the young people were playing football.
They knew Swansea and the way we played. India is perhaps the only part of the footballing world that is not tapped into. This was about finding out. For years, people didn’t know what origin I was. I’ve thought about it all. That’s all it really is.”
In June last year, Taylor renewed his contract with Swansea City signing a new four-year deal.
Later in November, Taylor whose father is English once again expounded on why he was the only British Asian player in the league.
“Well what’s the barrier? Growing up, and from what I know, for people of Indian origin, education is the number one priority.
All parents will drill their kids to be education-based, with your dreams put to one side to what will get you through life and get you a career.
The obvious question is why aren’t there any already.
I think it’s one of them things which has got a stigma attached to it and maybe players believe that they won’t get the opportunity, or that people (coaches) aren’t seeing them.
All these different types of things need to change.
I went out to India – I wanted to work with a charity along with finding if there were any players out there.
You know, there must be at least one! Looking at the amount of people out there, there’s got to be players who can play at a high level.
People say to me, athleticism. Does that come into it ? I said, I don’t think so.
I mean of course you look at the Olympics and you don’t see it littered with athletes from that part of the world. I think when I looked at it, I thought it can’t be.
People didn’t realise that I was Indian, it’s as simple as that – (from my name ) you wouldn’t know that I was Indian.
When I went to Kolkata and did a press conference, the next day, I got it. It was nice, people were saying welcome to our country, we’re glad people are coming out here.
People were then turning up to stadiums to see me after games and saying, ‘We didn’t know you’re Indian!’ It was great!
I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for my parents! Every footballer you ask that plays on the pitch is unlikely to make it if their parents didn’t play a part in their making it to be a professional footballer. So you need that as well, from an early age.
My dad was big on education as well. I couldn’t go to football if I didn’t [complete] my education properly. It should be like that for everybody, unfortunately it’s not.
Everyone should get their education, everyone has got their own story, but I think that if you really believe that you can, and that’s what you want to do, then parents should always back their children to do that while still having education as a back-up if it doesn’t go how you want it to.”
Yan Dhanda is the latest to join the bandwagon(?) of Indian players in the Premier League.
The 17-year-old signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Liverpool .
It has been his dream to become of part of the Reds since he was 14.
Dhanda’s set-piece free kick against Manchester City in an Under-18 game has drawn over 72K views on YouTube.
Claudio Ranieri is a smart man.
He must be.
He’s a crowd-pleaser.
And he knows how to grab the headlines.
The Italian manager of the English Premier League leader Leicester City had journalists in a tizzy with his statement comparing his giant-killing squad to a lovable, fictional movie character, Forrest Gump.
His team is Gumpish and intends to ‘Run, Run, Run’ all the way to the title.
“Look, I am very confident because if Leicester last season saved themselves in the last two months that means the stamina is fantastic. Why can’t we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump. Leicester is Forrest Gump. I give you the headline there.”
For a team that was almost relegated last season, this year’s tilt at the championship has been nothing short of a fairy-tale.
Everyone loves an underdog especially when it seems too good to be true. We’re all suckers for a good story.
I don’t watch the English Premier League anymore. I used to a long time ago but not anymore.
But I still follow the championships through news reports.
This year has been fascinating reading.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have been models of inconsistency.
While a side that was not given a ghost of a chance has continued to mock the pundits and poke a hole in any theories propounded by soccer fans.
The Christmas break is that time of the EPL season when it becomes evident whether the leaders are going to stand their scorching pace or fall by the wayside. The change in inclement weather seems to mark a change in fortunes of sides. Some teams are just better suited to take on their opponents in the wintry months.
Can Leicester City be the Christmas miracle fans need?
We shall soon know when they take on Liverpool and Manchester City in the space of days.
James Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were relative unknowns until four months ago, Hell, I never heard of them until Leicester started winning.
Now, they’re household names all across the globe.
Claudio Ranieri insists that he can make Leicester ‘Maximum City’.
Leicester have never won the EPL title. Ever.
The fairy-tale seems unlikely to go on.
Vardy and Mahrez have not been rested this season.
Their replacements Leonardo Ulloa and Nathan Dyer may just not have the same impact.
But with other sides such as Chelsea, Manchester City and United struggling to get their act together, it may just be possible for Leicester to run along.
Sometimes, it’s not necessary to be your best. Just better than the rest.
Sponsors have hit back and with a vengeance.
First, it was their demand for probity in FIFA affairs with Coca Cola, McDonalds, Visa and Budweiser seeking Joseph Blatter’s ouster.
Blatter responded with his characteristic bluster failing to acknowledge the winds of change.
His own Ethics Committee reacted less than a week later suspending him and his lieutenant Michel Platini for 90 days.
In India, Pepsi India served notice to the BCCI over its inept handling of the spot-fixing and betting scandals threatening to pull out of the title sponsorship.
The newly elected BCCI working committee has its hands full when it meets on October 18 to discuss the issue.
Blatter’s troubles originate with the Ethics Committee’s investigation into allegations of under-the-table payments to its former marketing partner International Sports and Leisure (ISL) in 2013.
Blatter’s mentor and godfather João Havelange resigned as honorary President. Blatter was given a clean chit.
Matters came to a head this year when the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) arrested seven FIFA officials and indicted 14 on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.
Since FIFA employees are not government officials, the US government cannot charge them for bribery. Federal laws prevent them from doing so.
Blatter resigned four days after his re-election for an unprecedented fifth time.
Blatter was first elected president in 1998.
The arrests triggered separate inquiries in Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Switzerland.
Part of the Swiss investigation involved a ‘disloyal payment’ of two million Swiss francs to Michel Platini by Blatter for work performed between 1999 and 2002.
The Swiss head was also alleged to have signed off television rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups to a former FIFA official Jack Warner at below market rates.
Criminal proceedings began last week against the FIFA president.
The Ethics Committee moved swiftly suspending him and Platini for 90 days. They further banned Ex-FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon for six years.
While Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev, McDonald’s and Visa were united in their opposition to Blatter’s continuance, Adidas refused to join them.
The German sporting giant that has manufactured the World Cup match ball since 1970 and has been licensed to do till 2030 has the most to lose.
Soccer is the only sport in which it has a lead over its competitors. It is a Catch-22 situation.
It could either back the other advertisers and lose its most important market or suffer an erosion of its market share given the bad publicity surrounding FIFA and its running.
Blatter is believed to be an Adidas stooge.
Aidan Radnedge writes:
“Adidas supremo Horst Dassler plucked Blatter from the marketing department of luxury Swiss watchmaker Longines, trained him up for several months in Landersheim offices then installed him on the first – if lofty – rung of the Fifa ladder.
‘He taught me the finer points of sports politics – an excellent education for me,’ Blatter later said of Dassler, who also provided useful instruction in how to best enjoy a good cigar.”
It was Dassler and Havelange who plotted the ouster of Sir Stanley Rous as Fifa president in 1974.
It was they who recognised the power vested in the federations of Asia and Africa. The poorer bodies felt alienated and under-represented. Havelange exploited their fears thus paving the way to become the most powerful man in soccer. He was ably assisted by his then right-hand man—Joseph Blatter.
ISL was founded in 1982 by Adidas heir Horst Dassler. For nearly two decades, it enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the commercial interests of both the world football federation and the Olympic movement.
ISL went bankrupt in 2001.
It is believed that without the pressure from Coca Cola and the others, the Ethics Committee would have proceeded more judiciously giving the accused a first hearing before issuing penalties.
FIFA expert professor Alan Tomlinson from the University of Brighton said:
“The sponsors have certainly ratcheted things up, and this is one of the main reasons why the ethics committee has, for once, acted quite swiftly. The normal procedure is for the accused to be initially heard and then, perhaps, issued with a provisional suspension, pending a full inquiry.
The sponsors have told FIFA that they have had enough and this has had a huge impact on recent events. This whole thing has come down to money because that is the one thing that people within FIFA understand.”
A quarter of FIFA’s revenues over a 4-year-World-Cup cycle comes via sponsorship deals.
In India, PepsiCo, the soft drinks giant, are considering exiting the title spot citing concerns about the image of the IPL given the spot-fixing and betting imbroglios and suspension of franchises Chennai SuperKings and Rajasthan Royals.
PepsiCo India signed a deal for Rs.396 crores in 2012 for a five-year period.
If Pepsi pull out, then not just BCCI but also the franchises that have sold it ‘pouring rights’ will be adversely affected.
The ‘pouring rights’ are worth Rs.2 crores per season.
A co-owner of a franchise said:
“If the news about them pulling out of the IPL sponsorship is true, it’s a big loss. In these times when the brand value of the IPL is down so much, it will be difficult to sell the ‘pouring rights’ for more than Rs 50 lakh.
The tobacco and liquor companies were the ones to spend big money in sponsorship deals in cricket, then the cola giants became the big sponsors. In between, there were a few to associate with cricket like DLF and Hero Honda, but they pulled out too. If the cola companies pull out, it’s not good for the sport.”
The teams’ revenues too will be hit. The central revenue pool which is shared at 60:40 between the teams and the BCCI is the other main source of income besides team sponsorships. Any reduction in title sponsorship will lessen this intake.
The BCCI sought to play down the crisis.
An anonymous source within the BCCI and IPL said:
“Firstly, it has nothing to do with the 2013 IPL spot fixing scandal. At the moment, they’re concerned about the future of the IPL – whether it’ll be a 6, 8, 10 or 12-team tournament. Secondly, they’re not satisfied with the publicity that they’re getting out of the event vis-a-vis the other sponsors. They’ve to pay us Rs 90-100 crores every year, which isn’t a small amount.
It’s a sham. They have sponsored two IPL editions since the scandal broke out. I think they’re facing financial difficulties of their own. When we met them in Delhi some time back, they never gave an indication about this. In fact, we had a healthy discussion with their chairman and CEO for India region, D Shivakumar, about our future plans.”
The stern action and harsh words employed by commercial interests in the sporting properties of FIFA and the BCCI are reminiscent of tactics employed by activist investors in corporate governance.
Activist shareholders secure equity stakes in corporations to put public pressure on their management.
Their goals may be financial or non-financial.
Despite having a relatively small stake–sometimes just 1% is enough—, these activist investors seek the support of financial institutions who hold larger stakes to further their goals. Some of them even manage to secure seats on the board.
While sponsors cannot be said to own equity stakes in sporting federations, given the huge contribution they make to their revenues, their influence cannot be discounted.
The IPL, in the wake of Lalit Modi’s ouster, installed a Governing Council to overlook its operations. Would it be a far-fetched idea to have a sponsor representative on the council that could safeguard their interests?
Corporate governance for sports federations that include the interests of sponsors would be more than practical.
For once, interests of fans and sponsors are aligned. Will it always be so?