Indian football – a perspective

Disclaimer: This post is in response to the following post on The author has written a passionate piece but I do not agree with certain aspects. I look at an understanding of the broader picture to better appreciate the situation.
“Don’t blame cricket, blame yourself!”

When I first read this, I was thinking, ‘wait a minute! I don’t actually blame cricket. I’m a football fan. So does that mean that I should blame myself for India’s lack of quality in football?’ Well, most certainly not. I am not to blame, and neither are you. Hell! No one is to blame and all of us are to blame.

While Yash Modi has written a passionate plea replete with facts about small nations and even a social experiment, what he fails to do is essentially capture the essence of why what is what it is. He asks us not to blame cricket. Spot on. He says that we love football but not INDIAN football. Once again, bulls eye! Yet there are a couple of points he makes that I don’t quite agree with, simply because of the context, or the lack of it.

“Slovenia. A tiny mountain-laden nation nestled in between Austria and Croatia spreading over 20,000 sq km with a population of 2 million. Now here’s why these statistics are important. Their FIFA World Rank is 25 and they are participants in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.” Yes. A small nation indeed and indeed a very small population. Yet, look at 2 very important words in that statement: Austria and Croatia. Two countries, who have been good footballing nations in their own right. Also, Slovenia is not that far away, and in fact shares borders with Italy and Hungary – footballing powerhouses; one still, and another historically.

“Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation, have 1.2 million citizens living on an island that’s 5000 sq km in size. They lie 95th in the FIFA World Rankings and had participated in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.” Again, look at it in the broader perspective. Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from the British only in 1962. Surely, the effect of their culture was not lost on them. Cricket is a testament to this fact.

It’s great to read such a passionate article and be moved about the bad state of Indian football and why who is to blame. Yet, looking at it in the broader context, all is not doom and gloom, really. I appreciate the article and the passion in it, I really do but what I don’t quite concur with is that there is anyone to blame.

First, look at it historically. If you want to blame anyone really for the under-development of football in India, blame the British. Yes, the British. I’ve gone crazy, you might say but just spare a thought. Cricket, football, tennis, badminton, polo – all brought to India by the British. They might have existed in different forms in India previously but not as organized sport. It was the British who truly brought organized sport into India. If you’ve read ‘A corner of a foreign field’ by Ramachandra Guha, you’ll come to appreciate the history of cricket in India; how it was and how it grew. If you haven’t read it, you really should. There he examines not only the sporting factors but also the socio political factors that governed cricket and helped in its spread.

Cricket was simply more accessible (though you may ask how cricket, where obviously more equipment is needed than just a football is more accessible, it just was.) The British in India did not play football, or at least not nearly as much as cricket. Cricket is what people saw the ‘firangs’ playing and this is what captured their imagination. Also, football was not an elitist sport. It was played by the lower classes in England and the primary audience was the throngs of working class who flocked for their Saturday afternoon fun in the sun after a long week’s labor. The British ruling classes in India were obviously from the upper classes and hence preferred the more ‘civilized’, if you like, cricket, tennis and polo. The traditional stronghold of Indian football, Goa, was ruled by the Portuguese, who were much more into football because of the vast number of traders who came and went frequently, imbibing their culture into the local culture.

As they say, the rest is history and well, the results are for all to see. Cricket captured the public imagination and has gone on from strength to strength. We could argue that, had football been given equal status and importance as cricket, we might well be playing at a world cup now. Yes, maybe we could but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t. Again, to look at why this is, we must look at the Indian psyche. We, as a race, are a far more peaceful people. We enjoy competition and the spirit of the game but are far more reluctant to watch people getting battered and bruised. Innately, we enjoy beauty and elegance rather than brawn. For this reason, cricket and tennis offers more to an Indian than does a football or rugby. Hockey is the notable exception but even that can be made an excuse of because of its elitist status that it held in the times of old. It was more artistry and skill, and still is.

In spite of all the hoopla about the world cup, it still remains a minority of the public’s imagination. ‘The 2010 edition is the most widely watched football event in India with viewership up by more than 35%’ said a report. Yet, the TRP was 1.2. Compare that to a TRP of 7 odd for IPL3 and you get an idea. Yes, football is growing exponentially. There is no doubt about it but we must accept that there is a fair way to go yet. There is no point in bemoaning the lack of success. Apologies for being blunt but, there is a distinct lack of it. Deal with it.

Whether we accept it or not, there is nothing like success to capture the imagination of a nation. I don’t know if people will agree but the 1983 Cricket World Cup win did something for cricket that no amount of advertising or money could do; it brought success. It showed us that we could compete with the world; not just compete but beat the best and be the best. This truly captured the imagination. Cricket has gone on from strength to strength and it is where it is today.

Having stated all that, I do agree with the author that more must be done. We must support our local clubs as well but look at the situation: You see a Messi, a Rooney, a Ronaldo and then you see an I-League match. The dip in quality can be quite disturbing and that essentially is the reason that puts off people.

Strides are being made, and will continue to be made. Patience is a virtue. Football is blossoming and will blossom in years to come. We have Indians plying their trade in foreign lands now. We have academies being set up and scouts coming to witness football at the grassroots level. With more exposure to the world class talent on show in the foreign leagues, more youngsters are inclined to take up the sport.

There is no point in saying that we care about football and not Indian football. There is no point in holding grudges against people for appreciating the European leagues and not the Indian league. Honestly, there is no comparison. People who like to watch good football will watch it and there is nothing wrong with it.

Suddenly, being a striker is fashionable just like being an all-rounder is. Being able to do a step-over is as good as being able to play an elegant flick shot. Indian football is growing. Indian football is slowly but surely coming of age. Let it; and once is has grown, we will know. Until that day comes, wait and watch. After all, even the mighty Rome was not built in a day.


Raavanan – Grey matter

Right from the get go, when you see the camera focus from behind on a half-clad Vikram standing on a cliff, testing the waters below and jumping, you know that you’re in for a visual spectacle. What follows is a movie of epic proportions, which is to say that it captures the essence of an epic and adds its spin on it. Raavanan with Vikram at its helm works on a certain level but most definitely fails on another.

Santosh Sivan (and Manikandan in the initial stages) successfully take your breath away with some drop dead stunning visuals and some of the most brilliant macro and close up shots. The locales are such that you’d be awed that such places actually exist in India. The lighting is brilliant. If nothing else, the film is worth a watch for the sheer opulence and natural grandeur that it exhibits.

A.R.Rahman’s music is slightly different to what we have come to expect. You cant call it inspired but it’s not all bad. A lot of the background score has tribal elements with the racy scenes having a tribal chant set to an exceedingly fast beat. Quite awesome! The songs are blended brilliantly into the movie. The tribal rendition of ‘Kaatu Sirukki’ together with its screenplay is simply mind blowing. The choreography and music of ‘Kodu potta’ warrants a special mention.The phrase ‘leaving the best for last’ was never truer. Rahman’s song in the end (not included in the album) is so brilliant that you can’t help but feel lifted and moved by the rendition.

The casting, as ever, is impeccable. Vikram, as Veera, is simply awesome. He elevates his performance to another plane. As a proud brother, as a wounded soldier, as a brother in angst, as a man scorned willing for revenge, as a deranged lunatic caught in his own mind. Each is exemplary. There are even shades of Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker performance in Veera’s conflicted mind and Vikram’s portrayal of this is par excellence.

I must say that I was most surprised by Aishwarya Rai’s tamil. It was very good. The trace of an accent was there of course but hats off to her. Her portrayal of the damsel in distress and the helpless yet putting-on-a-brave face maiden is very good. Her dance in ‘Kalvare’ is superb. There was one scene that she dances in a shirt, in the rain. I swear, it was exactly the same as the ‘kannai katti’ song in Iruvar. She hasn’t aged a day! 

Karthik and Prabhu play their roles to perfection. Both maybe past their prime as mainstream heroes but they can still act, and how. The one scene where they appear together will definitely throw Mani Ratnam fans to the heydays of Agni Nakshatram. Priyamani comes for about 15 minutes of the film but yet again shows her brilliant acting skills. It can be said that she has matched her Paruthiveeran performance or maybe even surpassed it in her cameo in Raavanan.

Raavanan is an epic retold. In true epic style, it is not rushed but glides on in its own pace. Like an epic that goes through lulls and periods of extreme action, Raavanan waxes and wanes. The movie is the shortest Mani Ratnam has ever made. Yet, it is conflicting in a way. The first half appears to drag on but when the interval comes, it comes too soon. The second half picks up the pace and the climax has been shot brilliantly.

For the hardcore Mani Ratnam fan, Raavanan will not match up to the levels of Mouna Raagam, nayagan or Iruvar; possibly nothing ever will. Raavanan is not earth-shattering but is good, but lacking that telling ‘Mani Ratnam touch.’

Mani Ratnam has not set out to make a ract thriller. He has not set out to make an all-action entertainer. What he has set out to do is to retell an epic in his own distinct style. Most of us know the Ramayana and its characters as black or white. Mani Ratnam succeeds in greying this line.


El Beatle – A tribute

May 22nd, the day of the Champions league final, was what would’ve been the 64th birthday of one of the greatest of all time, the first real “superstar” of the game – George Best. When I saw a few videos of El Beatle on Youtube, I simply couldn’t believe the amount of skill that he had, the brilliant body balance, the fantastic technique and most of all, just that bit of specialness that made him ‘El Beatle’!


I watched a documentary called ‘George Best – footballing genius’ and was floored, to say the least. The amount of skill he possessed was out of the world. Back in the day, the hair was longer, the shorts shorter. The ball was made of leather and the pitch was no manicured carpet but was rather a not-so-healthy combination of grass and slush. Amongst these conditions, one stood above the rest. His name was George Best.


Now I’ve seen Messi play and a lot of Maradona clips. Both absolutely great footballers but having seen George Best, I can safely say that he is right up there amongst them. Sir Matt Busby once said, ‘He’s got the greatest natural talent in a footballer I have ever seen.’ Now that has to count for something.


The amount of abuse he was subjected to in terms of hard tackles, potentially career ending, and the appallingly miniscule amount of protection the referees offered him make his brilliance all the more, well, brilliant! If even half of those tackles went in today’s game, there’d be an avalanche of red cards and sending offs.


He did have his problems with the bottle but on the pitch, it was pure magic. He did things the only way he knew how – magically! He was a prima donna and left people wanting more; much more. He held together a crumbling team and left his legacy on the world of football.


Sir Matt Busby once said, ‘We’ve had our problems with the wee fellar but I prefer to remember his genius.’ In what turned out to be one of his final interviews before his death in 2005, Best said, ‘When I’m gone, forget all the rubbish. Remember the football. If one person in the world thinks that I am the best, that’d do for me.’


In the argument of who was the greatest footballer ever, there are 2 names that are oft repeated; an amazing Argentine and a brilliant Brazilian. Yet the ultimate truth lies engraved on a signboard somewhere in Northern Ireland. It reads thus:

Pele – Good.
Maradona – Better.
George – BEST !!!

May your Legend live on for all eternity!
May you rest in peace among your real equals – the stars in the sky !



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The riddle of the Berbatov enigma

Manchester United had just won the League and Champions League double the previous season. Rooney and Tevez were forming a formidable strike partnership. Yet, the complaint was that they were too similar and that there had to be a different approach too. Enter Manchester United’s new Number Nine. Dimitar Berbatov. When he was signed on deadline day of 2008 from Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of close to 30.75 million pounds, there was little doubt that he would become a success story at Old Trafford. He would be the skill and panache to all of Tevez’s grit and graft. He would be the focus of attack. He would provide that piece of magic and that flash of brilliance at will. Fans were heard singing ‘Ooh! Aah! Cantona!’
What has transpired in the following two years at Old Trafford has been a story that is different from the ideal one in many counts. What was supposed to be a match made in heaven has turned into a series of nights of lull interspersed with brilliant one night stands. To say that Berbatov has set Old Trafford on fire would be a lie but to say that he has been an utter flop would be an even bigger one. Here I attempt to understand the complex riddle of what has gone wrong, where it has and why it has; the riddle of the enigma that is Dimitar Berbatov.
Berbatov first arrived on the scene with a fantastic piece of skill at the edge of the box, a small dribble and a cut back to Tevez to score against the old enemy. Things couldn’t have looked brighter but somehow, things did not materialize as expected. Berbatov’s early season performances were encouraging with good performances and great combination with both Rooney and Tevez. It was in mid-October that something happened. El Ron was back.
Having missed the early part of the season with ankle surgery, Ronaldo returned to the United fold and straight away, was thrust into the limelight. Sir Alex increasingly started using the 4-5-1 with Rooney up top but as the games wore on, Ronaldo ended up top and Rooney relegated to the wing. Berbatov was tried in the system but out of his natural habitat and playing in a new team, Berbatov didn’t quite flourish.
There were of course the brilliant flashes, tricks, flicks and backheels but these were few and far in between. When they did come off though, they were a thing to behold. The one moment that really stands out in my memory is that piece of skill in the league game against West Ham where he did a 360 on the by line and passed it to Ronaldo to score. Pure genius.
As the season wore on, he was being in rotation with Rooney and Tevez and many a time, it was a case of one among the three to partner Ronaldo up front with Rooney out wide.  The season ended with a poor penalty taken in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton which drew flak from all directions. 14 goals from 43 appearances was not a bad return but not one that was expected from a 30 million pound man. There were more than 15 assists too but the overall return was disappointing.
The next season came with the departure of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester City and Real respectively. Michael Owen was signed but he was always going to be the third striker. The stage was set for Berbatov. His time was now. Yet, the season did not go according to the script.
If Ronaldo was ‘it’ in the previous season, Rooney was ’it’ this term. Quickly stepping out of the shadows of Ronaldo, Rooney was given the central role that he always craved and the effects showed. He ended the season with a phenomenal return of 34 goals. Again, it was Berbatov who made headway. Sir Alex again preferred the 4-5-1 in the big games with Rooney being the lone striker. In a 4-4-2, Berbatov did play but with him playing only every other game at best, the continuous run of games that is necessary for any partnership to flourish never materialized. Added to this, there was the lingering knee problem that just would not go away. Berbatov’s contribution was sporadic and although he did finish as joint second top scorer (along with ‘own-goal’) his performances have left fans polarized.
Why has Berbatov not worked? One, he has been playing a different role to the one at Tottenham. In his first season, he played ‘in the hole’ essentially when he was paired with Ronaldo, which his natural position. The one game where United absolutely wreaked havoc was the second half performance against Tottenham, ironically. United scored 5 goals in a 20 minute blitz in the second half, with ‘the fab 4’, Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov playing together. With Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo playing in a fluid system, Berbatov was free to drop deep, collect the ball, play one-twos and show his entire repertoire of tricks and flicks. It was a sight to behold.
Berbatov’s is not an all-action style; it’s one of style, panache, finesse and skill. He will not chase lost causes. His economy of movement is something that not everyone will understand or appreciate. When he has been severely criticized for his lack of goals and his contribution but that argument has come in from quarters that do not really look at his other contribution to the way United play when he’s in the squad.
When he drops deep, invariably, he draws 2 defenders towards him. This opens up space for the others to exploit. He seems to hold on to the ball for a lot longer than necessary but all that while, he draws more defenders onto himself, thereby opening up more spaces and hence making the opposition lose their shape. Berbatov thrives on the ‘give-n-go’ system where he gives it and expects it back immediately.  The game against Tottenham is case in point. At United, this has not been the case most of the time. Admittedly, he has not got himself into goal scoring situations, or ‘at the end of the cross’ enough but that must not be the sole criterion to judge the man.
At Tottenham, he was the pivot around which the team operated. He was the lynchpin in attack and all moves went through him. His style is usually to drop deep, keep the ball, make a quick pass and get the ball back. At United, he has been doing the first three parts but seldom does he get the ball back immediately. Usually, Fletcher or Carrick or Scholes receive the ball and look to the wings to expand play rather than giving it back to Berbatov and build play more centrally. Now, I’m not in the least suggesting that this system is wrong and detrimental but merely stating the difference in the styles between United and Tottenham.
Another factor that influences Berbatov is confidence. He’s a form player who, when high on confidence, will pull off some of the most outrageous pieces of skill but when low on confidence, will look like a sorry man ambling on the pitch without any sense of direction. Sadly, this was the case on many an occasion this term. This can partly be attributed to his being in and out of the team and partly to the hefty price tag that has clearly weighed him down. 
At Tottenham, he was the pivot around which the team operated. He was the lynchpin in attack and all moves went through him. His style is usually to drop deep, keep the ball, make a quick pass and get the ball back. At United, he has been doing the first three parts but seldom does he get the ball back immediately. Usually, Fletcher or Carrick or Scholes receive the ball and look to the wings to expand play rather than giving it back to Berbatov and build play more centrally. Now, I’m not in the least suggesting that this system is wrong and detremential but merely stating the difference in the styles between United and Tottenham.
There are talks of him being let go but I believe that he needs one more season to really prove himself. Next season, if given a fair and steady run in the team, it is very likely that Manchester United will see the best of Dimitar Berbatov. There was a video on Youtube with the title ‘Is Fergie looking for a new Cantona’ just after Berbatov was signed. As is quite evident, I am a huge fan of United’s number nine and I’m sure that given time, he can reach the charismatic heights. There can be only one king but he could well have an heir.

Blimps – IPL edition of Kites


*To be read like in the Reliance ad where that writer explains the story of Kites to Hrithik.

Blimps – The IPL edition of Kites

Shashi sees Sunandha.
Both of them speak a common language – Bad Hindi.
Cut to Dubai where Shashi romances Sunandha.
Shashi becomes minister from Kerala.
Enter Villain : Modi sahib.
Cut to Nayyar chaya shop in Kerala.
IPL Kochi deal formulated.
Shashi gives blessings.
Sunanadha gives sweat, gets equity.
Shashi travels with cattle.
Modi orders MRF blimp.
Shashi tweets.
Modi retweets.
Sunanda accused, Shashi ousted.
Modi grins.
High speed twitter rant from all sides.
Modi floats in blimp.
Shashi left limp.
Modi ousted.
Shashi elated.

Blimps – coming soon to a theatre near you.