Yet another mega football match is waiting for India! This time, the football lovers of the country may get an opportunity to see the legends of Manchester United and Juventus play at the Salt Lake Stadium of the ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata, on 1st August 2012. The Sports Minister of West Bengal has taken a keen initiative to organize the match, which may provide an impetus to the growth of football in India. Will it? Or will it not? This is a crucial question to be answered! Why? Because the other big matches in India and the visits of celebrity footballers to the country have so far failed to provide any impetus to Indian football! Let us discuss this in more detail.
The day was 27th May 2008 and venue was the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata. The two participating teams were Bayern Munich and Mohun Bagan. The match was promoted as the farewell match of one of the legendary goalkeepers of the world, Oliver Kahn. The match received huge media publicity, which created huge demand for the match tickets. The stadium was full on the day of the match not only by the regular followers of Indian football, but the bigwigs of the corporate sector also came to enjoy the experience. The female attendance was significant, which is a rare phenomenon in Indian football. All this hype and madness ended with the end of the match. Bayern, surprised by this huge response, decided to set up a football academy in West Bengal, but failed to start the project due to non-availability of land and other political reasons. The hyped match failed to create a long term impact on Indian football.
Those who thought that to witness the match between Bayern and Mohun Bagan was a life-time experience, got another opportunity, an even bigger one, on 2nd September 2011 when Argentina played against Venezuela at the same venue. It was a FIFA friendly. The star-packed Argentine team beat Venezuela by a solitary goal. The match created even more hype, Messi was followed by the fans, reporters, photographers and even the policemen! He and the other stars, including Higuain and Aguero mesmerized the nation with their excellence in football and offered immense pleasure to the football fans of the country. After this match, they went to Bangladesh to play another match. Oops, I did not mention anything about its impact on Indian football! Actually, there was no long-term impact to mention! The match ended and Indian football returned to its original shape and size.
How can we forget the visits of football legends to India, specially the visit of Maradona! Kolkata became the ‘City of Maradona’ during those days. He came, saw and won millions of hearts. He went to various places, we followed him. He waved his hands, we followed him. The magician went after a brief stay in Kolkata, but he did not provide us a magical rod to produce a player like him from India.
Am I pessimistic? Am I against these high-profile matches? No, I am not. I support the organizers, the Government and the Federations for organizing them and I will, certainly, be a part of the crowd which will cheer the teams. But, what about Indian football and its development? Let me share with you another story which remained unnoticed for a long and the architecture of this achievement is still unrecognized.
It was 2011. A team of qualified coaches went to the remote places in India to select football talents. After careful observations, they selected 16 under-15 boys, out of 20,000, to play in the prestigious Arsenal International Tournament. Was it the same old story of losing by big margins? No, certainly not. The Indian U- 15 boys lost their first match from an English club from Manchester by 1-0. After the match, the coach, who shared a vision with the boys, motivated them to fulfill their dream of creating a history. The master tactician made some changes in the style of play and it started giving results. The team from India created a history by qualifying for the final and they defeated teams from football-developed countries like England, Netherlands, in the process of creating the history. It was a tense moment for the Indian boys, they were waiting to play in the final. The coach took up the responsibility of motivating the boys again. He said, “don’t think of the opposition and what they look like, none of your idols ever did that. Messi, Maradona, Ronaldo and Lampard never did care how big the opposition was, so go and be those players and play like them!” The motivated Indian side secured a place in the history of Indian football by beating a club from Chelsea, West London by 1-0. Mission accomplished and the coach was the most satisfied person. Do you know who the coach was? The coach was Judan Ali, a British-Indian, whose dream is to contribute to Indian football for its future development. Despite his tremendous success, Judan, who, as a player, has had stints with Arsenal and Chelsea, remained unnoticed and unrecognized in India.
Can’t we invite a coach like Judan to make our national team more successful or to establish a supply line of players? The time has come to think on this. The time has come to decide whether we want to celebrate a match or a bigger cause. Let’s think.