Samba Magic not enough to paper over cracks of chaotic exhibition match
The exhibition match between Brazil Masters and IFA All Stars on Saturday at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium was never going to improve Indian football. It added some more names to the growing list of former footballers who have visited India, and Kolkata in particular. In these type of events we either see former greats playing in a one-off tie or promoting a brand, like in the case of Diego Maradona.
The money that was spent on this event would have been good enough to fund the budget of at least two I-League clubs, or start a couple of academies.
IFA general secretary Utpal Ganguli was candid about the impact of such a game, saying: “These matches are not organised to improve Indian football, but they can help spread awareness about the game.”
The match attracted around 30,000 people, compared to last month’s game involving Luis Figo in Goa, which saw an attendance of only 5000. But don’t be fooled by the turnout, because 30,000 is a very small percentage of the population in Kolkata and the majority who came to the ground were carrying complimentary tickets, with thousands remaining unsold.
West Bengal sports minister Madan Mitra blamed certain sections of the media for not promoting the match enough, but the fact that he promised more scrutiny while allowing a private company to organize such a match in the future suggests that even he admitted that the performance of the organisers was shambolic.
There were goof ups all over the place, starting from the first press conference that officially confirmed the match, to the matchday.
The organisers, a private event management company who previously only had the experience of hosting fashion shows and celebrity cricket matches, had named 2002 World Cup winner and Real Madrid legend Roberto Carlos among the Brazilian Masters.
They were totally unaware about the FIFA ruling of requiring clearance for a player who had not retired 30 months before a scheduled match. Since Roberto Carlos had only retired in August 2012, clearance from FIFA was mandatory, but the organisers realised it too late, and Kolkata was denied a chance to watch the great left back.
The Brazil legends arrived a day before the match, but their training kits and drinking water arrived late, meaning that their only training session was delayed and disorganised. The pre-match press conference was typically chaotic, with Mitra trying to hog the limelight in a room filled with World Cuppers.
But the biggest goof-up was saved till the very last. A dinner party was scheduled for the Brazil Masters on the eve of the match, but they didn’t turn up. The reason that was later known was shocking, as it was learnt that the Brazilians refused to come for the party as they were not paid the promised match fee.
Rumours spread that the match may not even take place and those fears for long looked to be true, as at 1:45 pm, the scheduled kick-off time of the match, there was no sign of the Brazil Masters team. The players didn’t arrive in the stadium until 2:30 pm, as they were reportedly only paid the match fee in the afternoon.
The long wait frustrated the spectators and the journalists of course, so the only solace could have been provided by the retired Brazilian stars.
To be frank the ex-players did show some flashes of brilliance that is impossible to see in Indian football. All three goals were classy as the first one saw a delightful pass from Juninho for Beto while the second was a brilliant curling effort from Bebeto. The third was a Dunga volley from long range.
Some of the passing and neat touches were a treat to watch, but the biggest cheer from the crowd came when former Colombia goalkeeper Rene Higuita produced a trademark ‘scorpion kick’ after a long shot, which looked premeditated, from Zinho.
One could argue that the 70-minute match, which the Brazil Masters won 3-1 with Dipendu Biswas scoring for the All Stars, did have enough moments of magic to light up a dull winter afternoon, but considering the goof ups before and during the match, in the end those flashes of Samba magic were a mere consolation.
In truth, the complete mismanagement surrounding the match should act as a lesson so that unprofessional organisers are not allowed to repeat such mistakes and harass star sportspersons from another country.
Although he didn’t reveal the details, Mitra admitted after the game that were some issues regarding the payment of players, and in fact the problem wasn’t entirely solved before the game, as the organisers, players and Mitra had a meeting in the evening after the match.
Mitra has promised detailed scrutiny before allowing a similar project in future, but it’s also important that someone connected to the game in the country advises new corporates to invest their money on a more reasonable project that can also benefit Indian football and not be just a ‘one day’ wonder.