Saturday, September 04, 2010

Destination Doha 2011

The stage is set. Participants practising in top gear. Come January 2011 ,Qatar hosts Asian football’s signature event, The AFC Asian Cup. This particular edition of the tournament is of much greater significance from the 6 preceding ones for over a billion people of the continent. Yes folks, India is back in the reckoning 24 long years after it’s last appearance in the tournament. It wouldn’t take a genius to know how the odds are stacked against the Bhangra Boys and why wouldn’t they be? After all we have 3 of asia’s top 5 ranked teams in our group. But that doesn’t mean we should lose hope. In that vein, the AIFF sent the team on a 2 month mediterrainian sojourn to Portugal , so that boys get playing time together under the watchful eyes of guru Houghton.

Now, as with everything in the free world , even this expedition has it’s pros and cons , so let’s look at both sides of the coin. The first week or so was spent training and getting back in shape after the I-League ended in the summer. Soon after the men in blue were seen in action playing lower division Portuguese sides. While the first 2 matches resulted in landslide victories for the boys , the other 6 were either draws, losses(2) or laboured victories. Starting with the positives of the camp, I believe playing lower division teams gave Houghton a chance to experiment with the playing eleven. Even as fans ridicule the coach for opting to play lower division teams while opponents such as the socceroos play world cuppers Slovenia , I believe he was right to START OFF with lower division teams. As the boys hadn’t been together since the Dubai camp earlier this year , they wouldn’t have been in any shape to hold their own against the big guns of Portugal. Moreover, Houghton wouldn’t have had the luxury of giving fringe players a chance to prove their mettle. Suppose India played Porto as many of you would wish , do you think Houghton would’ve played an inexperienced player like Rafi upfront? Instead we played smaller teams and discovered Rafi could score even against foreign teams. Houghton gave all players a chance and deserves applause for that. Apart from that the morale in the camp should be sky-high after the boys won a majority of the games that were played. Also , in these two months the team must have started clicking as a unit once again , which is very important ,especially in big games.
Now coming to the negatives of the trip, there are quite a few that come to mind. If attention is paid to what I wrote earlier in the article, “I believe Bob was right to START OFF with lower division teams” and then graduate to play stronger teams towards the end of the trip. If the boys play and beat smaller teams repeatedly, they may get lulled into a false sense of complacency. Moreover, once the team starts clicking , it is very important that they gauge their strength against better opposition as our opponents in the Asia Cup aren’t exactly pushovers. Secondly, If this trip was utilised to play lower ranked European national sides and had positive results, we would’ve seen an remarkable increase in our FIFA rank (as FIFA gives beating UEFA teams the most points). Why is that so important, you ask? Because for the layman , ranking is everything. It doesn’t matter to him how well the team actually plays. And frankly the team needs massive support and so better rankings would’ve attracted more fans. And finally the financial aspect. The Goal 2011 program promises much, but costs an absolute fortune. The need to go abroad would’ve never arisen if we had even one good training facility and stadium where international friendlies could be played. Sceptics believe that India’s loss early in the tournament would result in the wastage of crores of rupees that could’ve gone to infrastructure development. And hence the camp is pretty much a high stakes gamble.
In my opinion our first real test is when we play the formidable Thais at Bangkok on the 4th of September and the agni-pariksha continues with the volley of friendlies after that. These friendlies would give us a true indication of the cost effectiveness of the boys’ Mediterranean camp.
I hope you all join me in getting behind the Bhangra Boys for the upcoming friendlies.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Summer of '10

Pardon me for plagiarising the title of this post from the iconic Bryan Adams number but I felt it was the catchiest one to describe a period of metamorphosis in the Indian Football circles.

To start with, a tough draw at Qatar condemned us to a potential thrashing come 2011, the pull-out of one of India’s most professional clubs and now the news of Bob Houghton wanting to put in his papers. As I pointed out in my last post Bob has been very influential in changing the fortunes of our team.

Starting with the Mahindra pullout, the move was out of the blue. Nobody expected one of the most professional football setups in India go down like this. Mahindra has (or rather used to have) the best facilities among football clubs in India: Youth Academy, Youth Teams, Great Training facilities et all . Obviously it all came at a price and i suppose the Mahindra group started taking it as a burden in the recent past. What baffles me is the whole concept of institutional teams. Who in the world would support a team called Air India expect maybe it’s own employees. I don’t see why corporate like Mahindra took up sports as a Corporate Social Responsibility rather than a potential gold mine when there is a club next door(Pune FC) which makes a hell of a lot of money out of merchandising and gate revenue (a decent crowd gathers to watch their home matches).There are teams like Lajong which brings Shillong to a standstill whenever they play at home, but then any team from the northeast institutional or not would do the same. What really ticked me off was a tweet by Anand Mahindra saying “So many angry voices lamenting our decision wonder where they were when we needed support at our matches).. Well then Mr. Mahindra, what exactly have you done to promote your team in Mumbai?? Why could you not have named it after Mumbai or some part of it?? We say a crop of professional fan based clubs coming up recently(Lajong, Mumbai FC, Pune FC) and I hope there are more to come. Hopefully corporate have taken note of the success of Pune FC and Lajong. And what do I think of Mahindra’s future youth development project?? Baloney!!that project is never going to see the light of the day..

The draw at the AFC Asian Cup 2011 has been less than kind to us. After all 2 continental powerhouses and a team that had a heartbreaking near miss at the World Cup Qualifiers would leave even the most optimistic Indian football fan strained at the prospect of legendary ass-kickings. But on the other hand if we play at our best we can give them a scare. A good showing would spike the interest in the team internationally, giving our players a chance to play abroad. We have about 8 months and if we leave our team to Bob (provided he stays) anything can happen. But is the AIFF circus goes on as usual , I fear we will submit without a whimper..

Finally, the news of Bob’s unhappiness with the jokers at the AIFF has left me very disturbed. The issue has created a Pro-Bob and an Anti-Bob section in the AIFF. The Pro-Bob faction (that has the interest of the game in mind) says the persistence of a few losers at the AIFF in rubbing Bob the wrong way is succeeding. That faction is keen to derail every proposal Bob made to the AIFF (friendlies,Youth Development Projects etc) only because of their differences with Bob...I only hope it dosen’t come to the point where the greatest coach in the history of the Indian football team resigns and Praful Patel intervenes to make sure Bob doesn’t leave..

Saturday, March 20, 2010

In rememberence of K810i ..

A tribute to my old phone which was cruelly stolen on 18th March 2010..

Whenever I heard you ring
my steps got a spring
When I felt you in my pocket vibrate
the feeling was great

With you around, beloved K810i,friends were never too far
I still treasure the image of your plastic body,darker than tar
Dear phone,I sincerely hope,the guy who separated us
falls a thousand feet or gets hit by a bus.

RIP K810i
20-AUG-2008 - 18-MAR-2010

P.S. : I know this might not conform to normal standards of poetry but i really don't care
P.P.S:Do not waste your time pointing out grammatical inaccuracies because i don't care about that either..

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bob The Builder : Engineering Another Win For India!!!

Well, Not many of you India-born-Spain-Fanatics know (new term i made for people who have absolutely nothing to do with the Iberian peninsula , yet who religiously follow the Spanish national team as if their life depended on Spain winning) but let me break this "inconsequential" piece of news to you , that India thrashed Tajikistan to win the AFC Challenge Cup 2008 yesterday. We also qualified directly for the AFC Asian Cup 2011 as AFC Challenge Cup champions.

If questions that come to your mind are: is this achievement is big enough? we didn't really beat Korea did we?? Well I'd say yes it was a big deal because it can mean the ressurgence of our team and No to the second question because .. well, we didn't face them.

Looking at the larger picture, it puts us in the elite group of Asian football, which should push us on the world's footballing map and open the doors for our boys to play abroad.

Most of the members of our victorious team credited this win to one Robert Douglas Houghton or Bob Houghton , which is the name some of us should be familiar with..

Bob , I would say single handedly turned the fortunes of our fledgling team , winning us as many as 3 tournaments in his tenure. Now people like me who have followed our team through the good times and the not so good times , would notice the biggest change in our team ( No, not Sunil Chetri) but the mindset of the team . I would say that we used to give the opposition too much respect by falling back and defending 90 minutes. Now , our attackers have the hunger for goals and that can be proven by the number of goals we have scored in his tenure. Our U-16 team which destroyed the likes of Saudi Arabia to get into the AFC U-16 Championship is a feat in itself.By the way, this team has also beaten the VFB-Stuttgart U-16 team in Stuttgart 3-2.
With that lot coming of age and guru Houghton's tutelage , I don't see why we cannot make a splash in the AFC Asian cup in 2011.

Now for the more serious and for me the more incomprehendible part ... Why does Manchester United have more fans in India than the UK??
do most of their desi fans even have ANYTHING to do with Manchester???

Well , I guess most of us are just WANNABE (S)... We follow it because it's cool and it's the "In Thing".. People in India pray that Argentina wins and don't know if India is even playing. Ridiculous.

We all blame the media...well, the media isn't really the saviour of Indian sports..they'll show what sells...As long as there isn't a change in mindsets of our desi Real Madrid "fans"....nothing and i mean " NOTHING WILL CHANGE"..

As they say here in India "Umeed Pe Duniya Kaayam hai" (The world lives on hope)... I hope the people cheer Indian teams other than the cricket one.

Thank you Bob, Baichung ,Sunil and the team.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Exhibition Matches : Boon or Bane for Indian Football ?

We have all dreamed of the world’s most skillful football players coming to our shores and displaying skills not known to us and now that dream is coming true but frankly are these matches worth it ?
If we look at the financial side of the story, it is extremely expensive for the organizers to organize even one friendly. Recently Tottenham Hotspur expressed an interest to play a friendly at the Salt Lake Stadium against East Bengal. That deal is as good as blown as nobody was willing to foot the bill.
What came to light was that the price demanded by a relatively second rung team like the Spurs was around 500,000 Pounds (plus The cost of Accommodation and Travel) which by no stretch of imagination is a small amount. The other friendly is the much hyped Bayern Munich-Mohun Bagan game which will set Bengal Peerless back by a hefty amount. While it’s true that it gives us an opportunity to see our heroes live and that there is a sudden spurt in the popularity of football but then the question is : How do these games help the overall image of football in our country.
This money could have been put to better use. It could help organize international friendlies where our national team gets a chance to test themselves against a slightly stronger opposition. It will also give our team a chance to improve it’s rankings. We all know how our U-16 team defeated Asian giants away from home to qualify for the AFC U-16 Championship.
This money could have been used to help them prepare for that tournament by organizing friendlies and training stints etc.
Boon or Bane ??? You decide.

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