Category Archives: Sports

Why German’s rule the FIFA world cup in last few years ?

There is no doubt that Germany simply dominates world football in recent times when it comes to their national team competing in major tournaments. And when I am referring the term of “recent times”, I am referring to a period of around 10-12 years. The records speak of themselves when it comes to German national team performance from say 2000 onwards:

  • FIFA world cup: Runners up in 2002, Third place in 2006 and 2010, Champions in 2014
  • European Championship: Group stage in 2000 and 2004, Runners up in 2008, Third in 2012 and 2016
  • FIFA Confederations cup: Did not qualify in 2001, did not play in 2003, Third in 2005, did not qualify in 2009 and 2013, Champions in 2017

That made me think on the main reasons behind the phenomenal success of the German national team, when comparing with the other great footballing nations of Italy, France, Spain, England, etc in Europe. I have deliberately kept the Latin American countries out here, because I believe there the supremacy is kind of polarised with Brazil, Argentina when it comes in national team level competitions.

  • If we look at the club level team compositions across the big leagues in Europe, German leagues take the least number of foreign players. Going by 2017 UEFA report, foreign players in Bundesliga accounts for 49.2%, whereas the number is 55.5% in Serie A in Italy and a staggering 69.2% in English Premier League. So, chances of junior players coming up and playing a top league is much high in Germany than say in England or Italy

Now, let’s look at two foundation level parameters specially for junior football – youth football focus and competent coaching staff availability:

  • The focus of German football has been their youth and development at the youth level. Only in that way, you will have a steady supply of quality players who can dominate football at an young age. The Bundesliga clubs spend around £85m (2014 data) annually on their youth academies, which is one of the highest in the world. This focus started sometime in 2000, when they felt that the German team in Euro 2000 was too “old” and hence could not compete
    And the results of the investment was evident before the last world cup of 2014, when they became champions. At that point of time, gifted young players coming out of this system was too plenty. All the now famous players are a result of that focus – just look at the names and their age (as on 2013) – Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Mario Götze (20), Toni Kroos (23) and the list goes on. No wonder, these players played such a vital role in their 2014 world cup win
  • Coming to qualified and competent coaching staff in Germany. There are 34,000+ qualified coaches in Germany now as compared to around 3,000 in England. Hence, the ability to groom, develop and produce quality youth footballers is much high in Germany

Finally comes German precision, logical thinking and having the nationalism feeling rather than individualism traits that are seen in other leagues.

  • During 2010 world cup, the Germans had an average ball possession time of 3.4 seconds. The leadership believed that if they can cut down on this parameter drastically, not only they can put the opposition totally off-guard but will enable a fluent, fast paced football which can prove to be the big differentiation factor. They teamed up with SAP and aided by a product made by SAP for German football, they cut down the possession time from 3.4 seconds to 1.1 seconds. The precision thinking along with technology makes Germans a leader by a big margin when compared to any other team in the world. If you want to read more details on this unique thing they did in 2014 world cup, click on the below link:

SAP helps Germany lift the World Cup

  • The other focus has been on their techniques and no longer great physiques. If you see German team of 2014 world cup, just look at their matches and find out how many times the ball is lost due to a first poor touch or how many unforced errors comes up during passing or how possession is given away cheaply. The numbers will be much lower than what you will see in other big teams in that world cup including Argentina, Brazil, Holland, etc
  • Finally it comes to developing an inclusive culture based on open communications and individual responsibilities. This is possible because German’s do not have big “stars” in their teams like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, etc. I think even the biggest of the stars of German soccer today like Tony Kroos or Ozil do not claim individual showmanship on or off the field. They would rather play as a team and not have big ego’s on individual supremacy within their own teams. In recent times, the German teams have players coming from different origins – Polish, Turkish, Moroccan, etc. However, the emphasis on inclusion within the team and emphasis on community never replaced individual accountability.
    This was best seen in Neuer’s interview after the quarterfinal win against France in 2014 world cup. When he was congratulated by a reporter on an excellent save in stoppage time against a Benzema shot, Neuer first credited his defense mentioning that they narrowed him to the extent that Benzema had no other option but to take a shot on the near post and then he mentioned “and if it goes in there it’s a goalkeeper error”.

No wonder the success stories of Germany is huge in recent years. I would say if growing footballing nations like India would like to work out an overall success model in football that will allow them to taste success in world football in next 10-15 years, they should emulate the German model.

Now we wait to see whether the same Germans can win the 2018 world cup again or at least reach the finals. Well, time will tell ….

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Who is providing maximum number of players in the 2018 World Cup?

It is just less than 7 days left for the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup 2018. The international friendly practice matches are almost done as the last testing zones of the strategies to be adopted in the world cup. The final 23 number squads have been finalised and published to all early this week. Now it’s just the final build-up before the crescendo begins with colour fans, drinks, music and of course, lots of football and action on and off the fields.

Few days ago, I had written a blog (see the link below) wherein I attempted to arrive at a trend of European football as most of the players across continents dream to play in Europe due to more exposure, money and limelight.

European Football trends

Now if we analyse the final teams of each of the countries and try to find out which clubs contribute these players (across all 32 teams), following hypothesis is again reinforced in today’s world soccer arena:

  • Europe attracts world talent undoubtedly than any other continents, including South America
  • Within Europe, it’s mainly the English Premier League (EPL) top teams who contribute the most. No wonder, EPL is the most popular league in the world with most viewing, maximum money inflow, etc. Probably the EPL is not polarised with just 1 or 2 top teams; there are at least 7-8 teams who are close to each other and give strong competition in the leagues. However, what baffles me is that why English Clubs are not so successful in UEFA Champions League in last 8-10 years !
  • Apart from EPL, it’s La Liga in Spain who contributes a lot. Then they are followed by France, Germany and Italy.

Here is the data:

Country Players
England (across 4 clubs) 51
Spain (across 2 clubs, no prizes for guessing which are these clubs !) 29
France (from 1 club – again no prizes for guessing !) 12
Germany (from 1 club – again no prizes for guessing !) 11
Italy (from 1 club – again no prizes for guessing !) 11

If we go deep another level of the above data and look at the club names (arranged in an ascending order based on the number of players coming from the clubs), it’s obvious that there are no surprises coming up. It’s the known big-shots who are shooting again big time :-)

Club Country Players
Manchester City England 16
Real Madrid Spain 15
Barcelona Spain 14
Chelsea England 12
Paris Saint-Germain France 12
Tottenham Hotspur England 12
Bayern Munich Germany 11
Juventus Italy 11
Manchester United England 11

So irrespective of which country lifts the world cup this year, Europe and the listed clubs will take pride on their contribution to Russia World Cup 2018 !!

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FIFA World Cup : who’s the greatest amongst all ?

To millions of people across the world, the FIFA World Cup is perhaps rated as one of the greatest shows on earth. It has its own quota of romanticism, it has its own ups and downs and yet, the one month-long festival of the “joga bonito” seems to be eagerly awaited by the football crazy fans. Much before the world cup actually starts, the debates often gets heated on the question of “who’s the greatest amongst all countries” ? And coming from a city who is engulfed in either Brazil or Argentina, to have a sane and logical discussion turns out to be next to impossible. When emotions and passion reign high and strong over the logical mind, who cares to evaluate the facts !!

So, let’s evaluate the world cup finals for last 12 world cups – starting from 1970 till date (which will be 2014 world cup). Maybe a period of last ~50 years should indicate a fair bit of time to get evaluated upon. The other good reason being 12 is one of my favourite numbers – so better stick to that. The style of football has changed dramatically in these 48 years and so has the world cup. From a 16 team world cup back in 1970, now the 32 team world cup running from 1998 has been a long journey which probably has increased the toughness of the competition.

The methodology that I have followed to arrive at the conclusion of the best country ever is to first note the first four of each world cup (as I believe that getting into the semi-finals in a world cup is a great achievement that needs to be applauded) and assign scoring points between 4 to 1 – the champions gets 4 points, runners-up gets 3 points, 3rd place gets 2 points and the 4th placed team gets 1 point. Add the points up and voila ! you get a clear indication who gets the crown !!

Some startling facts comes up which shows very few countries have dominated world football actually when it comes to representing country (and not club):

Only 17 unique countries have actually gone into the semi-finals in the last 12 world cups. This is in-spite of football being pursued passionately by so many countries. Probably an introspection is needed why only 17 countries reach that stage and maybe 200+ countries fail to reach there ?

Again more astonishing is that out of these 17 countries, only 6 unique countries have been champions. So, effectively we are saying that 6 countries rule the world in FIFA world cups !!

Capture

Now hold your breath ! Here comes the top 4:

  • In the 4th place is Argentina with a score of 14 – the land of many greats like Kempes, Maradona, Messi, etc. It’s to be seen whether they can pursue their dream this year. However, if they win this year’s world cup, they can potentially climb upto the 3rd place
  • Coming 3rd is Italy with a score of 17. Their tradition and contribution to football has been immense, but in recent times, they are in a downhill mode. It’s quite surprising to see that they could not even qualify to the 2018 world cup
  • Not very far from Italy is Brazil in the 2nd place with a score of 19. They are always one of the favourites in all world cups – but have disappointed in many years. This year again, the hype of Brazil is growing and it remains to be seen whether Neymar and his team can lift the cup
  • The clear winner and the champions in this scoring mechanism is Germany and they lead by quite a margin with the score of 27 points. It’s a team which rarely has big super-stars but plays like a team without depending upon individual brilliance. Add to that the professionalism, the fierce strategy work and calmness.
    The German team has been the best team in modern day football – 3 times champions, 3 times runners-up, 3 times in third place – all out of the last 12 world cups !! Salute !!

UEFA Champions League – searching for the trends

With the curtains down on the 2017-2018 season of UEFA Champions League and the eager wait for the FIFA World Cup 2018, there is a brief lull period where people will catch up their breath and prepare for long nights. So, I thought it will be good to try and find some trends of UEFA Champions League from it’s inception till date. This is more of looking at the finalists and then coming up with certain statements, which hopefully indicates the trends of those times

  • Looking at both winners and runners-up teams, only 3 clubs have a number more than 10 : Real Madrid (16), AC Milan (11) and Bayern Munich (10). Obviously this indicates their dominance – though in different time periods
    • The dominance of Real Madrid was either in the 1950’s or in the decade starting 2011. In the 1950’s the likes of Di Stefano and Puskas were rocking Real Madrid, while in the 2011 decade, the big contributions coming from Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Considering again the finalists (both winners and runners-up) and looking at the country of the clubs, Spain (29 times), Italy (28 times) and England (20 times) contributed the most in the finals. Rest of the countries (including Germany) do not even come to double digits
    • Spanish clubs are currently reigning supreme in this decade. They also had a good run during the 1950’s and 1980’s
    • Italy’s dominance was during the decade starting 1990, even though they had decent run in the 60’s, 80’s and the decade starting 2000
    • England’s legacy started in the 70’s, followed by some level of dominance in the decade starting 2000
  • Now if I look just at these 3 countries of Spain, Italy and England, the spread of the clubs who emerged as the champions indicate the polarisation of club football on most of the cases
    • Spanish clubs have been champions 18 times. But no prizes for guessing which clubs are in this 18 number ? Only Real Madrid (13 times) and Barcelona (5 times). No wonder people say that Spanish club football means only 2 clubs and does not go beyond the two
    • Italian clubs have been champions 12 times. Again the spread has been limited to just 3 clubs here – AC Milan (7 times), Inter Milan (3 times) and Juventus (2 times)
    • When it comes to English clubs, their spread is much better than what we see for Spain or Italy. Out of 12 times champions, we have 5 clubs in the list: Liverpool (5 times), Manchester United (3 times), Nottingham Forest (2 times) and then one each from Chelsea and guess who ? Aston Villa !!
    • In spite of Germany dominating world football for last 25 years, it is surprising that they have managed to win Champions League for just 7 times. Again, the success is quite on a monopoly with Bayern Munich winning 5 out of the 7, with Borussia Dortmund and Hamburg winning once each
  • Finally, if I look at each of the decades starting in the 1950’s and try to see if there was any true dominance by any club (who were the champions), what I can see is:
    • 1950‘s were just the Spanish club of Real Madrid as champions from the first edition of 1955-56 and winning five times consecutively till 1960
    • It was Italy (AC Milan and Inter Milan) who actually won 4 times out of 10 in the 1960‘s and was clearly dominating in that decade
    • 1970 decade was mainly dominated by English clubs (Liverpool and Nottingham Forest followed closely by Netherlands (remember Johan Cryuff and Ajax during those days ?) and Germany (golden days of Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller at Bayern Munich)
    • 1980 decade was again ruled by English clubs and Italian clubs (when Paolo Maldini, Donadoni were playing for AC Milan) who both 6 out of the 10 tournaments
    • The 1990 decade started the re-dominance of Spanish clubs and this trend continued for next few decades. While the Spanish clubs of Real Madrid and Barcelona won 3 times together in this decade, the rest 7 winners were well spread across different countries of Italy, Germany, England, France, Netherlands and erstwhile Yoguslavia
    • The decade starting 2000 was when Spain (3 times) and Italy (3 times) won the Champions league most of the time. By this time, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived big time in club football
    • Perhaps the true dominance of modern day football is in the current decade starting 2010. Out of 8 championship held so far, Spain (Real Madrid and Barcelona) has won 6 times. No wonder, the contributions of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo has been crucial behind the success of the Spanish clubs

Now as we go in the future with more talents / money coming up, perhaps the main question to be asked is “will we see a more spread of top football across Europe, or will it be again Spanish or Italian clubs who will reign on top ?” For the betterment of football, I will definitely wish for more distribution of money and hence better teams across Europe – otherwise soon the interest for club football might start dipping with championship monopolised by just a few !

13th July 1997 – the ultimate demolition in front of 130,000 people !

13th July 1997 – that’s the day remembered fondly by many and hated by equally many. In our generation, that symbolised the passion of football in Kolkata, the eternal rivalry now going 100+ years strong … and of course, the ultimate supremacy of East Bengal over Mohan Bagan, which I hope will continue till my last day.

The frenzy surrounded the match was something that I had listened from my uncles but never witnessed at a mature age. Two things aggravated the situation – the insulting comments of the Late Amal Dutta, the coach of the macha’s and the fact that there was an issue on whether the match will be telecast live on TV – after all, it was the Federation Cup semifinals and a mouth-watering one too.

That season, Mohan Bagan started with a bang – displaying a brand of attacking football that was not seen in last few years, by adopting the so-called diamond system. Such was their initial success that their coach was called Diamond Dutta – till 13th July, when the diamond was crushed to dust. On the other hand, East Bengal was clearly the underdog before the match with some good players on paper – but after that match, the rise of Baichung Bhutia, the empeccable defense of Sammy Omollo, the tactics of counter attacking play against a stronger opponents – all became part of history.

Now, there have been many posts on how the match went, how East Bengal’s Baichung destroyed the myth of the diamond system, etc etc. I don’t want to elaborate on the same thing – but what I want to write is why that day was the most memorable day related to sports till date in my life !

First thing that strikes me was the total frenzy before the game. Tickets to the game was simply not available as they were sold out days before the game. In my locality, fights did happen even before one/two days before the match just because supporters of one club made some bad comments of their opponents. Me and my friends were desperate  for tickets and finally we managed to get through different people. Once we got the tickets, the tension amongst East Bengal fans were just immense – we were subject to taunts, banters and hence we were simply raring to go after them with the hope that a cornered East Bengal club is the most ferocious thing to happen to anyone.

Cometh the Match Day – all lucky shirts (slightly torn), lucky shoes and chappals (worn out with visible holes) were out. And I was stunned when we reached Salt Lake stadium. It was a sea of people with chanting, shouting – the noise outside was tremendous. Rs 10 tickets were being sold in front of me at a price of Rs 800 – 1000 and all those ones were being sold like hot cakes. Never before I saw police jeeps patrolling with portable microphones blaring announcements of “this match will be now telecast live, so for those who don’t have tickets, we beg you all to return back to your homes” !! The entry to Gate-4 was impossible – the queue was at least 2 km long. We had to finally break the queue risking police sticks on our backs and managed to enter the stadium.

Inside it was a hot, noisy cauldron. Stadium packed up even before 1 hour to the start of the match. Even though the official number was 131,000 people in the stadium, unofficially it must have crossed 150,000 as I still remember people standing in the stairs throughout the match – they did not get any space to sit. And the noise when the teams entering the ground – simply unbelievable.

The other thing that I learnt on was the impact of sound waves. Those who are familiar with the Salt Lake stadium layout – we sat in Gate 4, which was just behind one goal. That day, Mohan Bagan managed to score one goal – so while the East Bengal gallery was totally silent, the MB supporters were shouting “GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL”. And we, sitting at the opposite end of them, literally felt the sound wave coming – starting from a feeble rustling sound, then growing exponentially to an ultimate crescendo – all for a period of maybe 8-10 seconds. Unbelievable impact to the ears. And boy, did we not return that impact to MB supporters ? Yes, we did … not just once, by 4 times !!!!!!!!

The most dangerous thing that can happen to any human was if someone, by mistake, sits in their opponents gallery ! As many outstation policemen was deployed inside the stadium, there was one constable from Patna (we came to know later) who was sitting near us. In the first half, when it was 0-0, Cheema Okerie of Mohan Bagan piled on a strong shot which luckily when outside. And this guy, forgetting where he was sitting, jumped up and started shouting and dancing…. by mistake. Oh my God ! Everyone pounced on him and started to give slaps (we call them “chataas”) – but then when it was learnt he was new to the city, etc better sense prevailed. But the story does not end here – when Baichung went on the rampage in the 2nd half, after each goal, everyone forced the poor constable to dance continuously for 5 minutes (per goal) !! It was a hilarious scene for all of us – but must have been a poor ordeal to that guy.

In any East Bengal – Mohan Bagan match, one thing you have to cope up is huge amount of gaali’s and that too innovative ones. There was a father who brought his 9-10 year old son – and he literally tried to close his son’s ears by his both hands everytime someone was shouting some expletives ! Finally he had to give up lamenting “why on hell did I bring my son to this game !!!”. But the funny part was when East Bengal was leading 2-1 in the 2nd half – at that point of time, there was at least 20-25 minutes left. One elderly gentleman suddenly got up, starting shouting expletives towards the referee, when there was absolutely no issue in a mid-field play. People got surprised and someone asked what happened ? (“ki holo, dada” ?). And his reply was unique – “Shourer xxxx referee, referee’r xxxxx, xxxx … etokhon khelaono’r ki aache ???? Amra jitchi 2-1’e – aar referee ekhono kheliye jaache ?????? Shalaaa xxxxx, xxxxxx – ekhunu khela sesh koruk !!” ….. I will not ever forget this incident.

Another thing that will ever be in my mind – it started with a disappointment. We were planning to sit in Gate 3 (where we normally target a fixed place) so that we can see the match better sitting middle of the ground. But we were forced to sit in Gate 4, behind one goal. So, when action happens in the other end of the goal, sometimes you cannot interpret things better. So all of us were grumbling before the start of the match and we were shouting at the policemen who refused to let us go to Gate 3. Boy, did we get compensated at the end of the match ??? Oh yeeeesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss !!! All 3 goals of East Bengal’s in the 2nd half happened at our end, including Baichung’s hat-trick !!! What more could we have asked !!!! And literally I had such a sore throat that day because of the shouting, that I had to bunk office the next day !!!

Let me make three take-way points before I end this post:

  • Nothing is more enjoyable than an East Bengal – Mohan Bagan derby; specially when East Bengal wins. Even when India won the cricket world cups, I was not as happy as I was that day !
  • Atmosphere on the ground in a football match is just electric – even the most advanced dolby sound effects cannot replace that experience
  • Now to the Mohan Bagan fans – you guys simply have to admit we are much superior than you when it comes to the Derby match. I know you will start shouting right now – but again all street dogs bark more than they bite :-)

Finally, as I reminiscence the happiest sporting day in my life, I attach the remnants of that day’s match ticket – which I still carry in my purse wherever I go. Why I do that ? Because it symbolises heavenly happiness, it symbolises good omen and at the end of the day, it symbolises that East Bengal was, is and will be always superior than Mohan Bagan till my last day !

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Friendship 

The year was 1981. A ten year old kid arrived at a new place, new home along with his family. The feelings were quite mixed – happy to see a new and bright, bigger home; slightly depressed for being uprooted from old friends. Feeling of sadness got increased in a couple of days when Sunday came up as that was the time to play, but where are the friends ?

Coaxed out of home by his parents, the kid trudged along reluctantly to the play ground that was near to the new home. Probably sweat started to roll out – not just because of the month of July in a typical tropical Indian weather, but also because of the enormity of the challenge  that lies front of the kid. Unknown environment, unknown park, all alone, degree of being introvert scaling new heights, yet expected to gain company and friendship from a place which is absolutely unknown. Happiness lies on a thin thread – it was a do or die situation.

The kid saw some kids of his same age playing football in a small area as the bigger park was occupied by seniors playing the same game. Probably the seniors booted out the juniors who were now forced to take refuge in a small piece of plot, which was difficult to define as a play ground. Yet, the guys were playing football so happily, running around the ball and kicking it with some venom.

The kid just stood silently holding the rails of the big gate watching the game. Inside him, the eagerness to join the match was so immense, but his shyness prevented him to run to them. After all, he did not know anyone of those running around the play ground. It was probably the biggest ordeal faced by him. Seconds felt like minutes, minutes hours. And still he was standing all alone, clutching on the rail as if holding that will give him great mental strength.

Finally one of those playing saw him. The game was stopped. He came to the kid and asked “you new here ?” Reply was quick but monosyllabic “Yes”. Conversation started “where do you stay ?” “That house in the corner” …. And finally the million dollar awaited question “do you want to play ?” A big smile appeared for the first time. But there was a quick twist to the happiness “okay, go stand as a goalkeeper”

The kid was not absolutely elated in hearing that. After all, being a goal keeper is looked upon as a novice in the game, who cannot even kick the ball, but can just hold it, that too for some few seconds only. But who cares ! The ice was broken, new friends being created, life is definitely bound to get better, more happier. The new place, new environment looked more radiant and bright for sure.

That’s how the journey started 34 years ago. The friendship grew into great relationships and even today, the friends remains as true friends, united in happiness as well as crisis situations. Those kids grew up to become adults, professionals, having their own families. But the common bond of friendship grew stronger and stronger, year after year. 

The kid was me and home was at BD Block, Salt Lake, Kolkata. On this day when the world celebrates Kali Puja and Diwali, I think of those days and the still-strong friends. Let this friendship grow, stronger every year to celebrate at least 34 more Kali Puja / Diwali’s. 

The FIFA storm

Lots of action, drama unfolded in the past few days surrounding FIFA and the future of football in general. Camps were formed, strong opinions, stronger press conferences, FBI in action, twitter flooded with emotions – all possible ingredients of a classic Hollywood movie came into life in a week. Camera, focus, media coverage, action then went into the FIFA Congress at Zurich when the famous or infamous (depending on the camp you belonged to) Sepp Blatter got elected as the head of FIFA yesterday……. again!!!!! Prior to the voting, as part of the build up, UEFA announced veiled (or was it direct?) threats against Fifa through Platini. Even Mr. Putin, Mr. Cameron played their roles to the great drama. But still Mr. Blatter won…. convincingly.

Are there genuine issues in FIFA? Definitely… Grumbling and rumbling about rampant corruption charges were floating not for months, but for years. Allegations, denials were all part of the natural drama in the world of football for last few years.

Is this the beautiful game that everybody dreamt of for last 40 years? No is the answer.

Is there a need to rectify the rotten system and processes? Definitely yes… and the good thing is that everyone acknowledges that there is a major problem – that is the first step towards rectification indeed.

However what baffles me is the approach taken by Sepp Blatter’s opponents. If you have to fight head on, you have to really fight HEAD ON!! You just cannot fight for some time and then back out and then crib for the rest of the days, Mr. Figo. If you need to change the system, you need to get inside the rotten system and then change the same. You just cannot shout and scream from outside hoping that the rotten system will change on its own. To win a vote anywhere in the world, you need to form teams, you need to do lot of lobbying, campaigning and spread your point of view across all voters. I am sure all of Blatter’s opponents did the same – but did they fight till the end?

Now after the voting results, twitteratti is again full of rants from ex players, general public lamenting that the dooms day of football has again arrived yesterday. But what’s the use of this emotional outbursts apart from relieving your heart? Unless we play strongly within the system and then go for change, the existing system will continue the same way, irrespective of how much rotten it might be!!!

The only thing now to see is whether UEFA will lead the world with Latin American countries to bring up an alternate “rebel” FIFA equivalent and an alternative world cup soon….  Is there a Kerry Packer equivalent in the making? Well, UEFA and Mr. Platini – if you really meant those threats of withdrawing from FIFA, you better execute the same quickly to save international football….

The same old story once again ?

The campaign and the hopes for millions are done for another four years. The journey has been completed with an exit from the World Cup after reaching the semi finals. The best balanced team has beaten us convincingly in the final knock out match of India. The response from millions of Indian fans has been written with lots of disappointment, which is quite natural given the passion for the game. However, some of the extreme reactions targeting and questioning the basic integrity of the players have forced me to think that is this the same old story of immaturity once again back ?

Let’s for a second pause and take a step back to visualise the situation before the start of the World Cup. The signals were very ominous for the Team Blue before the start of the campaign:

  • World Cup in Australia where the pitches tend to be too bouncy for Indian liking
  • Comprehensively beaten in last two overseas tours in England and Australia, tending towards complete “white wash”
  • Weaknesses of top Indian batsmen against fast bouncy pace bowling known by the world
  • Last 7 years haven’t produced a class fast bowler who can perform at overseas grounds. There have been patches of individuals who started with lots of hope and then fading away into oblivion with mediocre performances. 
  • Indian bowling attack, specially the pace attack, have been torn apart by the opposition repeatedly. 
  • Ishant Sharma was destined to lead the pace attack and yet sidelined due to injury
  • Morale have been at the lowest ebb ever, specially before the start of the biggest spectacle in international cricket
  • World Cup schedule demanded no “easy” matches for India in the start to gain some confidence
  • Dhoni’s leadership style questioned due to many controversies, on and off the field.

With the above scenario, the hopes of an average Indian fan was very pessimistic to start with. Jokes were around if at all India can win against some of the minnows, there will be hundred reasons to open the bubbly to celebrate.

After one month, India performed above expectations, having all win records in all matches, having bowled out all oppositions in all matches, pace bowlers excelled beyond expectations in all matches, batting up to the mark in all matches, Dhoni back to his cool skilful captaincy in all matches …. except for the disaster that happened in the semifinals against a much stronger team of Australia in their home conditions. That too when the crucial toss going against India.

And then hell broke lose …. Suddenly the same set of people who thought initially that India will be lucky to even reaching the knock out stage, went all arms and daggers out against the Indian team. With such low expectations from the team, when the same team just surpassed all the wildest dreams, suddenly the guns are out blazing to shoot them down ?

The dramatic Times Now channel went on the offensive with comments that Dhoni should have showed some more sad faces after the loss, players did not want to win and hence have been cheating the millions of fans, the captaincy was absolutely ridiculous, the bowling has been pathetic, etc etc. Yes, there have been a failure in that match, but to brand the entire team with those negative comments is totally unfair.

It looked like that after the match, if Dhoni, Virat and others had shed tears on the ground like that of de Villiers, we would have been convinced that they were actually trying to win the match !!! Whether the same set of players are devastated by the loss within themselves is not important, they should have expressed themselves with sorrow, tears, wrenched faces, then we would have  said “well played” !!!! Come on, give us a break !!!

I can only wish that more maturity comes to the responsible media channels, more compassion and understanding is shown by the average Indian cricket fans. Let’s not make yesterday, once more !!

10 defining moments of 2014

Another year has just passed by and as we welcome the new year of 2015, I took the first new year resolution that I will pen down 10 defining moments of 2014, which I feel had impacted the world. I am sure 2015 will be an exciting and good year for me – because, here I am taking time out on 1st Jan to honour my new year resolution. Believe me, this is a record for me and I pat my back myself :-) Coming away from the self-glory mode, let me focus on really writing on the 10 defining moments (in a chronological order based on the time of occurrence)

Welcome-2015-Bye-Bye-2014-5

1) Early 2014, most probably around Feb, we came to know the devastation being caused by the outbreak of Ebola. While the outbreak of Ebola is not new to mankind, what this made me feel that we are probably still hundreds of years behind unravelling the mysteries of nature. While technology has progressed by leaps and bounds in last few decades, still we are at a mercy to understand life and it’s manifestations through different forms – some makes us smile with hope, some makes us cry with despair. We can only hope for the best in the years to come ….

2) Political muscle power has been in display over hundreds, thousands of years. In olden days, kings used to force into others land in search of valuable resources. People have killed people easily in wars fighting over territories and show of strength. Ego’s have played big in many leaders of the world, past and present. Wars have been inflicted under the excuses of “imaginary” weapons; gaining “strategic” geographical positions to keep an eye on what others are doing; crippling economic growth or at least try to do so has been in play for years. So, when the Ukraine conflict started in Feb / March ’14, we are once again reminded of the erstwhile Cold War in action. While that struggle of power still continues, sometimes I laugh at the irony of human civilisations – on the one hand we give “peace awards” and talk of peace, harmony, development, growth; on the other side, the same hand does not hesitate to take action to break the same peace & harmony ! What a contradiction of human beings !

3) Disaster hit us when the ill-fated flight of MH370 just disappeared from everyone’s eyes. Yes – just “disappeared” ! In today’s world, when technology is in fingertips of people everywhere in the world, it is sad to convince ourselves that a big flight with so many people can just “disappear” from everything ! Or are we really convinced ? Till date, we have not got any conclusion of this disappearance – and till that happens, let us humans remain optimistic with the belief that the individuals in that flight are safe somewhere !

4) Came May’14 and came an event that has been rare in Indian politics for last few years. Came a political party with absolute majority by itself in forming the government of India after many, many years – thereby decimating the main opposition party by a huge margin. While I will not deliberate on whether this is good or bad for India, what we all have to admit is there is a big brand of NaMo on the rise – that one individual can take on everything and yet succeed in winning the elections is something I have not witnessed in my lifetime. Positive perception of India is on the rise since that day, stock markets have been consistently high – only thing to wait and watch for is whether the “acchhe din” (good days) have really come or not.

5) For every four years, sports lovers across the world always wait for the grand event of FIFA World Cup to happen – so, Jun’14 was the time of the year when people lifted themselves from their frustrations, problems of life and focused attention on the sand, beaches, beauties of Brazil. As always, this world cup also brought great tactical football – apart from that, two things really caught me unawares. Firstly, how frustration and disappointment on performance in one match can bring the demon out (again !) of a star and classy player of Luis Suarez! It was hard to believe even after seeing the replays that he actually bit a player (again!). The other thing was apparent from the first game – Brazil was riding on hope, emotions rather than quality play in the world cup. But that’s not what surprised me – the utter desolation, collapse of their play and riding on emotions was so spectacular that they conceded 7 goals in a world cup semifinals ! Germany scored 3 goals in 76 Seconds and 4 goals in 4 minutes (have a look at this article) – can you still believe that ? I have never witnessed such a collapse in football ever, that too in a semifinal of a world cup !

6) Oct’14 witnessed the recognition of human peace – the Nobel Peace Prize‘s were awarded to Malala (Pak) and Kailash Satyarthi (India). Contributions by these two individuals are undisputed – one a very “matured” girl, the other a great person. But what this made me to think that while so much animosity, fighting happening on a daily basis along the Indo-Pak border, here are two individuals from these two nations talking peace, walking hand in hand. Such contradictory visuals – but you still feel that one day, this “dispute” will come to an end and then common people from these countries can actually walk hand in hand.

7) Indian football arena was suddenly buzz with excitement with the launch of Indian Super League (ISL) in Nov’14. Optimism was running high and expectations were that Indian football will improve by leaps and bounds after this month-long tournament. Rationale was that if you practice, play and rub shoulders with players like Del Piero, Anelka, Pires, Materazzi, James, etc, definitely something will be transferred to the Indian players, apart from sweat and dust. Well, I had already shared my personal views on ISL in one of my earlier blog entitled “Indian Super League (ISL) – the saviour or the conqueror?” (https://ayanmajumdar.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/indian-super-league-isl-the-saviour-or-the-conqueror/). But definitely football had become more “family” game when you saw families going to the stadiums. Whether that enthusiasm still runs high when iLeague starts is something to watch for.

8) Internet freedom has been under threat for sometime now. Internet was defined as a place where expressions can be shared “freely”; technology is being advertised even today as “technology does not discriminate” – but in last 5 years, I have seen a throttling of such speech by ruling governments, whenever someone expresses opinions which does not suit or favour the parties in power. I personally feel that internet should be kept “free” and governments / corporations should not clamp down on the benefits for their gains. I also feel that control should be exercised by police if internet is used to violate laws (like fostering terrorism, human trafficking, etc). But broadly if technology can provide cheap facilities to common man for communication, expressions – then why will organisations intervene and try to control that for their benefits, monetary or otherwise. The small incident that happened in India in Dec’14 forced me to think on this topic – that is when Bharti Airtel planned to impose VoiP charges on consumers just because they are unable to compete with the likes of  WhatsApp, Skype, Hangouts, etc. While this was an incident of curtailing net-freedom because of profits, the issues of internet freedom will continue to haunt us in the years to come.

9) Throughout the year 2014, oil prices have been falling steadily. The oil price has fallen by more than 40% since June, when it was $115 a barrel. Currently is around $70 a barrel. At a meeting in Vienna on November, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which controls nearly 40% of the world market, failed to reach agreement on production curbs, sending the price tumbling. Also hard hit are oil-exporting countries such as Russia (where the rouble has hit record lows), Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela. While experts can analyse why this is happening, my guess as a layman is that again the reason of “conquest” amongst nations is probably the main reason. Of course, as a common Indian, I welcome this “fighting” amongst nations for a change – because at the end of the day, I can buy petrol at a cheaper price. Thanks for this “disagreement” and hope that this “disagreement” increases more and more in the years to come.

10) Finally, as I was almost certain the year will come to an end peacefully with no major incidents, came another out of the blue related to Indian cricket. The “sudden” retirement of MS Dhoni from test cricket at the end of the 3rd test at MCG between India and Australia has opened up all kinds of theories. We love controversies, we love “sudden” decisions, we love to be “experts” – we definitely had another opportunity to voice our opinions, have debates amongst friends and foes, listen to TV “experts” discussing on the issue, etc. Definitely the year ended with a huge energy level for sure :-)

So, with an opening balance of high “energy” levels, I am sure 2015 will be more energetic than ever. With this, I wish you and your families a very happy and prosperous new year 2015 !

Enlightenment after a big slap

The on going India vs Australia test series happening down under is quite gripping in all aspects. We are witness to great cricket from both sides with Smith and Virat Kohli starring from the respective sides. And then there is that ugly aspect of cricket championed by the Aussies which is in ample display on the field. The same menace that threatens the game to a potential physical brawl on the field – sledging!

Sledging is nothing new, thanks to the infamous contribution by the Aussies. But the so-called “sporting” Aussies, who always claim to appreciate ‘hard’ cricket, can’t digest if an opposition team gives back the same treatment. Then the “friendly banter” that the Aussies claim to be an integral part of the game, suddenly becomes an irritant to the game.

So when Virat Kohli led a vicious sledging attack to Johnson while batting as well as while fielding, then the supporter of sledging Ian Chappel comes up with a big concern that soon sledging might lead to physical confrontation.

To quote Ian Chappell – “The more players talk on the field, the more likelihood there is something personal will be said. If something personal is said at the wrong time there will eventually be an altercation on the field. When that happens it will be players who are punished and as is almost always the case, the administrators will escape scot-free, despite being guilty of allowing the problem to escalate to this point. Apart from the danger of an altercation on the field – and if you don’t think that could be ugly, just remember one player has a bat in his hand – there is the simple matter of the batsman being entitled to peace and quiet while he’s out in the middle.”

Well Mr. Chappell, did you and some of the Australians needed the big slap of counter sledging from Virat Kohli and the Indian team to realise that ? Now you realise that this may turn physical, specially when you saw Haddin, Johnson fell apart due to the sledging from the Indian team? Australian cricket always appreciated “mental disintegration” – what happened to that philosophy now, once you saw your own bowler disintegrating on your own home turf? One big slap on the ears have suddenly allowed the same ears to hear a different music.

Hypocrisy has been a forte for Aussies for a long time when opposition gave back same dosage of sledging – then they feel opposition has been doing “racial” comments and don’t have the guts to face sledging… they complain to papa ICC and cry like babies….

However, as long Aussies continue sledging, you will get a stronger dosage back – with lots of spice… Hope you can digest the Indian curry going on – if not, we can provide some complimentary antacids as well.

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