When Messi Came To India
Indians were born to play football. Don’t agree? We are genetically short with an average height of 5 ft 5 in, like Messi. Hence we, like Messi, have a low center of gravity, reducing our chances of falling over and facilitating an arguably easy transfer of body weight, which in football, is essential for changing direction. We are blessed with some incredible food that is delicious and healthy, with minimal frying, which keeps most of us away from obesity, like Messi. Well, some of us are just underfed. Also, kids in India, for some unexplainable reason, love to run, like Messi. Whether it’s chasing kites or hustling old, discarded car-tires with twigs, an Indian kid is always running. We Indians are also poor. Football is a very inexpensive sport. All you need is a ball, a couple of excited, running Indian kids and half a street. There are one billion of us. We cannot complain about not having anyone to play with. Plus, the weather is never “too cold.” BOOM. You have to agree, Indians were born to play football. Now, we just have to get good at it.
Enter Messi, literally and metaphorically. Never have I ever seen a player publicized more than the football match itself, until Messi came to India. This past Friday, the whole of India knew that Messi was in town; but only half of India knew that the entire Argentina national team was in town and only about 1/100th of India knew who their opponents were. For one day though, Messi beat Shah Rukh Khan. He dribbled past a couple of players a few times, got an assist and put on quite a show. Bravo.
On the larger scheme of things, this “Messi” extravaganza, or more appropriately, a top-level international friendly, is a sign of the promising future India has in this sport. I did some digging and found some incredibly fascinating facts.
1) Celebrity Management Group (CMG) brokered the “Messi” deal, which resulted in the state government spending Rs. 11 Crores on renovating Salt Lake Stadium, making it a venue that meets the minimum requirements set by FIFA. This means that more games can and will take place in India. FYI, this was the first-ever official FIFA-endorsed international friendly to take place in our motherland. A start.
2) Sticking to stadiums, after renovations, the Salt Lake Stadium is officially the second biggest sport stadium after “May Day” in North Korea (what’s up with the name?). Nice, was pleasantly surprised with that one.
3) Venky’s, leaders of the Indian poultry industry, bought Blackburn Rovers (an English Premier League team) and since then, Blackburn has been suffering to say the least. Obviously, the lady-president at Venky’s doesn’t know what she is getting herself into, but I still count the whole shmeal as progress.
4) In 2009, Airtel became the primary shirt sponsor for Manchester United, paying a whopping $15 Million to make that happen. The magnitude of this does not need to be explained.
5) IMG Reliance, a merger between the creators of sports management (IMG) and India’s biggest telecom company, recently tied up with All India Football Federation (AIFF) in a 15-year-$150-Million deal, to mastermind the progress of football in India. Yes, it’s a big deal.
6) Liverpool, Barcelona (Messi’s club team), QPR and Blackburn Rovers are all opening football academies in various locations across India. Also, a couple of important FIFA-dudes, who were around for the “Messi” game, checked out the site for the proposed National Football Academy at Pailan, to ensure that standards were being met. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible this is.
7) Tickets to the “Messi” game ranged from Rs. 700 to Rs. 5,120. Pricey. They only sold 80,000 tickets and only 60 million people watched it on television. Sarcasm.
8 ) This one is not really on progress, but is fascinating nonetheless. India has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. They did once in 1950, but withdrew because they were not allowed to play bare foot. People say they wanted to play bare foot; I like to believe they couldn’t afford shoes. Some others say that it was all a big cover-up by the AIFF. All these reasons are still extremely sad though.
9) The World Cup 2010 telecast had over 20,000,000 viewers from India.
I cannot begin to explain the amount of potential football has in India. Four European teams have opened academies, and I am sure more will follow. As in, why not? The current population of Indians under the age of 20 is about 500 million, which is 10 times the entire population of United Kingdom. Just imagine the size of the talent pool available. Also, India is relatively inexpensive, so the general overhead is extremely affordable. There is no shortage of labor. And, we already agreed early on that Indians were born to play football. Yes, it will take time to develop infrastructure, change our conservative mentality and improve the quality of football. But, once that’s sorted, I believe there will be an unlimited supply of talented young Indian footballers. This obviously won’t happen over night, but I think 30 years is a realistic time span. I plan to be in the middle of it all.
Photo Courtesy: The Hard Tackle