Jumat, 30 April 2010

Mahindra United to close down

April 30, 2010 will always be known as a bad day for Indian football.

One of India's premier professional football clubs Mahindra United, run by the Mahindra Group of Companies, is set to close down at the end of this season.

And everyone involved in the game was "shocked", surprised or at awe. The new damn for Indian football is here and then one of the biggest corporate clubs just closes down.

To insiders the threat of Mahindra United closing down will not be new. It has been something which the management has been saying for years, but as it remained a verbal threat many didn't believe it would come. The first real indications where that the contracts of players were not being renewed for the 2010/11 season.

And this seems to have taken a toll on the players, then a few weeks ago Mahindra United were in with a real chance to win the I-League title, but there was a sudden drop in performance and results.

It will not only be a loss to football in Mumbai, but for Indian football too which loses one of its best clubs.

It seems the cost of running a top I-League club was too high for a company of the size of Mahindra's. Can that be???

The clubs background

The company run club had been founded as Mahindra&Mahindra Sports Club in 1962 and was later renamed to Mahindra United in the summer of 2000. The team colours were changed from orange/white to red/black and the team got the nick name of "Red Devils" like their role models - Manchester United.

Over the last decade Mahindra&Mahindra had spend many millions of Rupees on their football team which also brought them a lot of success and trophies on the pitch.

Their biggest achievement came in the 2005/06 season when they won the National Football League title. They also won the Federation Cup twice in 2003 & 2005, the 2003 Super Cup and the very successful year 2003 also gave them the international President of Maldives Invitational Soccer Cup.

Locally in Mumbai they won 13 Mumbai League titles, while only a few days ago their Under-19 boys gained promotion to the Mumbai Elite Division winning the Super Division title. But also the junior sides will be closed down.

Youth policy

But Mahindra's aren't pulling out fully from football.

The company has decided to shift their focus from elite to youth development.

Club president Alan Durante told PTI, "We have decided to get out of competitive soccer and get into grassroots soccer at schools level. This means at the end of the I-League we would not be taking part in any competitive soccer but training school kids to make them better prospects in soccer."

And only a couple of weeks back the Mahindra NBA Challenge community programme was launched in collaboration with the US basketball body NBA.

Mumbai worries

And the closure of Mahindra United might not be the end of the road for Mumbai football. Currently the financial capital of India has three clubs in the I-League. In the summer it could be only one in Air India or maybe even none, if Air India get relegated.

The word is out that Mumbai FC are also a possible closure candidate. Especially with the threat of relegation it could be an option for the Essel Group as no one knows if Zee Sports will continue to be the television partner of the AIFF and the Mumbai FC has been struggling financially.

One can only hope for Mumbai this doesn't happen...

What to expect from South Africa

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is just over 40 days away and the interest level is slowly rising. But the real craze will only come in a few weeks when the European football season is over.

The expectations from the first World Cup on African soil are high. And can South Africa deliver?

A question which a lot of people around the world are asking themselves.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany set very high standards in organisation and implementation. And any country in the world would have its problems to deliver a tournament of that standard.

South Africa has a very tough task on hand, but I would expect and hope to get a different World Cup. I only have been twice to South Africa, to Johannesburg to be precise, and it is a distinctly different football atmosphere.

It is especially loud in the stadiums through the Vuvuzelas (a blowing horn), a lot of dance and singing. This is what I would like to see and remember from this World Cup.

But the issues of security and transport will surely be in focus, but once the tournament begins and these issues don't come to the forefront everyday then the football would take over.

Lets hope for an enjoyable experience, good quality football and no violence.

Kamis, 29 April 2010

Olic - An unlikely hero

FC Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olić is an unlikely hero. But on Tuesday night he was the man of the match with his hattrick against Olympique Lyonnais in the UEFA Champions League semifinal return-leg.

It was a clinical performance by the German giants and not usual suspect Dutchman Arjen Robben was the hero of the night, but Ivica Olić, who after the match dedicated his three goals to his three children.

The 30 year old Croatian is now on seven Champions League goals, so he has scored as many as Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, but one less then Lionel Messi from FC Barcelona. And with Bayern in the final he still has the chance to score more goals.

But Olić isn't a football genius like Lionel Messi or doesn't do fancy stuff like Cristiano Ronaldo, he's rather a hard working player for which he is loved and adored by the fans.

Olić is one of the those players who gives everything in every match and is totally exhausted by the end of the game, if he is able to play the full 90 minutes. Often he is substituted when he can't run any more.
His stamina is his big plus, he's also got pace, can take on defenders and can be played as a central striker or on both wings. A player every coach loves to have in their team.

When Olić joined Bayern Munich last summer on a free transfer from Bundesliga rivals Hamburger SV, he was seen to be the no. 4 striker behind Italian international Luca Toni and German duo of Miroslav Klose and 30 Million Euro signing Mario Gomez.
But injury and form problems to the others gave the Croatian a chance to play in the starting eleven and he used it to the utmost. He scored goals early in the season when Bayern were having problems and became an instant crowd favourite.

Injury also kept him out for a while, but once back he has had a dream run for the Bavarian giants like the rest of the team. And now they are in the UEFA Champions league final. Something unthinkable in November last year when coach Louis van Gaal was nearly sacked.

How it all started

Ivica Olić isn't the typical footballer. The Croatian was born in the village of Davor near Nova Gradiška, Croatia (then Yugoslavia).

He is married to Natalie, a German of Serbian descent, and has three children with her. He had met his wife while playing in Berlin and said afterwards that she was the best thing to have happened to him while in Berlin.

Olić started his career at local club Posavac Davor before moving on to NK Marsonia.

He was signed by German Bundesliga side Hertha BSC Berlin in 1998, but only played three games for the first team before moving back to Marsonia in 2000. The following couple of seasons he played for NK Zagreb and Dinamo Zagreb before making a big move to CSKA Moscow.

In Moscow his career finally took off with Olić improving every season. The highlight was the UEFA Cup triumph in 2005 besides winning the Russian Premier League, Russian Cup and Russian Super Cup.

In January 2007 Olić returned to Germany to sign for Hamburger SV. And he had a successful spell with the North German side before getting the offer to sign for Bayern Munich. And the rest is history.

For the last eight years Olić has been part of the Croatian national team and has played for his country in over 70 matches.

The private Ivica

And Olić isn't a player who is in search of the limelight. He rather stays away from it and keeps his private life private.

Also he hasn't forgotten where his roots are. He has helped the community back home in Croatia especially his former home town football club.

Ivica Olić is a real role model...

Rabu, 28 April 2010

India's tough continental comeback

India's return to the continental stage will be tough as the Indian national team has been drawn in Group C along with South Korea, Australia and Bahrain.

The draw for the final round of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup was held on Friday, April 23 at the impressive Aspire Dome in Doha, Qatar. The 16 teams who will take part were drawn in four groups of four teams each.

The 15th edition of the continental championships will be played from January 7 to 29, 2011. The schedule of matches will be announced on April 26.

India returns to the continental stage after a gap of 27 years. India last played in the 1984 Asian Cup in Singapore, but had then finished last in their group behind China, Iran, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

India will face two World Cup playing sides in South Korea and Australia, who will be seen in action this summer, while Bahrain only missed out being in South Africa due a playoff loss to New Zealand.

One can also have a look at the latest Asian rankings. Australia are the number 1 team, South Korea are third, while Bahrain sixth and India are 22nd amongst 46 ranked nations.

Out of the four groups, Group C looks the toughest with onlookers expecting India to play no role at all in this group. And maybe this is India's chance to cause the one or the other upset.

For the further development of the game in India a good result in Qatar is crucial, but an impossible ask for captain Baichung Bhutia and his team. But losing all three matches, even by big margins will hamper the progress of the beautiful game in India.

Still home advantage away from home could help India. With many migrant workers in Qatar and neighbouring Gulf States India could be the second best supported side in the tournament, while a number of Indian football fans plan to travel to Qatar. And the two Nehru Cup victories plus the AFC Challenge Cup title have shown that the team can perform under pressure, but this type of competition will be much tougher then in the recent past.

Indian national coach Bob Houghton had said before the draw that India would have to face tough competition due to being the lowest ranked team in the competition, but he would have hoped for something a little easier.

"Australia and Korea are two teams any coach would want to avoid being drawn alongside his team. The ranking itself speaks about the difference in standards. Bahrain also are good. Still we'll try to put up the best effort," Houghton said after the draw.

Team India players after the draw have all said that it is a tough draw but the matches would have to be played first and they would give everything to get a positive result.

India's preparations for the tournament will continue in July with the national team staying together until the Asian Cup in January 2011.

Coach Bob Houghton will be taking the team to Portugal in July/August for a preparatory camp and exposure trip before continuing to prepare the team in India and the Gulf. Numerous friendly games are being planed to prepare the team for the tough tasks ahead.

With the groups now out, India will be looking to play friendly games against higher ranked Asian sides in the coming months. Matches against Bryan Robson coached Thailand are planed for September 4 and 8.

The Groups

Group A: Qatar, Kuwait, China, Uzbekistan

Group B: Saudi Arabia, Japan, Jordan, Syria

Group C: Korea Republic, India, Australia, Bahrain

Group D: Iraq, North Korea, United Arab Emirates, Iran