Senin, 31 Mei 2010

The "Special One" has landed

Spanish giants Real Madrid today unveiled their new coach - Jose Mourinho. And many say it is a match made in Heaven, but the "Special One" will have to prove if he can make Real Madrid into the "Real One".

And I doubt if a new era of Galacticos is set to happen as Mourinho's style of play is rather result oriented football a la Inter Milan this season. If the Real faithfuls will accept such football will have to be seen, but then in the end winning matches and titles is what football is mostly about. Isn't it?

The Portuguese has signed a four year contract with the Spanish giants worth 10 Million Euros per annum. Real Madrid and Mourinho's last club Italian giants Internationale Milan had agreed on a compensation package to finalise the deal.

The 47-year-old replaces Chilean Manuel Pellegrini to become Real Madrid's eleventh coach in the past seven years. The clubs management will surely want some continuity in whoever is their coach in the coming years.

The club hopes to launch a new era of success under one of the most successful coaches of our times. But Mourinho has a real task on his hands, coaching at one of the toughest club sides in the world where expectations are higher then anywhere else.
Be it the clubs management or the fans they would expect the club to regain the Spanish league title from FC Barcelona plus in Europe to cross the pre-quarterfinal stage six years and win the UEFA Champions League title after nine long years. And then Mourinho is coming from Inter Milan as a treble winning coach.
So expectations will be sky high...

For Mourinho coming back to Spain makes his career come foul circle. It all started in Barcelona 14 years ago as a translator to Bobby Robson at the Catalan giants, now he joins their biggest rivals. And over this UEFA Champions League season he made himself "persona non grata" in Barcelona by his on field celebration after Inter Milan beat Barca in the semifinals. And then Inter Milan went on to win the Champions League title against Bayern Munich in the final at Real Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium.

One will have to wait and see if Mourinho can create his own ecosystem at Real Madrid like he was able to create at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan which allows him to operate his way or if the management gets too involved, which could force him to leave the club early. And also if the management gives the coach the time to build his own team and keep faith in him if the results don't go Real's...


What do you think. Is Mourinho the right coach for Real Madrid?

Germany: Another injury blow

The German national team has been hit by another injury blow with defender Heiko Westermann ruled out of the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The Schalke defender broke his left foot towards the end of the Hungary vs Germany friendly on Saturday in Budapest. Initially the foot injury wasn't seen as too serious, but due to problems overnight Westermann was send for a scan once back in the team camp in south Tirol. There the fracture was confirmed which ended Westermann's World Cup dream.

For coach Joachim Loew this is the fifth injury related drop out. Earlier goalkeeper Rene Adler plus midfielders Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes and Christian Traesch had to all stay at home due to injuries.

A disappointed Loew said: "Heiko would have played an important role at the World Cup. He would have been important for us because of his versatility. He was in excellent physical shape in training."

27 year old Westermann has so far played 19 matches for Germany and was the kind of player liked by Loew as being able to play in numerous different positions. Westermann had had a great season for Schalke, who had finished a surprising second in the German Bundesliga, could play as central defender, wing back or central midfielder. On Saturday Westermann had played as left back against Hungary.

On Tuesday Loew will have to name his final 23 member squad, but due to the numerous injuries only one players name will be scrapped from the final list. And there aren't too many candidates on that list with the German media speculating that Dortmund defender Mats Hummels could be a late call-up, but DFB media director ended that speculation saying that only players at the preparatory camp would make the trip to South Africa.

The top candidate to not make the cut is Hoffenheim right back Andreas Beck, while other candidates are said to be Dennis Aogo, Stefan Kiessling and even the out of form Miroslav Klose, but I don't see that happening. Loew as a coach is very loyal to his players, especially those who have delivered over the years.

The general mood in the German public has become sceptical what this team without key players can achieve in South Africa. Many fear that the young and inexperienced team will not make the knock-out stages, while others hope that young, but experienced players like Lahm and Schweinsteiger can prove their international class and can carry the team. Then I would think a lot is possible.

Winning the World Cup would be asking too much, but anything is possible in football and that is the charm of the beautiful game.

Minggu, 30 Mei 2010

Rules are there to be bent

Only on last Thursday I was told by AIFF officials in Delhi that the I-League 2010/11 would be held with 14 teams with Mumbai's ONGC & Hindustan Aeronautics Limited from Bangalore to replace the two relegated sides whoever they would be while the India Under-21 team would replace Mahindra United with the club being shut down.

Now there is said to be a new line of thinking going on within the AIFF, especially General Secretary Alberto Colaco is said to favour this stand. And that is to increase the I-League to 16 teams next season by keeping the relegated Shillong Lajong FC and Sporting Clube de Goa in the league.

And why this sudden change of thought? It is simply because Lajong finished bottom of the league forcing them to go down and the AIFF wants to support the North-East's development. A good premise, but not the right way to do it.

Should the AIFF break its own set of rules? I would surely say "No", then otherwise it wouldn't make sense in having such rules in the first place. Some clubs with a strong lobby would somehow always avoid relegation under the banner of national interest or other prerogatives.

Rules which are set at the start of the league season should also be followed until the end and not changed in the interest of one or two clubs after the final standings are out. I know this has happened in the past, but then such mistakes shouldn't be repeated over and over again.

Clubs like Dempo SC and Churchill Brothers SC had actually gone down to the 2nd Division in the days of the National Football League. Both clubs came back stronger and both went on to win NFL & I-league titles. Maybe a model for Lajong to follow and also they would get time to rectify their mistakes before attempting a return to the I-League.

As much as I feel for Lajong and would love to see them in the top tier next season, I can't see rules being broken like this. Then the whole system of relegation would be a farce, which isn't acceptable.


Meanwhile Goa's Vasco Sports Club has appealed to the AIFF that it should replace Mahindra United after finishing third in the 2nd Division I-League. The Goans have a point there, but that spot has already gone to the Under-21 team to be based in Delhi.

I-League 2009/10 - A season to remember

The third season of the I-League ended on Friday with Sporting Clube de Goa and Shillong Lajong FC having to go down after the longest national league season ever in Indian football. For the first ever clubs had to play 26 matches across the season and what an interesting season it has been.

Dempo had won the title a few weeks back, but the relegation battle was on until the last day with Sporting Clube de Goa, Shillong Lajong FC, Mumbai FC and Air India fighting for survival. In the end the two Mumbai sides survived as Sporting Clube de Goa and Shillong Lajong FC had to go down.

If Sporting Clube de Goa had stayed up it would have been the greatest escape in Indian football then at one stage the club was more then 10 points behind a non-relegation spot, but a rally in the second half of the season under new (old) coach Vishwas Gaonkar saw the team only finish one point behind that 12th spot, which would have meant I-League football for the Goans next season. Until a stage last season Sporting Clube were challenging for the title now they go down and one will have to see if and how the club regroups.

The saddest story of Round 26 was Shillong Lajong FC's defeat at the hands of Salgaocar SC and it meant that the first ever club from the North-East to play in the NFL/I-League has to go down after only a season at the top level.
It isn't just a loss for Shillong or the North-East but the whole of Indian football as Lajong brought in a breath of fresh air into Indian club football and also showed what was possible with hard work and dedication, but in the end all the passion didn't pay off. The club went through a roller coaster season which had its climax in the final appearance in the Federation Cup in Guwahati in January 2010 and its low point on the last day of the season with the clubs relegation from the I-League.
One can only hope that Lajong rebuilds itself quickly and has a team ready to fight for promotion next season to be back in a years time in the I-League's top tier.
But other clubs can surely learn a lot from Lajong when it comes to club promotion and fan activation.

The real positive surprise of the season where Pune FC. They team from Maharashtra had a difficult start into the I-League with numerous draws, but once it got its rhythm right the team was challenging for a top three finish.
Pune isn't known as a football centre, but the club which had been building itself over the last three years since its formation has been able to connect to the football fans and has been able to draw bigger crowds then expected and was able to connect to the youngsters in the city through a school contact programme. More is hopefully to come of them in the years to come.

Besides Lajong the other sad story of the season was that of the Mahindra Group deciding to close down Mahindra United. Shifting their focus as the management said on youth development and also on another sport in Basketball with a tie-up with the NBA. At the time of the announcement Mahindra United were second in the I-League with a chance to win the title, but in the end they finished fourth. They played their last competitive match on May 27 against JCT which the team won 2-1.

We look forward to the I-League 2010/11 season when Mumbai's ONGC and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited from Bangalore take the places of the two clubs, while the India Under-21 boys will replace the closed down Mahindra United. The league remains 14 teams strong and the planned expansion to 16 teams has been put off by a year.

It will be the last I-League season before the AFC Club Licensing criteria come into effect and according to I-League CEO Sunando Dhar new franchises will be joining the league in the 2011/12 season.

Sabtu, 29 Mei 2010

Lahm to captain Germany

Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm was named as Germany captain for the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup yesterday. The 26 year old defender takes over from injured Michael Ballack and the decision by coach Joachim Loew ends days of speculation as besides Lahm the other candidates where his Bayern team mates Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose.

Lahm along with Schweinsteiger, Klose, Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen) and Arne Friedrich (Hertha BSC Berlin) will be the players body during the tournament with which the coach will hold discussions. A special role will have to be played by Schweinsteiger, who will be Lahm's deputy and also take over the responsibilities from Ballack in central midfield. Schweinsteiger will be under special focus after a strong season for Bayern Munich.

"Lahm has played in his position with great class and will take over the role of captain," Germany coach Joachim Loew said at the team's training camp in south Tirol.

Lahm will be Germany's youngest ever World Cup captain and he will be leading a young German squad into the tournament. Lahm is an experienced international having already played 64 matches at his young age. Lahm was one of Germany's pillars in their 2006 World Cup campaign and I remember him scoring the opening goal of that World Cup for Germany against Costa Rica at the Allianz Arena in Munich. A goal to remember, now even more is expected by one of the world's best full backs.

The other awaited decision taken was that to name the German No. 1 for the World Cup. As goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke said it wasn't an easy decision, then in the end it was decided that Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer will be Germany's goalkeeper for the tournament with Tim Wiese and Hans Joerg Butt as his deputies.

Germany isn't surely as strong as sides like Spain and Brazil, but it is a tournament side and is strong as a unit which could cause a few upsets. And in the last couple of World Cup's "die Mannschaft" has reached at least the semifinals.

Delhi in transition

I was the last three days in New Delhi. And as always in the last few years it was a mixed experience. On numerous fronts developments are clearly visible, while elsewhere it surely could and should be a little faster and better. But that's modern day India for us. Isn't it?

The first positive - the travel from the airport into the city is much quicker and smoother with the tons of flyovers and underpasses now in place, but the continued growth in traffic does cause jams in the mornings and evenings plus a lot of construction is still ongoing ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.


Now to my best experience.
Over the years I have heard so many positive things about the Delhi Metro, but never got to travel on it. I love to travel by the tube, underground or metro whatever you call it around the world. You get to see the people, the facets of a city...

So finally on Wednesday I had the chance to take a ride myself. Out from Pragati Maidan into Noida and then later on back to the other side of town to Dwarka.
It was a lovely experience at the stations and within the trains. Surely international class and worth a ride for anyone who happens to travel to Delhi. Maybe peak hours might be difficult due to the rush. I liked the chip entry, simple for me but difficult for people with little technical knowledge. It does delay the entry and exit from the stations.

And a story I need to tell you in connection with the Delhi Metro. Last summer while travelling on the German highway close to Hanover I saw a oversized truck carrying a train coach on its back. This isn't something usual so had a closer look. It was a coach from Bombardier and actually on its way from the factory in Germany to India then it was written "Delhi Metro" on the front and on its side. I was surprised at first, but then read later on that the Delhi Metro was acquiring German coaches to ply in Delhi. Now I travelled in one of these...

But the worst was the heat. I know no one can do anything about it as such, but 47 degrees on Wednesday was a little too much for me personally. It felt like a furnace, even in the evenings and with high humidity it was sticky too. I left Delhi earlier today, but have heard from friends that it rained today to end this period of excessive heat.

I was also present and a speaker at the India Football Forum on Thursday and will be writing about it soon. Interesting panels and discussions...

Senin, 24 Mei 2010

ONGC & HAL new I-League sides

ONGC and HAL are going to be the two new sides in the I-League next season. The two teams topped the 2nd Division I-League finals held in Bangalore and left behind them much more fancied sides like Vasco SC and Mohammedan Sporting Club.

My congratulations to both sides for their achieving promotion!


Mumbai side ONGC finished top in the second division and finally gained promotion to the I-League after having failed over the last few years in their numerous attempts.
ONGC as a company will now have to ask itself the question if it makes sense to be the title sponsor of the I-League and have a team in the top tier or if it spends the money on their own team and tries to broaden its fan base in Mumbai.

Bangalore's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited bring back top tier Indian football to the Garden City, which surely deserves to the represented in the I-League. HAL, who last year weren't allowed to participate in the 2nd Division due to not fulfilling the AFC Club Licensing criteria, have proved a point that a group of seasoned footballers along with young and hungry players can achieve success without strong financial backing. And surely home advantage did work in their favour in the final round.


Both the teams deserve their place in the I-League, but the question has to be asked if it is good for Indian football that two institutional sides make it to the professional I-League. ONGC surely isn't an institutional team in the normal sense, but they still have to operate like one. And by having institutional backing these clubs are financially weaker then the corporate sides and lack the support of public clubs.

The AIFF wanted Delhi and Bangalore in the I-League next year. Now they have both, but not in the sense the federation would have liked to have seen it. Delhi will have the India Under-21 team as home side, while HAL bring Bangalore back onto the map.

The league continues to spread, but not the federation's preferred way...

Jumat, 21 Mei 2010

The Special One vs his Mentor

When Bayern Munich take on Inter Milan tomorrow night at the Bernabeu in the final of the UEFA Champions League it will see two good friends facing each other on the sidelines. Bayern's Louis van Gaal and Inter's Jose Mourinho are long time friends and even ahead of such a big match the duo are texting each other, maybe even talking over the phone. The duo have a lot in common, especially their arrogance but when it comes to football their philosophies differ. Mourinho plays result oriented football, while van Gaal's teams play creative and attacking football. The two have huge respect for each other.

Both coaches can create history as both club have won the domestic double of league and cup. But no Italian or German club has ever won the treble.

Dutchman Louis van Gaal and Portuguese Jose Mourinho know each other very well since the their days together at FC Barcelona. And the "special one" as Mourinho refers to himself will face his mentor, who not only used him as a translator at the Catalan giants, but also helped him develop as a coach before venturing out to become one of the best coaches in world football.

Mourinho's story shows that with determination and talent you can get somewhere in life, but how often does it happen. Besides van Gaal the other big mentor or rather a father figure for Mourinho was the late Sir Bobby Robson. Actually under the Englishman the Portuguese started his career as a translator and coach at top clubs in Portugal before Robson took Mourinho with him to FC Barcelona in 1996. But Robson only stayed a season before moving on and in came Louis van Gaal with a big reputation after having had a very successful spell at Ajax Amsterdam.

The duo worked together for three years and Mourinho was one of the trusted deputies of the Dutch General. Mourinho now was no longer only a translator, but fully part of the FC Barcelona coaching staff taking care of press conferences, training the team and interacting with the players. Van Gaal even entrusted him with the job of coaching Barcelona's 'B' team.

Van Gaal left Barcelona to take on the job of Dutch national coach and it also meant Mourinho moved on. He moved back to Portugal as assistant coach of German Jupp Heynckes at Benfica Lisbon, but the German only lasted a few weeks and Mourinho was suddenly head coach. It didn't last too long due to internal politics at the club, but Mourinho was on his way. He moved on to Uniao de Leiria before getting the chance to coach FC Porto in 2002.

At FC Porto Mourinho would win the Portuguese league title before being surprise winners of the 2004 UEFA Champions League, a 3-0 win against Monaco in the Arena auf Schalke. But on the way Mourinho would beat Manchester United and due to this win the Premier League would now show interest in the coach.

Mourinho joined FC Chelsea in 2004 just after the Champions League win and the south-west London club hoped for a new era under the Portuguese. The club did win six trophies under Mourinho, but club owner Roman Abramovich wanted to win the one catch prize in European football, the UEFA Champions League and here Mourinho just couldn't deliver and had to leave.

After nearly a year out of the job Mourinho joined Inter Milan in the summer of 2008 and has had two very successful years at the club, which could culminate in winning the Champions League tomorrow. And the question is would Mourinho leave San Siro if he wins the title and stay in Madrid to take up one of the most difficult coaching jobs in the world that at Real Madrid.

Only time will tell...

Kamis, 20 Mei 2010

Hamann joins MK Dons

Midfielder Dietmar 'Didi' Hamann was one of my favourite players during his playing days and his career looked to be over last summer as he wasn't able to find a suitable club after Manchester City didn't renew his contract.
Hamann had made up his mind to stay in England with offers from Preston North End, Queen Park Rangers and Notts County.

But the most curious offer came from German sixth division club KFC Uerdingen, who had signed former Bundesliga top scorer Ailton and then wanted further former top players to strengthen their squad to fight for promotion, but for Hamann playing in the sixth division Niederrheinliga was more carnival then football so he declined the offer.

But now the former German international makes a comeback as a player-cum-coach at English League One side Milton Keynes Dons. 37 year old Hamann is still loved and adored on the British Isles since his days at Newcastle United, FC Liverpool and Manchester City.

The MK Dons, the former FC Wimbledon, hope with the signing of Hamann to give the club the right impetus to push for Championship promotion next season. For the club the signing of the Bavarian is their biggest signing by name ever.
MK Dons coach Karl Robinson hopes Hamann can use his experience on the pitch as well as the dressing room to lead the younger players. Hamann's focus now is to get fit again before the start of pre-season training.

During his playing days Hamann was a midfield strategist. Some would say his style was lethargic, he often slowed down the game and wasn't the most creative but still an influential player wherever he played.

Didi Hamann came out of the youth system at Bayern Munich and went on to play 59 times for Germany. He won the German Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Cup amongst others at the Bavarian giants before winning the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, English FA Cup and League Cup titles with Liverpool.

In Germany Hamann will be mostly remembered for scoring in the 1-0 victory against England at Wembley on October 7, 2000; the last goal to be scored at the old Wembley stadium and being part of the 2002 FIFA World Cup squad which went on to reach the finals only to lose to Brazil.

It will be great to see Didi Hamann in action again...

I-League expansion halted


Since the creation of the I-League in 2007 the Indian Professional Football League has expanded from 10 to 12 to now 14 teams in the ongoing season. And next season the I-League was set to grow to 16 teams to give the league a bigger and better spread across India.

This summers plan was to include two new cities Delhi and Bangalore, be it club sides or new franchises; but the All India Football Federation has decided to wait with the next round of expansions until the 2011/12 season.

And this has numerous reasons. The first one being that though there was said to be corporate interest to launch new clubs those interested thought that in the current climate it wasn't right to make the necessary investment which goes into forming a new team.
Then there is the issue of fulfilling the AFC Professional Club guidelines. Could new clubs fulfil those that the current clubs haven't been able to do in years. The current clubs now have until December 31, 2010 to fulfil the basic set of criteria, only if they will be able to do so one will have to see. Those who don't fulfil the criteria would not be part of the 2011/12 I-League and would be replaced by teams who comply with the guidelines or new teams will be inducted into the league.

In another development with Mahindra United shutting down at the end of the season they are set to be replaced in the I-League by the new Indian Under-21 side and they would play their home matches in New Delhi, while as planned two teams will be relegated and two teams would get promoted. The three candidates from the second Division who are fighting for the two promotion slots are ONGC from Mumbai, HAL from Bangalore and Goa's Vasco SC. If HAL get back into the top tier then the AIFF plans of having Delhi and Bangalore in the league will still happen, but not in the way hoped and planned by the federation.

Last years expansion of the league has brought in new cities which have been a real success - Pune and Shillong. But both clubs didn't get inducted into the league, they gained their I-League spots through promotion from the 2nd Division. Both Pune FC and Shillong Lajong FC have brought a breath of fresh air into the old club set-up and more such entities are needed to help in the development of Indian club football.

And the AIFF also needs to look into the 2nd Division and its format. It is only a year younger then the National Football League/I-League, but it has always been played more like a tournament then as a league. At least the final round with six to eight teams should be played on a home-&-away format or across two legs to make it more attractive and fitting to all stakeholders.

Unwanted in Madrid, Heroes elsewhere

When Bayern Munich face Inter Milan Saturday night in the UEFA Champions League final at the Bernabeu in Madrid it will be a special occasion for everyone. But it will be even more special for two player who at the start of the season were unwanted in the Spanish capital at Real Madrid and were forced to leave the Bernabeu.

I am talking about the Dutch midfield duo of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. While Robben joined Bayern Munich for a transfer fee of 24 Million Euros, Sneijder joined Inter Milan for 15 Million Euros. And both were in the end happy to leave Madrid last summer and now they will surely look forward to returning to Madrid.


Robben at Bayern

The 26 year old Dutch winger has been a revelation for Bayern Munich this season. Robben has been as fit as never before, often out due to injuries and that was important for him to improve all through the season. Robben plays on the right wing and his most dangerous weapon are his runs into the centre to take shots on goal with his lethal left foot. Some would say opponents should know this by now, but still Robben is able to score again and again.

Robben has been one of the factors to turn around Bayern's season after a dismal start. The Dutchman along with Frank Ribery on the left make the deadliest wing combination in global club football, which has given Bayern the edge in a number of matches.

Robben scored 23 goals and has nine assists in all competitions and was the man for the crucial goals in the Bundesliga, German Cup and the Champions League. The best of them all was his left footed volley against Manchester United at Old Trafford. What a strike.


Sneijder at Inter

Sneijder who turns 26 next month has been the creative man in midfield for Internationale Milan, a key element in the plans of coach Jose Mourinho, who plays result oriented football rather then football with flair, but if there was any in his team then Sneijder was most likely involved. Still Sneijder has also defended for his team whenever needed like against FC Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Sneijder has 14 assists and scored eight goals in all competitions for his team. Sneijder was instrumental to set up numerous chances for strikers Samuel Eto'o, Diego Milito and the others.


I really look forward to see these players in action on May 22!

On Saturday night Robben and Sneijder will face each other, but only a few weeks later they will play together for the Netherlands at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

At Real Madrid meanwhile they might look on their own pitch on Saturday night and ask themselves, why did we sell these players...

Rabu, 19 Mei 2010

Vision Asia - Delhi, Tamil Nadu scrapped

The Asian Football Confederation at a meeting of the Vision Asia Committee at the AFC Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday decided about the future of the Vision Asia programme across the continent. The AFC decided to launch 16 new projects in five countries while dropping non-performing projects in several countries sadly amongst them are Delhi and Tamil Nadu.

AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam said Vision Asia could not operate in isolation and needed proactive support from the stakeholders. "Vision Asia cannot work independently and needs to have commitments from MAs and city or provincial FAs for its success. If the MAs are not willing to change their statutes and meet the demands of modern football, we have no option but to drop these projects."


Delhi

For Delhi it was a long time coming, but now it is official that Vision Delhi is at least for the moment history. For the AFC is doesn't mean much except closing down a chapter of a continent wide development program, while for Delhi football it means embarrassment and losing the chance to get help in developing football in the capital.

The Delhi Soccer Association blamed it mainly on the fact that the association wasn't able to amend its constitution to bring it in line with the AFC guidelines, but the real fact is the inaction of the association wanting to change for good.


Tamil Nadu

The southern Indian state being part of the programme surprised many initially, but it was clear from the onset that former Tamil Nadu FA president and AIFF Executive Committee member C.R. Viswanathan was able to get the programme for his home state. But the TNFA wasn't able to use the chance that it was given and it was now simply scrapped.


Vision India

The Vision Asia programme was originally launched with the Asian continent split into six zones with China and India being own zones due to their sheer size. Vision India was launched in 2004 with the launch states being Delhi and Manipur. While Manipur calmly and quietly has been doing its work to fulfil its part to be one of the best Vision Asia projects, Delhi's never really got of the ground.

While Delhi's failure has often been highlighted, the success in Manipur hasn't made big headline news. The small Northeastern state has now successfully been running a 12 team state league on a home-&-away format even in difficult political conditions in the state. The All Manipur FA runs leagues in cities & districts, for juniors and women.

A couple of years ago Kerala and Tamil Nadu were added to the programme, while Goa was added last year and West Bengal is the next state waiting to join the programme.

Evacuated from home


Some of you have been asking me to write more personal stuff on my blog, even write about things which have nothing to do with my football work, but rather with everyday life here in Germany.

Well, what happened yesterday afternoon and evening here in my home town of Remscheid was something more unusual, something to write about. But it showed how well trained the emergency services are to cope with such a situation.


What happened?

Yesterday around 11.30 h in the protestant cemetery of Remscheid City work was going on to dip out a new grave with an excavator. It is usual work until it hits a metal object and the alerted driver realises he has hit a bomb. It is a relict from the second World War, a British bomb weighing over five tons, which has been lying idle underground for over 65 years.

The authorities are alerted and the way the bomb is placed with acid coming out of the fuse it has to be defused asap as one such bomb still explodes every year here in Germany.

The authorities have to decide what to do besides defusing the bomb. Then the emergency systems of the city and state are alerted as in an area of 250 metres around the bomb everyone has to be evacuated and shifted into a temporary shelter, while in a 500 metres radius people are asked to stay indoors and ideally go down into their cellars.


Coming home

I returned home at around 18.15 h realising something isn't right. The fire service department had their emergency head quarter truck infront of our house, then there are loads of police vans parked on all sides. I go in, settle down and then go onto the net.

Luckily there is a service called Google News were I am able to read that the above mentioned bomb has been found. I go down and tell my parents that we might be evacuated, so we should be prepared and exactly that happens an hour later around 19.15 h. The police come into our house and ask us to leave.

At this time my thoughts are this might take an hour or two and then we could return home. But when I ask the fire department chief how long it could take he gives me a grim answer. The fuse is lying in a tricky position this might take the whole night, he asked us to shift to the temporary shelter.


Temporary Shelter

Everything is organised. City buses are standing by to transfer the people to a school about four kilometres away, which could be our night shelter. We take a bus with around 20 others and arrive at the school which has a large cafeteria where dinner would be served. Around 500 to 600 people have to be evacuated for which the services have organised everything at short notice.

A TV reporter is roaming around to interview people. He comes to me get a statement on the whole episode. Around 21.00 h it is time for dinner. Two kinds of soup - pea & chicken - are being served along with baguette bread. A nice hot meal on an evening where the sky was blue, but it meant in the late hours it would get cool.

Just before 22.00 h we get the good news that the bomb has been defused and the fuse detonated. Spontaneously people start clapping as we all now know, we can go home and sleep in our own beds.

By 22.15 h were are back home again after the bus brought us back, the city centre is deserted with only the emergency head quarter truck active, but around it pubs and eateries closed with no crowds. It looked like nothing had happened and it might just be a holiday evening with everything being so quiet.

In the morning no one would have thought what they would go through by the end of the day, but it was good to see the state system successfully in action once such an emergency arises...

Senin, 17 Mei 2010

Ballack out of World Cup

Germany will have to play the 2010 FIFA World Cup without their captain Michael Ballack.

A scan on Monday revealed that the ligaments were damaged rather then just heavily bruised which will keep Ballack out of action for at least eight weeks.

The official statement read, "A tear of the medial collateral ligament of the right ankle was found. The right ankle is immobilised in a plaster. He will have to wear a special shoe for two weeks."


33 year old Ballack had picked-up the injury in Saturday's FA Cup final against FC Portsmouth at Wembley. A rough tackle from Kevin Prince Boateng in the 35th minute forced an early substitution before the break, but Boateng only received a yellow card for the foul.

The foul video - Boateng vs Ballack

And Ballack accused Boateng afterwards of deliberately fouling the German captain and told the media after the match that Boateng didn't even bother to say sorry for the foul. Boateng didn't speak to the media after the game.

Boateng happens to be a Berlin born half-German and half-Ghanian, who recently switched allegiances from Germany to Ghana to play for the Africans in the World Cup. And interestingly Germany will face Ghana in the group stage of the upcoming World Cup, while Boateng's younger half brother Jerome Boateng will play for Germany.

Boateng, who represented Germany at youth level, sees himself as someone not really understood by the German public. And this incidence will surely not raise his popularity in his native country. Many have actually gone on record to say that the foul was deliberate and on Facebook a group has been created under the name of "We hate you, Kevin Prince!" with hundreds joining in.


For German coach Joachim Loew the injury adds to his growing list of problems. Ballack was not only the captain, but a central figure to lead a young German squad.

He would have played in the strategic defensive midfield position as one of the two sixes besides Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Loew will now have to think about calling in an experienced replacement with only Sami Khedira a suitable candidate in the squad. Simon Rolfes had to opt out earlier due to injury, while seasoned Thorsten Frings and Thomas Hitzlsperger had been dropped by Loew due to different reasons. But they might be candidates to make a comeback now.


For Ballack personally the timing couldn't have been worse. His contract with Chelsea ends on June 30, 2010 and talks about a new contract were supposed to be held after the FA Cup final. With being out for at least eight weeks, his future is undecided and his chance of winning a major trophy with Germany now look also very unlikely.

One can only hope that Ballack isn't forced to retire due to this injury. Such a great career shouldn't end this way...

Minggu, 16 Mei 2010

What do players deserve?

When one comes to discuss players salaries it is a tricky issue in any sport and in many countries around the globe.

The general public will often say that sports persons earn too much, club and country managers would often agree, while players will say they are earning at market value and would earn even more if possible. And to be honest who wouldn't...


Now we come to the difficult situation surrounding the Indian national football team.

The All India Football Federation is to contract 30 players from June 2010 to January 2011 as part of Team India's preparations for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

And I saw this step as a right one when announced, but a lot of time has gone since the announcement and June 2010 is just a couple of weeks away with the contract issue still not settled.

And then there is the question if Bob Houghton is still the coach.


The issue which interests the players the most are their own salaries.

These players live of these salaries and they need the assurance from the federation for this eight month period.

Initially the AIFF stated that the players would get paid as per their contract with clubs in the 2009/10 season.

After protest the federation changed their mind and all players would now get a 15% increase from their last contract and players, who had much higher offers for the upcoming season, would be looked at separately.

But this doesn't seem to be enough as the players have asked for a meeting with the AIFF president Praful Patel to discuss the issue.


One has to question the AIFF why the issue wasn't sorted out earlier with the plans sanctioned a while back.

Some within the AIFF even went to the extend to tell the players not to look at the money, but rather play for the country with pride. This somewhat sounds like blackmail to me.

You should be proud that you play for the country, don't worry about the money.

The best way to have avoided such a situation would have been to put a system in place under which the players would have been divided into pay brackets depending on a number of factors, like:

- the number of international matches played
- the tours/matches they have been part of
- the number I-League matches played
- the number of years on the Indian football circuit

This to me would have been a fair system as some clubs just pay less then others.

Luckily I don't have to decide this, but still I can give a suggestion. Maybe someone at the AIFF is listening...


What do you think???

Reply to me here on my Blog, on Facebook and Twitter .

Bayern win German Cup in style

FC Bayern Munich trashed SV Werder Bremen 4-0 in the German Cup (DFB Pokal) final at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin last night.

It was another demonstration of strength by the Bavarian giants, who towards the end of the season are showing what the Louis van Gaal coached side are really made off.

On the night Bayern won a record 15th DFB Pokal title and also their eighth German double of league and cup.


Initially it wasn't just one way traffic for Bayern, but goalkeeper Hans Joerg Butt kept his team in the game as both sides had their chances. But the longer the game lasted the better Bayern got.

But Bayern got their first goal of a penalty after Per Mertesacker handled the ball in the box in the 35th minute and referee Thorsten Kinhoefer pointed to the dreaded spot. And Arjen Robben blasted a left footer into the right hand corner of the Bremen net. Bayern went with a 1-0 lead into the break.

Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf seemed to have found the right words in his half time speech as Bremen came out looking for the equaliser, but they couldn't utilise their chances as Bayern scored their second in the 51st minute when Ivica Olic scored of an Arjen Robben corner.

This seemed to kill Bremen's morale and Bayern added a third in the 63rd minute through Frank Ribery of a counter attack with a placed shot past Bremen keeper Tim Wiese. Bremen were reduced to ten men when captain Thorsten Frings was shown his second yellow card of the game for a rough tackle on Bastian Schweinsteiger. But by this time the match was already decided.

And it was left to Schweinsteiger to add Bayern's fourth in the 83rd minute. Lahm played a long cross ball to the left, Schweinsteiger controlled the ball with his chest before placing the ball past the keeper. A class goal by the German international midfielder.


And Bayern Munich still have to play the season finale, the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday, May 22 against Internationale Milan at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.

Their confidence level will surely have received another boast, but was has been impressive over the last few weeks is the way the team has been playing better and better.

If they can also win the Champions League title then they will achieve a rare treble, something which no German club has ever achieved before. Following in the footsteps of FC Barcelona, who had won a record six titles last year.

Sabtu, 15 Mei 2010

Duler Ground - A big step for Goa

After a long delay the Government of Goa has finally leased out 5250 square metre of additional land to the Goa Football Association for the further expansion and completion of the Duler Ground.

The Duler Ground is situated in Mapusa in the northern part of the state and was always seen as an unfinished venue.

It is owned by the Goa Football Association, one of two association in India which have their own stadium. The other is the Karnataka State Football Association which owns the Bangalore Football Stadium.

And the further development of the ground will enable the Goa FA to utilise the ground more often for top level football. So far it could only use the Nehru Stadium in Margao for I-League matches or other high profile tournaments.

The ground besides the Tilak Maidan in Vasco are alternatives when the Nehru Stadium is not available.

The Duler ground currently has only one stand with minimum spectator capacity. Under the redevelopment of the ground the Goa FA plans to build additional stands which could host more spectators, incorporate better changing rooms, a fitness centre and house an Academy.

The Goa FA also hopes that the stadium could be part of the next phase of the FIFA program "Win in India with India" under which artificial turfs are being granted by the world governing body to India. Goa wasn't considered in the first phase when grounds were granted to Mumbai, Bangalore, Shillong and Imphal.

A redeveloped and improved Duler ground will further strengthen Goa's position atop Indian football, but further grounds and facilities need to be developed in the coastal state and across India.

Jumat, 14 Mei 2010

Remembering Ranjit Gupta

First I want to pay homage to Ranjit Gupta and convey my personal condolences to Ranjitda's family.

Indian football has lost an able administrator in a very tragic way...


I had the pleasure of meeting Ranjitda the first time in 2000 through journalistic friends.

Ranjit Gupta, the then honorary secretary of the Indian Football Association (West Bengal), had heard about me, IndianFootball.Com and the work I was trying to do online for the promotion of Indian football.

It was early days for me in Indian football, but after meeting Ranjitda I knew that here was a man who genuinely wanted to do something for the development of Indian football.

Ranjitda was the man who revived Bengal football, brought in new sponsorship, tried to focus on youth development and much more.

He was genuinely interested in what I was doing, why I was running a site like IndianFootball.Com from far away Germany. I explained to him that I was interested in football and India besides learning the basics of journalism. It also gave me a way to stay connected to Indian football. And that I wanted to help in the development of the game.

Later on I would help Ranjitda set-up the IFA's first own official website.

Ranjitda was a man of principles, he even went against the strongman of Indian football Priya Ranjan Das Munshi for the interest of Indian football as he termed it. He failed to dislodge Mr. Das Munshi, but he at least tried to make his point.

We would have many conversations about Indian football, the opportunities and its problems over the years...


The last time we met in September 2009 at the IFA offices. Ranjitda was on his way out, I was rushing in; so we didn't have the time to really talk except asking each how we were and if things were otherwise fine.

May Ranjitda's soul rest in peace.

Kamis, 13 Mei 2010

Day around an international game

Germany faced Malta on Thursday in a pre-2010 FIFA World Cup international friendly at the New Tivoli in Aachen.

The match kick off timing was 18.00 CET, but the day started much earlier for me and ended about half an hour ago before I started writing for my blog again...


The day started with a trip to the German national team hotel in Düsseldorf to meet a friend and get the latest infos on the German team ahead of the game.

After I had parked my car outside the hotel German national team player Marcell Jansen ran past me with one of the teams American physical trainers. The first sign of a player not playing later today, who is still recovering from an injury.

I enter the lobby on the way to the coffee shop and walk past a few faces who I know but not from football. Yes right it's Lleyton Hewitt, the Aussie tennis star.

But why in Düsseldorf? I ask him. He is in town with the Australian tennis team for the World Team Cup, which is played every May in Düsseldorf ahead of the French Open.

The lobby is full of people from football and tennis. I then walk further to meet my friend in the coffee shop. We sit down and are then joined by the German national goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke while some German players meet friends and relatives.

We then go out to launch the campaign "Globall - rolling for a better world".

Andreas Koepke is the patron of the campaign, which aims to roll a giant ball through the 2006 World Cup hosting cities plus a few more and collect signatures of support for Team Germany ahead of the World Cup. And besides this donations are collected in support of children around the globe.

More information under: http://www.the-globall.com/


After a quick lunch it is of to Aachen on a 90 kilometre drive. An hour later I arrive at the New Tivoli Stadium. A lovely small and close ground with a capacity crowd of 32,960.

The weather is cool and damp with rains setting in. A cool afternoon, good that I brought my thick jacket along.

Though I have to file a report for radio and print, today I am the ground as a guest and have been given a special pass. And this brings me to the world of business seats, catering and more. Something which I normally miss as I either sit on the media stand or in the general stands. And all have their pros and cons...


There is nothing much to write about the game. Germany is the superior side though they miss Michael Ballack, who will play in the FA Cup final on Saturday; and players of Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen who face each other in the German Cup final the same day.

This gave a number of bench players and youngsters the chance to play. Germany won 3-0 against Malta and more goals were surely possible against an inferior opponent. A nice little test match for a good cause as the match proceeds go to the DFB Foundation Egidius Braun.


After the game a long chat with friends before the hour long 100 km drive home to Remscheid.

Once back home I sit down, write my print column and then prepared my radio report for DW Bengali.

And once through with these, I finish off the day with this blog entry.


PS: Last night I started my own Twitter account under http://twitter.com/Arunfoot . If interested you can follow me on my football adventures...

Rabu, 12 Mei 2010

Dusseldorf - A Multifunctional Arena

The SPONSORs Sports Media Summit was held in the last couple of days at the Esprit Arena here in Düsseldorf, Germany.

And once more the stadium proved to me what it all can host.

I have visited the Esprit Arena on a number of occasions over the last few years, be it for football matches, a concert and now even a conference, while it also has hosted non-football sports like boxing and American Football.

And this visit once more showed me that these days a football stadium needs to be much more then just a sports venue to be able to generate revenues and keep itself busy on as many days as possible across a calendar year.

I have seen the same at the new Wembley Stadium in London, the Allianz Arena in Munich and the Arena auf Schalke in Gelsenkirchen.

And just to let you know, the Arena auf Schalke last Friday hosted the opening match of the 2010 Ice Hockey World Cup. The arena had close to 78,000 people attending to watch Germany shock the USA. And it was the largest ever crowd at an Ice Hockey game, but it was held at a multi-purpose football stadium.


Rebuilding the Arena

The "Esprit Arena" was build in place of the old Rheinstadion from 2002 to 2004. It was initially named "LTU Arena" after the Düsseldorf based charter airline, but last year the name changed to "Esprit" as LTU merged with Air Berlin and its name disappeared as an airline.
The naming rights itself is worth millions, a good source of income while for brands it is a good chance to spread their name.

But all this investment couldn't convince the 2006 FIFA World Cup organisers to include the stadium amongst the 10 host venues.


Stadium Specifics

The speciality of the 51,500 capacity arena is its retractable roof and its coloured seats, which makes TV audiences think the ground is sold out even if it isn't the case.
The ground also has a build-in roof heating system, so even in the coldest of winters it will be nice and warm at 17°/18°C with the roof closed. A real enjoyment while it is cold and icy outside.

The stadium is next to the Düsseldorf Trade Fair grounds, so parking isn't a big problem as elsewhere with public transport guaranteed through the tube which runs to the central station.

On non-match days the stadium can host conferences and meetings in its business area and the catering can activated for any possible event.

The speciality of the SPONSORs Sports Media Summit was that the main stage was build on the main stand with the listeners seated in the business seats of the stadium. A great way of hosting a conference, while the small studios for presentations were spread inside the walking ways of the stadium, where normally fans would come into the ground, get their food or go to the rest rooms.


What can India learn?

In India we desperately need new stadiums and need to rebuild some of our older stadia.

But why do we need to do so?

Simply to attract more crowds and higher spending fans to grounds to watch I-League action and also prepare ourselves for a possible 2026/2030 FIFA World Cup bid.

I know some might say, what rubbish is Arunava talking about or is he dreaming. To me the likelihood of India hosting a World Cup before qualifying for one is much more likely. But then a lot things need to be put in order plus certain steps need to be taken now so that we have a slight chance by the time the bidding process ends in eight to 10 years.

And for such a bid modern day stadiums are a mere basic.

So our people need to have a look at grounds around the world, learn what they can all do and then bring those ideas back to India.

But someone needs to invest into the infrastructure, be it corporates but also our governments need to come forward.

Selasa, 11 Mei 2010

McClaren joins Wolfsburg

Steve McClaren is the new coach of dethroned 2009 German Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg.

McClaren, the first Englishman to coach in Germany, has signed a two year contract which is said to be worth three Million Euros per annum.

For the Volkswagen backed club the signing of McClaren signals the end of a long search for a new coach. Armin Veh had been sacked in late January with second team coach Lorenz-Guenther Koestner taking over the job for the rest of the season.

VfL manager Dieter Hoeness had former Liverpool and Lyon coach Gerard Houllier as his favourite, but the Frenchman couldn't join the North Germans due to family issues.

And then the attention shifted to signing McClaren.


New chance

To many the signing might come as a surprise, but McClaren has re-established his coaching career in the last couple of years in the Netherlands as the coach of FC Twente Enschede, who won their first-ever Dutch league title recently. And this didn't go unnoticed.

In recent weeks McClaren has been linked with a number of English Premier League clubs, especially West Ham United who incidentally fired Gianfranco Zola yesterday.

But McClaren was regarded as a non-starter as a coach in England after the Three Lions didn't qualify for the European Championships 2008 and since then found his luck on the continent.


Background

McClaren played from 1979 to 1992 for Hull City, Derby County, Lincoln City, Bristol City and Oxford. He learned his coaching from Jim Smith at Derby County and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United as their assistants before being the manager at FC Middlesbrough from 2001 to 2006.

Under his reign the club won the 2004 Carling Cup, recorded their highest Premier League finish as seventh and reached the 2006 UEFA Cup final, which the club lost 0-4 against FC Seville, the last match in charge for McClaren before he moved on.

And then came the big task of coaching England, which didn't work out to well for McClaren as his team didn't qualify for the Euro 2008 and this led to him getting fired.

This brought McClaren to Twente and now to Wolfsburg.


Ambitions

At Wolfsburg McClaren will find an ambitious management and automobile major VW supporting him.

And by winning the Dutch title and shifting to Germany, McClaren will now follow in the large footsteps of Dutchman Louis van Gaal who last summer joined Bayern Munich after winning the Dutch title with AZ Alkmaar.

The first task will be to retain wanted Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko before looking to strengthen the team, which finished only eighth this season.

McClaren can't speak German, but according to manager Dieter Hoeness that isn't an issue.

McClaren will arrive in Wolfsburg before July 1 to set the agenda and put the new team together with manager Dieter Hoeness.

McClaren's family will also shift to Germany to be with him.

Senin, 10 Mei 2010

Remembering Fulham FC

English Premier League club Fulham FC will face Spanish La Liga side Atletico Madrid in the final of the UEFA Europa League in the HSH-Arena in Hamburg tomorrow night.

And this fact makes me a little sentimental as I fondly remember July 22, 2000; the day India were guests of Fulham FC at their home in Craven Cottage.

It was a nice English Saturday afternoon in southwest London with over 5,000 fans present.

The Indian national football team was playing on English soil after 52 long years. The last time India played in England was in the 1948 Olympics.


Aspiring Fulham

The Fulham of summer 2000 was a totally different one then today.

In those days Fulham were planning to get into the Premier League with Craven Cottage being more of an old cottage then a football stadium.

French Coach Jean Tigana had put together a squad of talented youngsters and experienced players, who would get the club promoted at the end of the season. And their season opened against our India.


Our Future had started

It was the year after Baichung Bhutia had signed for Bury FC and I had expectations like many others that Indian football was on the verge of taking off. And this exposure would be part of this process.

We all thought Baichung would make the breakthrough the coming season as he was much more mature then a year earlier when he left India. Further he would open the door to other players to follow. We didn't know then that it would take a decade more before the next player would venture out of India.

Looking at those days in July 2000 we were just naive. Football like everything else in life isn't a one way street which just goes up, but has ups and downs. Sometimes sadly more downs then ups...


The match

Fulham won the game 2-0 through two goals from German striker Karl-Heinz Riedle. India had a strong game with the defence and goalkeeper Virender Singh coming a number of times to our teams rescue.

I had the pleasure of talking to Riedle in German after the game. The 1990 World Cup winning striker was waiting for his family when I approached him. I wasn't as experienced as I am today, so was overawed by the situation still I had a nice conversation with Riedle about football as Riedle wanted chat with me!

Riedle didn't know anything about Indian football before the game, but was interested to know more about the game in our country. I gave him some facts and he said Vijayan had impressed him with his technical abilities.


Here the two team line-ups

Fulham: Maik Taylor, Steve Finnan, Andy Melville, Chris Coleman, Rufus Brevett (Wayne Collins, 70), Kevin Betsy (Bjarne Goldbaek, 78), Sean Davis, Lee Clark, John Collins, Karl Heinz Riedle, Lois Boa Morte (Luke Cornwall, 65).

India: Virender Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Roberto Fernandes, Daljit Singh, Jo Paul Ancheri (Khalid Jamil, 88), Basudeb Mondal (Hardeep Sangha, 46), Jules Alberto (Hardeep Saini, 46), Renedy Singh, I.M. Vijayan, Baichung Bhutia [CAPTAIN].

Congratulations Dempo!

I would like to send my personal congratulations to Dempo Sports Clubs - its management, coaching staff, players and its fans!!!

It is another title for the Goans, who have won four of the last six National Football League/I-league titles. An impressive figure in any countries top league around the world.

Dempo's are now also the lone record champions with those four titles ahead of the Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, who have won three NFL titles each.

This once more shows the role model Dempo's are for other Indian football clubs. And the fortunes are mainly controlled by the clubs coach-cum-secretary Armando Colaco and his team.

Armando has build his team over the years. Many players in the squad have been with Dempo's for years, while every summer Armando makes strategic signings to strengthen the squad further and gives talented youngsters a chance.

And now he has set sights to qualify as the first Indian club for the AFC Champions League next year.

One can only hope Dempo achieves another first...


Close to the end

But exactly a decade ago Dempo's nearly shut down their team after the club finished rock bottom of the 4th National Football League and were relegated.

Armando had to plead with the companies management not to close down the team and he vowed to bring them back to the top of Indian football.

A lot of people would have said, he's just saying it to keep the club alive, but Armando went on to achieve it in the coming years.


2nd Division

The club spend two years in the 2nd Division National Football League. In the first year they missed out on promotion by a point, while in year two they gained promotion by winning the title in style by winning all seven matches, scoring 14 goals and conceding none.

Only in the 2002/03 season the club had made their return to India's top flight, but thereafter there was no looking back as the Dempo Group supported the ambitions of Armando Colaco with the necessary finances. Company chairman Srinivas N. Dempo showed interest in the affairs of his club.


Back to the top

After their return to the NFL the club needed a couple of years, but then they slowly became a threat to the other top clubs as Armando rebuild the team.

And the club won their first NFL title in 2004/05 which they won on the last day of the championship ahead of Sporting Clube de Goa and East Bengal.

The club would go on to win the last NFL title in 2006/07 and then also win the first I-League title the next year on to confirm their status as India's top club.


The Future

The future looks bright for Dempo's.

Armando will surely be looking to strengthen his team in the summer.

But it also shows that hard work and dedication pays off...

Minggu, 09 Mei 2010

Louis van Gaal - A successful Coach

When Bayern Munich announced that Louis van Gaal would be the clubs new coach last summer, I was sceptical if the Dutchman is the right man for the job.

I never doubted the class and coaching qualities of van Gaal, but I had my doubts if he would be able to adopt to Bayern Munich as the Bavarian giants live in their own ecosystem.

And he luckily proved me wrong though initially things headed towards failure, but Bayern Munich kept trust in their coach and it has paid off.

Bayern now have won the Bundesliga title and could still win the German Cup and the UEFA Champions League, a rare treble which no German club has ever achieved.


The only way, the van Gaal way

Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal, as is the full name of Louis van Gaal, is a coach with an own philosophy. And for him there is only one way to success, his way.

The Dutchman is feared by the media and fans alike. He is described as unfriendly, arrogant and van Gaal himself knows he isn't the most loved man on the planet.

But this seems to be a compliment these days for successful football coaches.


Sloppy start

At the first press conference in Munich van Gaal said, "The Bavarian lifestyle fits me like a warm coat. "Mia San Mia" (we are who we are) – and I am who I am. Self-confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, industrious, innovative. But also warm and familiar."

This raised high expectations after Bayern had not won the German Bundesliga title in the last couple of seasons. And the Bavarians see the Bundesliga title is like a birth right for them.

But the start was mixed for Bayern and van Gaal. The coach with his own ways didn't seem to fully reach his players, while the management was getting nervous as in late autumn it looked it Bayern could face another season without a trophy.

German international Philipp Lahm even gave an interview with a German newspaper warning the club and his team mates not to lose their focus. Lahm was heavily fined by the club, but now in retrospect one can say, it was an important part of the puzzle.


Hard work pays off

Then came the final Champions League group match in Turino against Juventus and Bayern came home with a 4-1 win and moved on. Since then the team looked like a transformed set-up, the coach had changed a little, became more communicative with his players and realised their needs, while the players started to understand the philosophy of their coach.

Whatever van Gaal was doing, he was doing it for the success of the team and the club. And once understood it was a transformed side.

The team started to challenge for the top position in the Bundesliga, went through to the final of the German Cup and had memorable nights in the Champions League, beating against AC Fiorentina, Manchester United and Olympique Lyonnais on the way to the final.


Young talent

Names count nothing for van Gaal, only performance does.

And it showed once more in Munich. Italian striker Luca Toni, a crowd favourite, was too often injured and was causing problems in the team when not chosen. Van Gaal sent Toni away to AS Roma.

The coach was betting on youngster Thomas Mueller, who became his utility man upfront. Mueller played as a striker, a withdrawn striker, as a play maker even on the wings and he went on to score 20 goals in all competitions.

The 20 year old youngster delivered in his first full season for Bayern and has even gone on to represent the senior German national team.

Besides Mueller other Bayern youngsters who made the transition from the second team to the first team were defenders Holger Badstuber, Diego Armando Contento and David Alaba.

And once more it showed van Gaal's talent to spot and promote youngsters with potential.

At Ajax Amsterdam he started the successful careers of Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert.

And at FC Barcelona the trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol had their first professional experience under van Gaal.


A changed Man

And Louis van Gaal seems to be a transformed man. The year in Germany has changed him for good.

And this was most evident in the last couple of days.

Yesterday before the match in Berlin, he was shaking hands with kids and gesturing to them.

At half time he changed clothes. Out of the suit and into a tracksuit knowing a beer shower was coming after the game. He evaded a number of his players, but in the end van Gaal was drenched in beer. Earlier he had said his players shouldn't dare to throw beer on him.

He partied long with his players and today on the balcony over the Marienplatz in Munich he was seen dancing with the Bundesliga title, saying to the fans, "We are now champions of Germany, but we could be champions of Europe."

What a year it has already been for van Gaal in his first year as Bayern Munich coach, but it could be a record breaking season for Bayern.

Jumat, 07 Mei 2010

Presidents Rule

The AIFF held their Executive Committee meeting yesterday, but the president Praful Patel arrived an hour late and no discussions were held on the pressing issues. Decisions were just taken or presented to the members present.

It was decided that the federations president will take up the contract issue with Bob Houghton and he later on informed the media about it in a press conference.

"I myself spoke to Houghton a few days back and reports that he has resigned are completely baseless. He has certain issues (with the AIFF) as expressed by his agent. But that does not mean he is no longer coach. He continues to be India coach and he will be there for the Asian Cup," Praful Patel said.

"The executive committee has authorised me to take appropriate steps (in the Houghton issue)," he added.


Houghton's resignation a media hoax?

That is what the AIFF president is indirectly saying.

So the question is, has he not been informed that Bob send the AIFF an email on Monday informing them about his resignation? And that Bob confirmed this to different journalists.

Not only the media, but the executive committee itself wasn't clear on the issue as the president himself will take up the issue when Bob returns to India.

Will Praful Patel ask Bob to stay until the end of the Asian Cup? Will his contract be extended until 2013 as Bob wants? And what about the salary rise Bob has asked for?

Questions over questions, but no real answers.

And if Bob is following all this tamasha, the real question is if he wants to continue under such circumstances.


Player Contracts

In a positive decision, the AIFF has finalised to give contracts starting from next month to January 2011 to 30 players chosen for the 2011 Asian Cup preparations.

The contracts will include a 15 percent hike from what the players received in the 2009/10 season. Some players, who had longer contracts or were likely to be offered higher salaries by clubs, might be offered more.


I-League 2010/11

The issue of Mahindra United pulling out of the I-League was discussed, but the AIFF was in no position to do anything about it.

The size and format of the next I-League has not be finalised yet.

As of now it is only fix that an India Junior national team will play in the I-League next season based in Delhi. While the AIFF president said at the press conference it would be the Under-19s, the AIFF website stated it would be the Under-21 side.

Praful Patel also said at the press conference that many corporates had come forward to field teams in the I-League, but he didn't mention any names as pull out of the I-League would have sadly been more realistic to talk about.


General Secretary

Before the president arrived certain executive committee members charged the General Secretary Alberto Colaco about the handling of the Bob Houghton issue plus also questioned him what he has done for the development of football in the last few years.

These members wanted a discussion if the General Secretary should continue, but once the AIFF president arrived this matter was no longer discussed.

Praful Patel said, “Alberto Colaco (incumbent) will be there till January 2011 and we have asked a head hunter firm to give us a list of candidates. After that we will short list and call for interview.”

It surely sounds an interesting way to find a new General Secretary.

Only will it serve Indian football...

Kamis, 06 Mei 2010

Quo Vadis AIFF...

The Executive Committee of the All India Football Federation is meeting tomorrow in New Delhi.

And that meeting could be decisive for the short, mid and long term future of Indian football. Or it could turn out to be is just another ExCo meeting with no crucial decisions taken and they are postponed to a future meeting.

This has been the practice for years and especially in the last few month's, but this can't go on in the current scenario with key decisions pending.


Bob Houghton issue

The most pressing issue is the resignation of national coach Bob Houghton earlier this week.

The mood amongst players, media and fans is crystal clear. Bob needs to stay, at least up to the end of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in January next year. There is no point of discussion on this.

And if he wants to stay longer until 2013 then surely we should keep him. As the Asian Cup is only a step in our development and a new team will have to be build after the tournament with some senior players sure to resign.

Good to see is that in numerous interviews the players have come out in support of their coach. And said what a disaster it would be for them and their preparations. And one can only agree.

Bob has build something over the last four years. Now comes the toughest assignment for him and his boys so far. They need the best possible preparation, only then will we come back from Qatar with our heads held high.

And to make this possible tough decisions need to be taken, otherwise the federation will jeopardise the progress Team India has been making over the last few years. And we could be in for a trashing and some players might even resign from Team India before the tournament.


Mahindra United fallout

The other important issue is of the Mahindra Group winding up Mahindra United and pulling out of the I-League.

I had written earlier that this has been a threat for years, but the federation seems to have ignored the signs and were caught on the wrong foot on this issue.

It is a terrible sign to other corporates who have shown interest to join the I-League and what will those corporates do who have a team in the league. Could other follow in the near future?

Especially Mumbai could be hit hard if rumours are to be believed about Mumbai FC and Air India.

The AIFF needs to speak to the clubs asap and find ways to help them generate more revenue to run their teams. The issue of financial viability has to be addressed as some clubs are having problems again and again towards the end of the season to pay salaries.

And discuss ways on how a general sponsorship pool is created where clubs get money from the AIFF/I-League like leagues do around the world. Be it from central sponsorship deals or TV rights and not just travel expenses.

Even FIFA and the AFC need to tackle this problem, if they want to take Indian football forward and not see other clubs go the Mahindra way.

It is five to twelve and swift action is needed.

Germany: No real surprises

German national team coach Joachim Loew today announced the provisional 27 member squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Stuttgart. By June 1 he will have to cut the squad to the final 23 players.

For the friendly against Malta on May 13 in Aachen Loew has named five future players, to give them a feel of international football. This is necessary as captain Michael Ballack will be busy with Chelsea playing the English FA Cup, while Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen players still have to play the German FA Cup plus the Bayern also have to play the UEFA Champions League final.

The squad has a strong Bayern Munich block - Holger Badstuber, Hans Joerg Butt, Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller und Bastian Schweinsteiger - seven players from the Bundesliga champions, who could win a rare triple in the coming weeks.

Captain Michael Ballack is the most experienced player with 98 internationals, while defenders Dennis Aogo and Holger Badstuber are still to play for Germany.

And there weren't any major surprises when the squad was announced to the media through a video show. That Hans Joerg Butt would be No. 3 has been clear in the last few days. Missing from the squad will be defender Marcel Schaefer plus midfielders Thomas Hitzlsperger, Christian Gentner and Aaron Hunt.

Some expected youngster defenders Mats Hummels and Benedikt Hoewedes to make the provisional squad. But both weren't named, though Hummels at least will be in the squad for the Malta game.


Germany

Goalkeepers
Hans Joerg Butt (FC Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (FC Schalke 04), Tim Wiese (SV Werder Bremen)

Defenders
Dennis Aogo (Hamburger SV), Holger Badstuber (FC Bayern Munich), Andreas Beck (1899 Hoffenheim), Jerome Boateng (Hamburger SV), Arne Friedrich (Hertha BSC Berlin), Marcell Jansen (Hamburger SV), Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (SV Werder Bremen), Serdar Tasci (VfB Stuttgart), Heiko Westermann (FC Schalke 04)

Midfielders
Michael Ballack (FC Chelsea London), Sami Khedira (VfB Stuttgart), Toni Kroos (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), Marko Marin (SV Werder Bremen), Mesut Özil (SV Werder Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern Munich), Christian Träsch (VfB Stuttgart), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburger SV)

Forwards
Cacau (VfB Stuttgart), Mario Gomez (FC Bayern Munich), Stefan Kießling (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), Miroslav Klose (FC Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (1.FC Cologne), Thomas Müller (FC Bayern Munich)


Future Players
Tobias Sippel (Goalkeeper, 1.FC Kaiserslautern); Stefan Reinartz (Defender, Bayer 04 Leverkusen), Mats Hummels (Defender, Borussia Dortmund), Kevin Großkreutz (Midfielder, Borussia Dortmund), Marco Reus (Midfielder, Borussia Moenchengladbach)

Rabu, 05 Mei 2010

Gouramangi Singh: Life in Indian football

It was good news over the weekend that Mangi, as he is fondly called by friends, will be going over for trials to Australia with A-League expansion franchise Melbourne Heart from June 7 to 19.

A real challenge for the Churchill Brothers SC defender, but one that he will cherish and hopefully succeed in.

Mangi could follow in the footsteps of team mate Sunil Chhetri, who just a few weeks ago signed for US Major League Soccer club Kansas City Wizards.

And he would be the only fourth Indian footballer to play abroad.


The first time

I heard the first time about Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh in September 2001 when his name was mentioned to me by the then Indian Youth coach Islam Akhmedov as one of the best prospects amongst the juniors.

Coach Akhmedov, who hails from Uzbekistan, has an eye to spot talent. I remember he toured the North-East for three months in 2001 to scout for talent to play for the Indian Under-16 and U-19 teams.

And he had a personal request for me to try and organise a training camp for the juniors ahead of the Asian Junior finals in Germany. And the way I am, I tried to help and the camp happened.


The first meeting

I along with my friend Chris Punnakkattu Daniel organised the training camp for the India Under-17 national team at the Sports School in Hennef, south of Cologne in August 2002.

A top class facility which is used by Bundesliga clubs and Argentina stayed there during the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Mangi was one of the 20 boys in the squad which came to Germany. A very nice boy, always spoke with respect to me, but sometimes a little shy.

I have to be honest (Sorry for this Mangi), he wasn't the most talented player in the squad; but someone who was always eager to learn more and develop further as a player.

In this squad Mangi was used as a defensive midfielder, mainly coming of the bench but by 2004 he had matured as a player and he went on to captain the India Under-20 squad.


The difficult times

After graduating from the Tata Football Academy in 2004 Mangi had a difficult time to make a name for himself in the Indian football circuit.

Mangi along with Habibur Rehman Mondal signed for Mohun Bagan AC that spring, but it turned out to be a circus as the players had unknowingly signed for the club. While Habibur was released to play for East Bengal, Mangi had to initially stay with Mohun Bagan before he went on loan to Dempo SC.

The next year he went to Mahindra United before signing for Sporting Clube de Goa in 2006. And it seemed another talent would go to waste with Mangi not getting any real chances to play for his clubs.

Then in the summer of 2006 Bob Houghton arrived in India and Mangi was drafted into the Olympic qualifier squad. Mangi was one of many boys that Bob gave a new lifeline.

He was transferred to Churchill Brothers SC in 2007 and he became a pillar for new coach Karim Bencharifa's young guns. And was a key player in last years I-League winning campaign.


Team India regular

Mangi first was a regular in the Under-23 squad for the 2006 Asian Games before Bob entrusted him to be a central defender in the senior national team.

Mangi became one of the key players in India's winning campaigns in the 2007 Nehru Cup, the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and the 2009 Nehru Cup.

And as we look forward to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, Mangi is set to play a crucial role at the heart of defensive against superior sides like South Korea, Australia and Bahrain.


All the best!

After the difficult start Mangi has achieved a lot in India. Now it is time to give it a try abroad. I prays for him that he makes it in Australia as it would not only be good for Mangi, but it could open the door to other Indian players to get offers from Down Under.

Selasa, 04 Mei 2010

Goalkeeping blow to Germany

Bayer 04 Leverkusen goalkeeper Rene Adler announced today he would have to opt out of the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup.

And now Germany will have to search for a new No. 1 with Schalke's Manuel Neuer and Werder Bremen's Tim Wiese the candidates to take over Adler's role.

Coach Joachim Loew will now have to name a new No. 1 in less then a year. The original plans were to go into the World Cup with Robert Enke as Germany's No. 1 goalkeeper. But the Hanover goalkeeper who lit under depressions, committed suicide last November. Adler then followed in his footsteps.


Adler's bad luck

Adler, who was named No. 1 for the World Cup earlier this year, had suffered a rib injury in last month's Bundesliga game against VfB Stuttgart. He did make a comeback on Saturday, May 1 against Hertha BSC Berlin, but the keeper again felt pain after the game which forced him to reconsider his comeback decision and opt for an operation which would end his dream of playing in this summers World Cup.

Adler was honest to himself as he felt he wouldn't be able to give 100% with the rib injury.

"The pain is so great that I would not have been able to perform at my best over the longer term both in training and during matches," Adler said in a statement.

Adler has a history of rib injuries. In 2006 such an injury had nearly ended his career.

But it wasn't the only injury blow to Germany. Adler club teammate Simon Rolfes also informed Loew he wouldn't be part of the World Cup squad, but this was expected news with Rolfes having been out for month's.


Keeper No. 3

Now it will be interesting to see who would be the third goalkeeper when Joachim Loew announces his provisional squad on Thursday. Amongst the top candidates are Bayern Munich's seasoned Hans-Joerg Butt as well as Borussia Dortmund's Roman Weidenfeller.

If Butt is chosen he would make a surprise international comeback after seven long years. But Butt is a trusted veteran and was Germany's No. 3 goalkeeper in the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

What would make Butt's international return so interesting is that he had leave Bayer Leverkusen a few years ago as Adler became the new No. 1 at the club.

Bob needs to stay!

It seems to be bad times for Indian football at the moment. First the news of Mahindra United pulling out of the I-League on Friday now the news of national football coach Bob Houghton sending in his resignation through an email from Cape Town yesterday.

While AIFF President Praful Patel was in denial mode, Bob Houghton confirmed his resignation to a news agency, “Yes, I have resigned. But it is a more complicated issue."

But Praful Patel has said he will try to convince Bob to at least stay on until January 2011, the end of the Asian Cup with captain Baichung Bhutia saying it would be disaster if Bob would leave now.

The players would be shocked if their loved coach would leave.

With the media covering the developing story even the general public knew that Bob could take this drastic step due to the differences with General Secretary Alberto Colaco coming out in the open.

Bob has been working for month's on plans on how to best prepare his team for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. And that is surely necessary with India set to face Asian powerhouses South Korea, Australia and Bahrain in Qatar.

Bob had planned and finalised camps in Portugal and Dubai, but friendly games against Asian opposition wasn't something which the AIFF was taking care off as was the case of contracts with the 30 international players, who wouldn't play for I-League sides until the end of the Asian Cup.

Only a couple of friendlies against Thailand has been set for September. Offers to tour England and other countries have been turned down.

But the situation got out of control when Bob got to know that AIFF officials were talking to agents to look for a replacement for him. This is why he has send in his resignation.

On the other side the seasoned coach has asked the AIFF to hike his monthly salary from 20,000 USD to 30,000 USD and extend his contract until 2013, which would mean Bob was willing to stay until the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

And the AIFF Executive Committee was set to discuss the salary hike on Friday, May 7. In all likelihood they would have passed it in the interest of Indian football.

Now the question is can the AIFF convince Bob Houghton to stay on our national coach. And if not, what would be plan b.

At least the people behind this big mess should stand-up and take responsibility.
Otherwise things will continue the way they have been running within the federation for decades.

I can only ask Bob, please don't leave us now...

Senin, 03 Mei 2010

No African Safari for Kevin Kuranyi

FC Schalke 04 striker Kevin Kuranyi will not be part in Germany's squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This was officially announced on Monday, May 3 by the German national coach Joachim Loew.

And it ends weeks of speculations if the in form striker would make a comeback in the German national team or not.

In the last few weeks it has been a major topic in the German media, amongst the public and in football circles. Even German legend Franz Beckenbauer came out in support of Kuranyi's comeback as Germany face a striker problem as he termed it.

Regular strikers Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski have been out of form all season, while Mario Gomes has over the last few weeks not played much for Bayern Munich. Only Bayer 04 Leverkusen striker Stefan Kießling has been in great form having scored 21 goals in the Bundesliga so far.

Loew had a telephone conversation with Kuranyi on Monday before the news was made public on the German FA's website. Loew is set to announce his 30 member provisional squad on Thursday, May 6.

Kevin Kuranyi has been playing his best season in professional football so far, having scored 18 goals for Schalke, who will finish second in the German Bundesliga.

Kuranyi has not been part of the German national team since October 2008 when the striker was omitted from the 18 member squad to face Russia in a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Dortmund. Kuranyi was sitting with the other left out players, but then walked out of the stadium while the match was still going on out of anger.

This led to him being never selected again, but according to Loew this wasn't the reason why he didn't select Kuranyi. The striker simply didn't fit into his plans as the coach termed it.

For Kuranyi this is the second time he misses out on playing in a World Cup. In 2006 he was a last minute omission by then coach Juergen Klinsmann.

One can only hope for coach Loew that this decision will not haunt him afterwards...

Minggu, 02 Mei 2010

Football IPL - the future for India?

Is an IPL-style football league the answer to Indian football's woes?

I personally have severe doubts. The game of football cannot be compared with cricket or any other sport for that matter. The football league system has been in place across the globe for many decades and even in India the national league under different names has been around for now 14 years.

The I-League, India's Professional Football League, currently at the end of its third season is still in a developmental stage and the path taken by the All India Football Federation in expanding the league by two teams every years seems to be slowly bearing fruits. But it has a long way to go to be a real professional league.

Since the old National Football League was renamed after 11 seasons to I-League three years back the league has grown in size, the general standard of football has improved and the game has spread to new centres like Shillong and Pune. And in the new season the AIFF plans to add New Delhi and Bangalore to the league. But at the moment it isn't clear if new sides will receive the slots or if existing teams will be given those with no other choice.


Would a Football IPL hamper the I-League's development?

It depends on what plans the people behind the Football IPL have.

The information currently available is very patchy and different sources say different things with the people behind the project being very tied-lipped. This makes it difficult to judge the ideas and plans.

If it is planned as a six/seven week summer intermezzo, then surely it wouldn't have such a big effect on the I-League.

Then such a football IPL could actually supplement the I-League and the two could co-exist.
Still if finance, media coverage and fan focus is taken away from the I-League to the Football IPL, then it would hamper the further overall development of the game.


But there are loads of things which one would have to look at to make a Football IPL a reality.

Who would be the players, is there space in the international football calendar and many more issues.

A non-starter is getting the current stars of world football to play in India due to their allegiance to their respective clubs and countries. Then you have football World Cup’s and Continental championships every other year. So a football IPL would have to rely on players who have just retired or former stars.

Would a Zinedine Zidane come out of retirement to play a Football IPL?
I would say no, except he is offered a ridiculous amount of money which he has to accept.

Further questions would be, would Industrialists be willing to pay big bucks for such former stars, would the Indian public like to see such players in action. And how would be the local Indian players fit in.


A key question which no one seems to look at is infrastructure. We don’t have the stadia to host such a four/five city football IPL at the moment.
It reminds me of the English Premier League's match 39 idea which had India on their radar as one of the potential venues around the globe though we didn't even fulfil the basic criteria to be able to host such a game.


But still the Football IPL is an idea which should be pursued and evaluated if something worthwhile could be developed. Only it shouldn’t hamper the general development of Indian football or take money away from the I-League and the national team.

It should be more about football first, then about entertainment and money.
The ongoing IPL fiasco should be a stern warning.


Do let me know if you agree with me or have a different opinion on this...