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Selasa, 30 November 2010

Super Cup: An interesting game on the cards

The Indian football season proper is finally set to kick-off with the Indian Super Cup to be played later today at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Gurgaon. The match will see I-League champions Dempo Sports Club from Goa taking on Kolkata's East Bengal Club, who about a couple of months back had been crowned Federation Cup champions.

This year the Super Cup isn't the season ending match as it has been in the last few years, but it is the curtain raiser for the I-League which opens on Friday. The match will kick-off at 17.30 IST in Gurgaon and will be shown live by Bengali news channel 24 Ghanta.

An interesting match is on the cards. Armando Colaco's Dempo will want to show East Bengal that they are still the best team in India, while the red-and-gold will want to continue their great run from the Calcutta Premier Division and the Federation Cup to win their third title of the season.

Dempo will once more hope that Roberto Mendes Silva and Ranty Martins Soleye deliver for the Goans as numerous of their regular players like Anthony Pereira, Climax Lawrence, Mahesh Gawli and others are away on India duty. But it also gives younger players and new signings a chance to shine on the national stage.

Federation Cup champions East Bengal have named a 16 member squad for the Indian Super Cup match, but the Kolkata giants will miss the services of Australian Tolgay Ozbey due to injury. And that could hamper the red-and-gold in their quest for a third Super Cup title.


East Bengal Club - Squad

Goalkeepers: Jayanta Pal, Sandip Nandy; Defenders: Saikat Saha Roy, Naoba Singh, Uga Okpara, Gurwinder Singh, Sunil Kumar Thakur, Ravinder Singh, Soumik Dey; Midfielders: Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Mehtab Hossain, Penn Ikechukwu Orji, Beingaichho Beokhokhai, Alvito D'Cunha; Forwards: Robin Singh, Budhiram Tudu. Coach: Trevor Morgan.

The I-League a difficult TV rights sell?

The fourth edition of the I-League is set to kick-off in three days and the AIFF still has no TV partner, who would do the live broadcast of I-league matches. And it is high time to sort out this crucial issue otherwise clubs are in a fix about TV coverage of the I-League, which wouldn't be liked by their sponsors.

The AIFF made a last ditch effort to find a TV partner at short notice for this seasons I-League by even posting the requirements onto the AIFF website, but none of the sports channels showed any interest. The only interested parties are three regional Bengali channels.

So who are the interested channels?

First there is news channel 24 Ghanta, who happen to belong to the Zee Group. 24 Ghanta has shown quite a bit of Indian football in the recent past. They have shown I-League matches, the recent Federation Cup knockout matches, the Bayern Allstars vs East Bengal Allstars match, and will show tomorrow's Super Cup match.

Then there is Rupashi Bangla, an entertainment channel launched in the summer, who had shown a football reality show in July and for that had brought down Romario, Branco and Diego Forlan. It ended with the reality show casted team taking on Mohun Bagan.

And the third bid is a joint approach by Kolkata TV and Channel 10. Kolkata TV have shown matches from the Calcutta Football League in the past.

AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das told PTI, "We have received proposals for invitations of telecast rights but a decision will be taken after review by the (AIFF) finance committee and the rights holder."

With no alternatives available the AIFF might have to go for the regional Bengali option. But would any of these channels show any matches not involving Mohun Bagan and East Bengal? I would seriously doubt that as they also have to look at their TRP ratings. And only East Bengal and Mohun Bagan count in Bengal...

Nicky Butt: Former Man U Star in Hongkong?

Hongkong's South China could soon have a prominent new player amongst their ranks in former Manchester United star and England international Nicky Butt. 35 year old Butt retired at the end of last season after helping Newcastle United gain promotion back to the Premiership, a decision which for him was final then. But now he would like a final challenge which Hongkong first division club South China offers him.

Butt had since retiring offers from Premier League and Championship clubs, but he turned all those offers down as he wasn't really interested in him. Butt is currently in Hongkong to have a look at South China, the local league, the city and is thinking of bringing his family with him, if he decides to sign for South China.

"This is what I was looking for, something new and exciting. I have played 18 seasons in the Premiership and having done that, I wanted a new challenge," Butt told the South China Morning Post.

Butt has been brought down by South China's club chairman Steven Lo, who is a successful Hongkong businessman. He and the club have continental ambitions and surely a name like Nicky Butt would help them in their quest. South China is one of the clubs in the 2011 AFC Cup.

Butt has spoken to Manchester United legend Bryan Robson, who is now the coach of Thailand, about his advice and Butt said he should go for it, but only if he is match fit. Butt has prior Hongkong experiences with Manchester United, which he fondly remembers.

Butt surely would a great addition to Hong Kong's First Division and Butt's decision is likely in the coming days. At the moment it all sounds good, meaning very likely to happen.

Senin, 29 November 2010

El Clásico? No. A Barca show!

We all looked forward to the El Clásico last night, but it wasn't anything near what I would have expected. It was a demonstration of modern day football by FC Barcelona against their archrivals Real Madrid. Barca won 5-0 and the way the match went the victory was never in doubt. The 167th match between these two rivals will surely be remembered as one of the greatest El Clásicos of all times...

The match had been hyped-up like never before. Barca vs Real; Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo; Guardiola vs Mourinho. It was supposed to be the contest of the season, but all points went to Barca. The match stats simply speak for themselves. Barca - Real. Ball Possession 67% - 33%, Passes 684 - 331, Pass completion 89% - 74%. Increcible figures which just highlight the domination that Barca had in the match.

It was often one-way traffic towards the goal of Iker Casillas. After Messi could only place the ball onto the woodwork early on it was Xavi who gave Barca the lead in the 10th minute off a pass from Iniesta. At this stage Real Madrid were still in the game, but Barca doubled the lead on the other side as David Villa beat Sergio Ramos, got a cross in which Casillas couldn't collect and Pedro just had to push-in in the 18th minute. The Galacticos from the capital looked shocked after going two goals down so early with only Cristiano Ronaldo in bits and pieces trying to fight off the defeat, but sometimes he simply went overboard. On one occasion he went against Barca coach Guardiola, a real no go. It remained 2-0 for FC Barcelona at the break.

After the breather the Catalans continued their domination and sealed the game with a double strike in the 55th & 58th minute through David Villa, who on both occasions was set-up brilliantly by Lionel Messi. Barca now played tiki-taka to perfection with the crowds shouting Olé Olé and Real Madrid forced to run after the Barca players. It resulted in some rough tackles and harsh fouls, but referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez wasn't willing to hand out a red card just yet. Barca completed the rout in the first minute of injury time when substitute Jeffren scored to make it 5-0 and just thereafter the referee had to pull out his red card as Sergio Ramos with into Messi with no other intention then to hurt him, then some push and shove against Carlos Puyol and Xavi, off Ramos went.

With this win Barcelona are now top of the Primera Division league table, while Real Madrid after their first loss of the season are now second. A night to remember at the sellout Nou Camp with most of the 98,000 spectators enjoying themselves.

After the match a dejected Jose Mourinho simply said, "One team played very good, one team very bad. Deserved win, deserved loss."

Team India: Two friendlies in December

Bob Houghton and his boys continue their preparations for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and in December Team India will play two international friendlies, which will be further tough tests for them. First India play the Asian Cup hosts Qatar on December 19; while then on boxing day (December 26) India face Syria, the team India beat twice to win the 'ONGC' Nehru Cup at home. Both the matches will be played in the Emirate of Dubai.

At the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, which will be played in Qatar from January 7 to 29, India have been drawn in Group C along with Australia, South Korea and Bahrain; who happen to be No. 1, 3 and 6 in the Asian rankings. A real tough ask for Team India.

Team India has been in training since July, first a two month camp in Portugal; then a series of friendly matches in Delhi and Pune; and now the Dubai camp since early November, but the last few weeks in Dubai haven't been the best when one looks at the heart-breaking results.

After a gap of a year, India played their first international friendly in Bangkok against Thailand (0-1) on September 4; this was followed by another match against Thailand (1-2) and Namibia (2-0) at home in Delhi; then the matches shifted to Pune here India faced Hongkong (0-1), Vietnam (3-1) and Yemen (3-6); before India shifted their base to Dubai. First was a close game against defending Asian champions Iraq (0-2) in Sharjah, then the trashing against Kuwait (1-9) in Abu Dhabi and then followed by a heavy defeat against United Arab Emirates (0-5) in Dubai.

And last week India played two friendlies against local club sides. First a loss against Fujairah Sports Club (0-1) and then a win against Hatta Sports Club (3-1) to end the month on a high.

Is the 3+1 rule helping Asian football?

The Asian Football Confederation is spreading its foreigners rule of 3+1 from the AFC Champions League to the AFC Cup. Under this ruling clubs can play four foreigners in total in continental competitions with one of them having to be Asian. This way the AFC hopes that clubs across the continent will take on more Asian players, give them a chance to shine and allow better quality foreigners to come in.

But the question is if the 3+1 rule helping Asian football?

The AFC surely thinks it is a success so far. AFC Director of Competitions Tokuaki Suzuki said, "After the great success in implementing this system in ACL, it is the right time to introduce this in the AFC Cup matches. The introduction of 3+1 system in ACL gave many Asian players the chance to show their abilities at the continental level, and also gave the clubs the chance to strengthen their squad in the ACL matches."

"Introducing this system encouraged Asian clubs to sign Asian players, which proved to be a successful decision, as we witnessed the success achieved by the players who were signed for the Asian berth."


But the AFC wants this rule not only to be implemented by itself, but also by their member federations as well. The AIFF changed their rules accordingly last season which then became a 3+1+1 rule, meaning three foreigners from anywhere in the world, an Asian player plus a player of Indian origin. So clubs in last years I-League could have played with up to five foreign nationals.

This year the rule has been modified. There is no longer a PIO slot in squads, which means that India now follows the 3+1 rule with one difference, only three out of those four foreigners can play at any given time in the I-League, so some clubs have decided to only sign three foreigners and often the Asian slot is left free.

And the question is also if top class Asians would come to developing leagues like India. Surely not, but still quality players like Japanese Ryuji Sueoka and Australian Tolgay Ozbey have come in, but also some not so good Asians who have since left Indian shores again.

India coach Bob Houghton has been telling the AIFF to reduce the number of foreigners to two, so that young Indian talent gets playing time in the I-League; but the AFC thinks otherwise and more from a continental body perspective as in Asian then local, country football. To judge the rule now would be unfair, so lets wait another two/three years and then a judgement can be made if this rule has helped or harmed Asian football.

AFC announce 2011 participants of ACL, AFC Cup

The Asian Football Confederation today announced the participating teams for the 2011 AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup. The I-League champions Dempo SC will once more get a chance to qualify for the lucrative Champions League and could either face Al Sadd (Qatar), Al Ittihad (Syria), Al Ain (UAE) from the west zone or Sriwijaya (Indonesia) and Muangthong United (Thailand) in the east zone. As there are six teams, one west zone team will be shifted to the east zone playoffs. The four losing sides will play in the AFC Cup.

This years AFC Champions League has 30 teams who received direct entry, while two will make it from the qualifiers. The AFC Cup meanwhile has 28 teams named, while four teams will join the directly named sides as losing four AFC Champions League sides. East Bengal have received a direct entry into the AFC Cup as Federation Cup champions.

For the AFC Cup, four clubs - Arbil of Iraq, Nasaf of Uzbekistan, Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia, and Tampines Rovers of Singapore – have been invited to play in the competition.

The draw for the group stages of both competitions will take place on December 7, 2010, at the PJ Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


AFC Champions League 2011 teams

Nagoya Grumpus, 2nd in league, 3rd in league, Winner of knockout competition (all Japan); FC Seoul, Suwon Bluewings, Jeju United, 3rd in league (all South Korea); Shandong Luneng, Tianjin Teda, Shanghai Shensua, Hangzhou Greentown (all China); Foolad Mobarakeh Sepahan, Persepolis Tehran, Zobahan Esfahan, Esteghlal Tehran (all Iran); Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, Al Nassr, Al Shabab (all Saudi Arabia); Al Wahda, Emirates, Al Jazira (all United Arab Emirates); Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory (both Australia); Bunyodkor, Pakhtakor (both Uzbekistan); Arema Indonesia (Indonesia); Al Gharafa, Al Rayyan (both Qatar)


AFC Cup 2011 teams

Al Ahli (Bahrain); Duhok, Al Talaba, Arbil (all Iraq); Al Faisaly, Al Wehdat (both Jordan); Al Qadsia, Kuwait SC, Al Nasr (all Kuwait); Al Ahed, Al Ansar (both Lebanon); Al Suwaiq, Fnjaa or Aloruba (both Oman); Al Jaish, Al Karamah (both Syria); Nasaf Qarshi (Uzbekistan); Al Saqr, Al Tilal (both Yemen); South China, TSW Pegasus (both Hongkong); East Bengal Club (India); Persipura Jayapura (Indonesia); V.B., Victory (both Maldives); Tampines Rovers (Singapore); tbc (Thailand); Hanoi T&T, Song Lam Nghe An (both Vietnam)

Minggu, 28 November 2010

QPR: Marching towards the Premiership

All talk about English and India football links at the moment are about Blackburn Rovers being bought by poultry giants Venky's and Cardiff City FC's Michael Chopra deciding to finally wanting to play for India, but in west London a club has been making great strides to get back into the Premiership, Queens Park Rangers FC, who also have strong Indian links.

QPR, have since 2007 Indian stake holders in the Mittal family, but unlike other investors in football they have kept a rather low profile about their investment. The Mittal's co-own QPR with Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and former Renault F1 head Flavio Briatore, and after difficulties over the last few years things seem to finally falling in place for the club and their owners.

QPR has since the start of the season been league leaders in the English Championship, the second tier of English football just below the Premier League, and yesterday beat closest rivals Cardiff City FC 3-1 to now have 41 points from 19 matches, the only club throughout the Football League to remain unbeaten this season. PIO Michael Chopra did come on as a second half substitute for Cardiff, but that didn't change anything against QPR, who now have five points more then Cardiff and eight more then third placed Swansea.

But the Championship season is very long with 24 teams and 46 league matches to be played. So having played 19 out of 46 matches isn't that much though it is an indicator where things could go as two-fifth of the season has been played. And QPR could look to strengthen their squad in the winter transfer period to ensure direct promotion into the Premier League.

And there is another Indian link at QPR in their coach Neil Warnock, then Neil was the man who signed a certain young Indian talent in Baichung Bhutia for Bury FC in the summer of 1999, only to leave a few months later for Sheffield United.

Spain: El Clásico is upon us

Monday night all eyes will be on the Nou Camp in Barcelona when Spanish archrivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid meet each other in the "El Clásico", but actually it won't be the biggest derby this weekend as the Kolkata derby on Friday at the Saltlake Stadium was physically bigger with more then 100,000 people attending East Bengal's 2-0 win against Mohun Bagan. But that is the end of this Indian story as the "El Clásico" is one of the biggest matches each year in world club football, where two matches in a league season normally count little. But these matches at the Nou Camp and Bernabeu are followed closely around the world by millions of fans.

And this year this match-up has added flavour with Jose Mourinho, a former translator of the late Bobby Robson at Barca, returning to the club as a local Spanish club manager and that of the Catalans worst enemy, Real Madrid. The Special One as Mourinho is often called has had hostile receptions when coming to the Nou Camp as Chelsea and Inter Milan coach, but in the end walked away with his head high. But given Mourinho's arrogant appearance, the celebrations at the Nou Camp a few month back when Inter Milan just about edged Barca for a place in the UEFA Champions League final, it could be something never seen before even at the Nou Camp for a rival coach.

But then there is also Barcalona coach Pep Guardiola, who has a perfect record against Real Madrid, four win in four meetings since he took over in 2008. And he would like to keep that track record intact, while Mourinho is still to lose a game in the Primera Division. Someone's track record will end tomorrow night.

The match will also see the world's two best footballers take on each other. Barca's Argentinian little maestro Lionel Messi against Real Madrid's Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 as Cristiano Ronaldo is also known has scored 15 goals in the Primera Division this season against Messi's 13. And if the defences aren't able to contain these players then a high scoring encounter is on the cards.

But there are other players look out for. Numerous Spanish European and World Cup winners will be seen in action, not together but on both sides of the divide in Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and David Villa for Barca; while Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Arbeloa, Raúl Albiol and Xabi Alonso could play for Real Madrid.

But the "El Clásico" could also see the debut of newcomers like Germans Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, Portuguese Ricardo Carvalho, Argentinian Angel di Maria for Real Madrid or Argentina captain Javier Mascherano for Barca.

There is a lot to look forward to. At 21.00 CET on Monday evening is kickoff at the Nou Camp and most of us would have loved to have been there amongst the 98,000 spectators. And these matches often don't run as per script and have new heros or villians, so lets wait and see what happens...

Hooliganism in Kolkata football?

I am once more touching a tricky issue and some will certainly not like it, but it needs to be said and discussed as it is a problem of Kolkata football - Hooliganism. Not in the way as it is known in Europe or South America, but rather the own Kolkata way. And I am not meaning it in any nice way...

When I was told and read about what happened to Parimal Das at the Saltlake Stadium on Friday I was simply shocked. First it was supposed to have been a fire cracker and as time went on it became something like a crude bomb. Then finding the truth behind the story becomes difficult as some say Das himself was carrying the bomb and it went off when East Bengal scored their first goal in the 12th minute, while others claim that it was thrown by Mohun Bagan fans at the celebrating East Bengal fans. What is clear is that crackers (chocolate bombs) were brought into the stadium and lit by fans of both sides. And be it crackers or bombs, they have nothing to do in a football stadium, anywhere in the world.

At the end of the day at least five people were said to have been injured, three of them are critical. Many more will have cuts and bruises which are unaccounted for, even policemen are said to have been injured after the match ended and fans tried to get onto the pitch to greet their players.

Now who is to blame? I think everyone involved!!!
It starts with the police, whose work is to ensure safety for teams, match officials, media and even the fans. But in a derby match with over 100,000 people they seem overawed by the occasion, during the match they rather watch the game then the stands to avoid potential trouble and often don't seem to know what is right or wrong. I am talking about the police, then they are ill-equipped and not trained to handle such stress situations.

But the biggest culprits are both sets of fans and lets even include the Mohammedan Sporting fans into this equation. The fans of the Maidan big three. For many who come to the Saltlake Stadium these days it seems to be a way to let out their aggression and I feel it is getting worse. Luckily the Saltlake Stadium is as big as it is as otherwise missiles, bottles, shoes, etc could reach the field and cause injuries to players. This is a reason why outstation teams are reluctant to play at the Barasat Stadium these days as the stands are too close and dangerous for them if their local opponents play a bad game or the away team is winning.

Friends of mine, who are genuine football fans and follow Indian football really closely, avoid going to the big derbies these days as they say, it's simply too dangerous. They say it could be life threatening and the events of Friday prove that. Then simply forget women and children going to such a venue.

What needs to be done? The rhetoric from the clubs and their fan need to be toned down ahead of derbies. We all are football fans and not warriors. Otherwise future crucial derbies are disasters waiting to happen and that is surely something which no one will want. Its all about the beautiful game, so winning and losing is part of it.

There are wise people in these fan groups, I actually know some of them, who have the brains and can understand the above issues. And I know that people listen to them. They need to take a pro-active role and try to ensure that their fan groups are clean of crackers, missiles, etc and behave themselves at the ground.

Also needed are better checks at the entrances to the stadium. But if that would be implemented then it could take upto three/four hours to get into the ground. An impossible ask if 100,000 plus people are coming in. But the police needs to ensure the safety of all present, so something has to be done about this. The Saltlake Stadium structure isn't the safest anyway, so crude bombs could have disastrous effects on the whole structure.

It needs an effort from all sides to ensure that the derbies remain something which people can look forward to and not fear to hear bad news. And I am not talking about the results...

Sabtu, 27 November 2010

India win 3-1, return to winning ways

India's losing streak came to an end with a convincing 3-1 win against local UAE club Hatta SC at the Hatta Sports Ground. A double strike from substitute striker Abhishek Yadav and a goal from Sushil Kumar Singh gave India a crucial win after the series of losses.

Coach Bob Houghton once more had to do without Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Anwar, Syed Rahim Nabi and Arindam Bhattacharya. So Bob only made one change from the match against Fujairah SC with Baldeep Singh playing alongside captain Climax Lawrence in place of Mehrajuddin Wadoo in the heart of midfield.

After a goalless first half with honours even between the two sides, India came out into the second session more focused. Abhishek Yadav came on for Mohammed Rafi and that would do the trick for India. But it was first striker Sushil Kumar Singh who would give India the lead through a header of a Steven Dias cross. Only for Hatta SC to equalise in the 73rd minute, but their lead was shortlived as Abhishek Yadav would head home in the 75th minute to restore India's lead. Abhishek would ensure India's win in the 85th minute with his second goal of the day.

For Bob Houghton and his boys it was an important win to end the losing run though many will argue the win came against a lower level club side from the Emirates. But that doesn't matter for the Team India contingent as they continue their preparations for the Asian Cup.


INDIA

1-Subrata Pal; 17-Surkumar Singh, 19-Gouramangi Singh, 14-Mahesh Gawli, 12-Deepak Kumar Mondal; 8-Renedy Singh, 30-Climax Lawrence, 6-Baldeep Singh, 23-Steven Dias; 18-Sushil Kumar Singh, 26-Mohammed Rafi (46' 9-Abhishek Yadav)
Substitutes: 24-Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, 16-Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, 7-N.P.Pradeep, 13-James Lukram Singh, 21-Baljit Singh Sahni, 27-Mehrajuddin Wadao, 29-Jagpreet Singh, 41-Rakesh Masih

The AIFF's search for I-League TV partner

The fourth edition of the I-League is set to kick-off in less then a week and the AIFF still has no TV partner, who would be showing the matches of the I-League and the Super Cup on December 1. And it is time to sort this crucial issue otherwise clubs and sponsors are in a fix about TV coverage of the I-League.

"After ending our contract with Zee Sports, we are now looking for telecast partners. And on Monday we will formally invite bids for the telecast rights of the I-League and the Super Cup. The rights will only be for the 2010-11 season," AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das told IANS.

And interested parties have until 15.00 IST on Monday, November 29 to send in their written proposal to the AIFF on interest to show the Super Cup/I-League. The contract is only for the 2010/11 season and it will be interesting to see how interested parties are able to put a whole production team together to cover the matches and which channel would be showing the I-League. Most slots on sports channels in India are currently blocked for the near future.

The following has been published on the AIFF website on what a TV partner needs to provide to the AIFF/I-League to get the telecast rights.


Invitation for proposal for Telecast rights

Minimum Requirements:
  • 60 Matches live telecasts

  • 8 Camera coverage

  • Pre-match and post match preview and review of 30 minutes each

  • Ensure title sponsor is mentioned in all communication / promotion- air and on ground

  • Maximum promotion/ mileage to the title sponsor, AIFF and I League during commentary & pre & post match coverage

  • Interview with Man of the Match/ Coach

  • 300 Seconds of FCT per live match for AIFF

  • 20 Seconds of promo after a gap of every 30 minutes daily till the end of the tournament

  • Round wise analysis within 48 Hrs. within completion of the last match of the round to be shown on prime time with repeats

  • Back drop with proper title in commentary box as well as in the studio

  • Commentary team to be approved by AIFF for every match

  • Product category exclusivity for title sponsor – on air & on ground

  • Subject to the approval of Rights holder

Proposal, in sealed envelop, should reach the AIFF, General Secretary, Mr. Kushal Das at All India Football Federation, Football House, Sector-19, Phase-1, Dwarka, New Delhi-110 075 on or before 3P.M. on Monday i.e. 29th of November 2010.
AIFF reserves the right to accept or reject any proposal without assigning any reason whatsoever.

EPL - can you buy success???

The English Premier League is the most watched and followed football league in the world. And over the years we have seen investments coming into the league from around the world to cash in on this global craze.

In the English game there are investors from North America, Russia, Egypt, Hongkong, Thailand, East Europe and in Venky's at Blackburn Rovers we now also have Indian owners in the Premier League. And if rumours back in India can be believed then more Indian business houses are looking at options to invest in English football.


The question that I ask is quiet simple: Can you buy EPL success? Yes or No.

Football as a sport is something which you can't plan then what happens on a football pitch isn't something like a game of chess. There are risk factors which you cannot judge and that also happens to be the charm of football. Otherwise only the strongest teams could and would win titles and trophies. The element of surprise is something which we all love in football.

But still I think you can to a certain extend buy success on the field, but off the field the financial numbers simply cannot add up over the short- and mid-term. Look at the example of Chelsea FC. Before Roman Abramovich came in the Blues were just another club in London, but the Russians billionaires multi-million pound investment turned them into a Premier League giant, who have won numerous Premiership titles over the last few years, still the big prize of UEFA Champions League success has not come their way. The counter example is FC Liverpool, who were nearly financially ruined by Americans Hicks and Gillett and haven't really won anything noteworthy for a while.

But the latest example is Manchester City with owners from the Abu Dhabi royal family and there wealth is no issue. Can they build a successful team? Only time will tell. But City have been the big spenders over the last few transfer periods and now they have an international manager in Italian Roberto Mancini, a multi-national squad. Expectations have already risen with the Champions League a must this season and then over the next two/three years the Premier League title will become a must. It will be interesting to see if they achieve their ambitious goals. If they make it, then more and more people will think that success in football can be bought.


I also asked some friends for their opinion on the topic. And here some really interesting views...

Here is what Chris Punnakkattu Daniel (former IndianFootball.Com colleague) had to say:

Football has turned into a multi-billion business in the last few decades. More and more investors and businessmen are realizing that taking over an EPL club could be a great business opportunity for them, while selling an existing brand via jerseys and other gear and take a piece of the TV rights pie. I think we need to differentiate, while talking about the topic of "buying an EPL club". Foreign investors could be the much needed boost for many EPL clubs at the verge of a financial collapse. But investors like American tycoons George Gillett and Tom Hicks have showed us the reverse side of things when they ruined Liverpool FC, one of Europe's finest and traditional clubs. Yes, football has become a business - but the success or failure of an investment will always depend of several key factors: The genuineness of the investment, the flexibility to adapt to the local needs and the sustainability of such an investment! I think investing in a club is part of modern football, but there's no need for investors looking to add another trophy to their list...


Here is what Patrick Sisupalan (former PIO I-League players) had to say, said:

Firstly, I have to speak as a proud Spurs fan and say that I'm happy that we finally achieved our Champions league dream through careful spending and years of trial and error that mostly ended in failure. It makes success much sweeter than the awful situation at Manchester City. It is disgusting to see the money being spent by Man City and seeing the players greed rather than ambition on the pitch. The only positive thing is that is has blown apart the boring old big four in the premier league.
Blackburn Rovers were accused of buying the title when they won the premier league after spending 3.5 million on Alan Shearer and 5 million on Chris Sutton. It is more difficult for Man City to replicate this as the competition has stiffened and increasing player power puts further pressure on Coaches to deal with the big egoes in their squads.



Here is what Vikram Nanivadekar (SportsBench podcast host) had to say:

Personally, I do not think money can buy success - especially if it is spent the way some of the teams/owners spend it.
Guess, it is about having an objective & core football set up with STABILITY being the key e.g. Man U, Chelsea (since Abramovich), Arsenal. To an extent Liverpool (forgive the form slump). A group of players will make a team but a team can only 'EVOLVE' into winners (Mourinho is an exception!).

For me, such a vulgar amount of money also takes away the excitement that uncertainty brings to sport. What is the chance that a Blackburn 1995-like performance will be repeated? Wayne Rooney struck a wonder-goal & within no time he was at Man U. Bale hits a hattrick & instead of enjoying the spectacle/waiting to find out how deep is his bag of tricks, talk starts about who will buy him for how much? How will the Evertons or the Spurs even have a podium finish if sharks keep taking away key talents.
It may be interesting to note that Euro Championship has thrown up surprises like Denmark & Greece in the last two decades but such 'successes' have probably been rarer in the big leagues.

Jumat, 26 November 2010

Are Mourinho/Real Madrid cheats?

That is a question which is being discussed across Europe and the football world after incidences at the Ajax Amsterdam vs Real Madrid UEFA Champions League at the Amsterdam Arena on Tuesday night. Did Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho ask his players to pick up cards on purpose to avoid suspensions in the tournaments knockout stages?

If one looks at the TV footage then it seems obvious that Mourinho had hatched the plan after Real Madrid had taken an unassailable lead against the Dutch giants. And it can even be seen on TV footage. The ideas was send through substitute goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to Iker Casillas, Casillas then informed Sergio Ramos and the info was also passed on to Xabi Alonso, who both had picked-up a yellow card in the game and if they had gotten another one in the next game, then they would have to miss the first match in the pre-quarterfinals. So the two World Cup winners delayed a freekick in Xabi Alonso's case and Sergio Ramos a goal kick, which resulted in the referee Craig Thomson showing them their second cards of the night and leading to a send off.

Now the above manouvre was so obvious that UEFA had to step in and has launched an investigation into the claims of improper conduct levelled at coach Jose Mourinho and four of his players, those who have been named above. And at Real Madrid everyone seems to be surprised at the investigation against their coach and players.

It will be interesting to see if UEFA takes any action then as per UEFA's disciplinary code, article 10 allows for suspensions of more than one match in cases of unsporting conduct. And this would qualify for such a suspension.


See it for yourself on YouTube how Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos got send off



What do you say? Guilty or not???

East Bengal win derby & Calcutta league title

East Bengal Club defeated archrivals Mohun Bagan AC 2-0 at the Saltlake Stadium in a Calcutta Premier Division match to regain the Calcutta Football League title. Youngster Robin Singh scored both the goals for the red-and-gold which gave them the three vital points to seal the title with one league match to go.

For East Bengal is was their 32nd Calcutta Football League title, while their archrivals Mohun Bagan have 29 titles to their name. But for East Bengal it was the first title since 2006 as in the last thee seasons Mohun Bagan had won the Calcutta league.

It was a high voltage clash infront of about 100,000 fans at the Saltlake Stadium and East Bengal once more proved that currently they are the better of the two Kolkata giants. Both goals from Robin Singh were set-up by Australian Tolgey Ozbey. The first one in the 12th minute was a ball from Tolgey for Robin which Shilton Pal couldn't collect and allowed Robin to simply push in, while the second on the hour mark was nice piece of work by Tolgey Ozbey on the right with Robin heading it in.

Mohun Bagan did have their chances, but the league's top scorer Subair Muritala Ali just couldn't score while Jose Ramirez Barreto and Chidi Edeh remained off-colour on this day. The green-and-maroon did get numerous corners but they couldn't utilise any of those.

Surprisingly Nigerian midfielder of East Bengal Penn Ikechukwu Orji was named man of the match with Robin Singh or Tolgey Ozbey being better candidates. But that didn't bother the East Bengal faithfuls as thereafter it was celebration time for the fans, who lit burning torches to celebrate the victory.

For East Bengal and their English coach Trevor Morgan it will be the right morale boaster ahead of the bigger assignments in the I-League which starts next week.


East Bengal: Jayanta Pal; Saikat Saha Roy, Gurwinder Singh, Uga Okpara, Soumik Dey; Sanju Pradhan (87' Alvito D'Cunha), Mehtab Hussain, Sushant Mathew, Penn Ikechukwu Orji; Robin Singh (70' Budhiram Tudu), Tolgey Ozbey (66' Ravinder Singh)

Mohun Bagan: Shilton Pal, Rahul Kumar, Kingshuk Debnath, Harpreet Singh, R. Dhanarajan (68' Ishfaq Ahmed); Jayanta Sen (48' Snehasish Chakraborty), Manish Maithani, Surabuddin Mollick; Subair Muritala Ali (65' Ashim Biswas), Chidi Edeh, Jose Ramirez Barreto

Indicast Podcast: Will Venky chicken out?

Yesterday I once more was part of the Indicast Podcast's Sportsbench and we discussed international and Indian football. The focus was on my trip with FC Bayern Allstars to Kolkata as I also got to play for them besides the takeover by Venky's of Blackburn Rovers, the first Indian owners of an EPL club and the current state of the Indian national team after their heavy defeats against Kuwait and UAE.

The podcast was moderated by Vikram Nanivadekar and myself as the guest of the day.


Listen Online (64 kbps) : ~ 20 mins











Here the direct link to the Indicast Podcast page: Sportsbench Podcast


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Kamis, 25 November 2010

A Kolkata derby could decide Calcutta Football League

It's derby time in Kolkata tomorrow when the bigwigs of Indian football - East Bengal Club and Mohun Bagan AC - meet in the Calcutta Football League's Premier Division league at the Saltlake Stadium. And the match could decide the league or postpone that decision by a few days. Currently East Bengal are the league leaders with 40 points from 14 matches, while Mohun Bagan are close on their heals with 37 points from the same number of games.

East Bengal have had an incredible season so far under new English coach Trevor Morgan. Only Chirag United SC has been able to beat them and that defeat came in the Durand Cup semifinals, while in a recent Calcutta Football League match Chirag United could hold East Bengal to a draw, while at the Mohammedan Sporting organised Platinum Jubilee Cup Mohun Bagan held them to a draw before losing in a penalty shootout. But in that game both coaches used their fringe players.

Under Stanley Rozario as their new coach Mohun Bagan's season didn't start as well as their archrivals as they lost against Aryan Club and then drew Chirag United SC, but since then Mohun Bagan have won 10 Calcutta Premier Division matches in a row. And now they are in with a chance to retain the Premier Division title, but they will have to beat East Bengal as then both sides will be on 40 points and a similar or close to similar goal difference.

Both sides have some injury worries in defence. While East Bengal will once more miss Nirmal Chetri and Naoba Singh, Mohun Bagan will have to replace Sagram Mandi and Sheikh Azim. But the focus would most likely be on the front line. At East Bengal it will be about Tolgay Ozbey, Penn Orji and Robin Singh; while at Mohun Bagan it will be Jose Ramirez Barreto, Chidi Edeh and Subair Muritala Ali. Both attacks have been on fire recently, but a derby is a derby still the fans from both sides will be hoping for a win, while neutral fans would hope for a high scoring game.

The IFA (West Bengal) has also decided to bring in a foreign referee in Gamini Nivon Robesh from Sri Lanka to stay clear of controversy. Earlier this season Mohun Bagan had criticized referee Dinesh Nair after the Federation Cup final where certain decisions didn't go the green-and-maroon way.

So lets all hope for an entertaining derby...

Mohun Bagan & Assam FA announce tie-up

In a first for Indian football, Mohun Bagan AC and the Assam Football Association today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the Kolkata giants Maidan premises. The MoU was signed on behalf of Mohun Bagan by the clubs General Secretary Anjan Mitra and Ankur Dutta, the Honorary Secretary of the Assam FA and vice-President of the AIFF. The aim is to promote football, professional management and enable talented players to join the green-and-maroon Academy or senior team.

As part of the MOU, Mohun Bagan AC would help in the overall growth and development of Football in the Northeastern state of Assam by helping the Assam FA in various administrative and technical aspects of the Game. Mohun Bagan will send their technical experts to Guwahati from time to time on request from AFA in order to guide the Association in coaching camps of the Assam state teams. The club will also send its administration and management staff to Guwahati on request from AFA in order to conduct relevant workshops, seminars and courses. The club will also accommodate young talented footballers from Assam on recommendation of AFA for training them in their football academies as well as help AFA in having facilities available with the Club during the exposure trips of the different age groups from Assam.

The Assam FA on its part will extend all possible help to the club in their participation in exhibition matches and invitation tournaments organized under the jurisdiction of AFA, anywhere in Assam. AFA will assist the club in the recruitment of talented footballers from the Northeast to the Academies and teams of the club. AFA will further extend all possible support to the club and to any of their visiting football teams or officials to Assam for any official work or for any sporting activities.

Mohun Bagan has agreed that during exposure trips of Assam state teams, they will help arrange friendly matches at Kolkata with their own club teams. In return the club would also send its different age-group teams to Assam for exposure trips and tournaments.

Both Mr. Mitra and Mr. Dutta expressed their happiness at this win-win association which is unique since never before has a club helped promote popularity and development of any specific sports discipline of another state. Both the Secretaries sincerely hoped that this tie-up would help accelerate overall growth of the game of Football in Assam as well as help spread the game to the grassroots in the various districts and to the remotest parts of Assam which would benefit both football in Assam and Indian football in the long run.

It surely sounds an encouraging project and hopefully it can be filled with life by both the sides.

Team India: Unrealistic expectations???

The closer the 2011 AFC Asian Cup is getting the worse the results seem to be getting for Bob Houghton and his boys as the team starts to regularly play higher ranked nations. But what did we, the people who closely follow Team India and the fans expect? India would go to the Asian Cup and do a Greece at Euro2004 or Iraq at the 2007 Asian Cup.

Now if we just look at the bare statistics then it should be clear to us that at the Asian Cup this time around there is no bigger underdog then India. We are by far the lowest ranked team taking part in the tournament with the least experience at this level of continental competitions. And we did not qualify through the regular qualifiers, but through the back door which is the AFC Challenge Cup, the tier two tournament for Asian nations. And then we were drawn into the Group of Death which includes Australia, South Korea and Bahrain; who are No. 1, 3 & 6 in the Asian rankings.

I know many will not like it, but our only aim in Qatar should be the Olympic spirit, "We are happy to be a part of this event." Then anything more would be a bonus! I remember I was talking to friends last year after the second Nehru Cup win, even before the Asian Cup draws had been made, that the Asian Cup will be a totally different competition for India. The level is much higher and against the best in Asia we can still lose by five, six goals like we have done over the last decade to Japan and Saudi Arabia. Even extensive training and more exposure might not be able to change that as we can't catch-up what has been done wrong for many decades in Indian football.

But still international exposure and match practice is needed. One shouldn't talk just about the costs involved and it shouldn't be a luxury but a normal thing for Indian footballers to train abroad and get top class facilities. I remember April 2001 when Baichung Bhutia had to pick a verbal fight with the AIFF top brass to give the whole team top class accommodation. Luckily those days are gone, but still India is at a development stage, in a transitional phase, where loads of work has to go into youth development and the structure of youth teams which Bob Houghton and Colin Toal have put in place over the last few years. We will need another three to five years to hopefully get the desired results and another younger generation to come up.

Team selection. I don't really see any alternatives to the current squad except maybe one or two, but even then these boys would only be bench potential and not playing eleven to start with. The much hyped Under-23 boys played well in the Asian Games under Sukhvinder Singh, but did in the end also lose 0-5 against a weakened Japanese Under-21 team. And this to me puts everything into perspective, then the Asian Cup isn't a level of competition where you just throw in youngsters. It could haunt them for the rest of their careers and that is surely not what we would like to see.

And then there is the issue of PIOs. Something which I have been pushing for for nearly a decade. Now a quality PIO in English born PIO Michael Chopra wants to play for us and could be a great asset, no matter what he said a few years back. We need quality and can't be picking the cheries.

Also I now understand after the latest international friendly results why Bob always insisted of wanting to have a gradual development progress since winning the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup with his team. He knew his boys weren't ready to face bigger opposition and still seems not to be. I can only hope Bob is able to rectify some of the basic mistakes committed and get his key players back from injury.

Then I am still hoping for the best, but being realistic and pragmatic, not day dreaming, getting even a point in Qatar would be a huge success for India as it would mean we have drawn one of our three matches against those Asian heavyweights. And I call on all of you to support Bob, Baichung and the rest of the boys. They need it and lets stand by their side whatever the result.

Sorry the above might sound very pessimistic, but lets not fool ourselves what awaits us in Qatar.

Rabu, 24 November 2010

FC Bayern Kids Clinic in Kolkata

As part of the FC Bayern Munich Allstars journey to Kolkata a Kids Clinic was organised on the first day of the trip on last Tuesday, November 16 at the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club by Adidas India. And the big prize for six of the 96 participating children under the age of 15 was a two week training stint in Munich with the relevant age group Academy team of FC Bayern Munich.

And the Allstars took their scouting work really seriously as a number of the team members are now scouts and youth coaches back in Europe. The lovely CCFC grounds had been split into three fields, the FCB players also split themselves into equal numbers with the children divided into teams to play out a tournament, so the scouts could have a proper look at all of them to select the final six. But as the scouts weren't sure which six to choose it was decided to have a sort of final with 12 players plus two goalkeepers showing themselves to all scouts in a final game.

And in the end the final list of six were decided by the Allstars and announced by me to the public. Amongst the six winning kids are four boys in Ram Chetri, Suman Rai, Donborlang Nongkynrih and Jacob Lalrawngbawla from Shillong Lajong FC plus two local Bengal boys in Sanchayan Samadder and Simanta Murmu. An interesting story and commendable fact that the youth development work being put in at Lajong FC brought such success against the mighty Bengal, which is said to be the home of Indian football. Lajong had brought down 10 children from the Northeast for the clinic with seven being from Shillong and three selected from trials in Sikkim. A great ratio for the club of the Northeast as Shillong Lajong refers to itself as.

But the scouts also liked another boy who should have been amongst the kids chosen to come to Germany, so maybe Raju Chakraborty will join the other six kids when they come to Munich next year. A final decision will have to be taken on this issue by the FCB officials. The dates aren't finalised yet, but it is likely that the children will be in Germany in March/April 2011 after the harsh winter is gone to enjoy a memorable camp with FCB.

And maybe we will hear more from these boys in the future...

Fujairah beat India in friendly

India's losing run continued with a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Fujairah Sports Club at the Fujairah Stadium in the UAE. The Indian national football team travelled from their training camp in Dubai across to Fujairah with the aim of getting back to winning ways against the lower division UAE club.

But once more the Indians walked off as the losers, the fifth time in a row, and the injury worries continue to grow. Ahead of this game central defender Anwar was the latest addition to the injury list which already includes Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Arindam Bhattacharya. Others like N.P. Pradeep are just coming back from injuries, while Gurpreet Singh Sandhu joined the squad from the Asian Games as the teams number four keeper replacing another youngster Jagroop Singh.

All this meant that Bob Houghton had to make changes to his starting eleven as Mahesh Gawli replaced Anwar in central defence, while Deepak Mondal replaced Syed Rahim Nabi as left back while Mohammed Rafi started upfront for Clifford Miranda as Bob went back to his usual 4-4-2 system from the 4-5-1 used against the UAE.

Fujairah scored the winner in the 69th minute and India simply wasn't able to give an answer on the pitch as Baichung and Chhetri continue to be heavily missed upfront as Sushil and Rafi aren't suitable replacements and honestly no others are in sight, so if Michael Chopra isn't given Indian citizenship soon I see a major problem there.

India's preparations continue with a friendly game against Hatta Sports Club on Saturday, November 27. Bob Houghton will surely hope for his boys to return to winning ways.


INDIA

1-Subrata Pal; 17-Surkumar Singh, 19-Gouramangi Singh, 14-Mahesh Gawli, 12-Deepak Kumar Mondal; 8-Renedy Singh, 30-Climax Lawrence, 27-Mehrajuddin Wadao, 28-Anthony Pereira (46' 23-Steven Dias); 18-Sushil Kumar Singh, 26-Mohammed Rafi
Substitutes: 16-Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, 6-Baldeep Singh, 7-N.P.Pradeep, 9-Abhishek Yadav, 13-James Lukram Singh, 21-Baljit Singh Sahni, 29-Jagpreet Singh, 41-Rakesh Masih

Indian Super Cup: Now in Gurgaon

The Indian football season proper is finally set to kick-off with the Indian Super Cup to be played on Wednesday, December 1. But the AIFF has been forced to change the venue. As the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi won't be available the match has been shifted to the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in the Ch. Devi Lal Sports Complex in Sector 38, Gurgaon. The match will see I-League champions Dempo Sports Club from Goa taking on Kolkata's East Bengal Club, who only recently had been crowned Federation Cup champions.

And the reason why the Ambedkar Stadium isn't available? It is due to the fact that the stadium is booked and blocked for the Subroto Mukherjee Cup, India's national school football championship in the under-17 and under-14 age groups.

And it once more shows the lack of grading of importance to matches and tournaments. I feel somehow the AIFF and the Subroto Mukherjee Cup organisers should have been able to work out a formula to allow the Super Cup match to take place in Delhi on December 1. I also feel for the young boys playing in the Subroto Mukherjee Cup it would have been a nice experience to see such a top level match.

With the Subroto Mukherjee Cup set to continue for some time, the AIFF XI (India Under-20) team will have to play their I-League home matches in December 2010 in Gurgaon too. I am sure Desmond Bulpin wouldn't be happy about it.

Selasa, 23 November 2010

FCB Allstars: The Kolkata trip's day two

The FC Bayern Munich Allstars spend about 50 hours in Kolkata last week and we had a jam packed schedule and program. It was a memorable trip, the fourth trip by a team from FCB to Kolkata in the last five years.

And after a long hectic day one, the second day started off in a more relaxed manner then after breakfast we left the hotel for a river cruise on a Kolkata Police ship on the Hooghly. First explanation, there is no Ganges which flows through Kolkata but the Hooghly is one of its many arteries. The contingent got to see the 'real' Kolkata along the river banks on how people fight to stay alive everyday, a stark contrast to the live of the rich and famous you see in a hotel like the ITC Sonar or at a place like the CCFC. Like typical Germans pragmatic questions were being thrown at me and often I simply had no answer. I know a little bit about Kolkata, but not so much that I could answer all these questions. In-between I also did some work for my TV channel Times Now in interviewing Paul Breitner on the ship, a nice background view of Kolkata and Howrah for a TV interview. Off the ship and back to the hotel.

Being in Kolkata I had to at least visit my aunt once and say hi. That is where I normally stay when I am in Kolkata. I got the okay from the Allstars manager to go out, but then Harald Cerny and Carsten Lakies wanted to come along and see how locals live, while also getting a chance to buy some souvenirs. I got the okay to take them along, it was around 11 am and we had to be back by 12 pm, a tight schedule. But luckily for us with Audi India as sponsors and partner, we got a couple of Audi cars to drive us around as our FCB.tv guys also joined us. I have driven in many different cars around Kolkata over the years, some even driven by myself; but being in an Audi Q7 was an experience, a totally new one. Just great!

We reached my aunts place in Saltlake and the guys from FCB got a touch of Bengali hospitality. The quartett got to taste Roshogolla's and Mishti Doi (sweet yoghurt), and from their reactions I realised it was just too sweet for them like it is for me. We had to leave and then quickly went to City Centre in Saltlake as due to a holiday most shops across the city where closed and the mall was the only option, but no local souvenirs could be found and we went back, but were a little late for lunch.

And there at lunch the whole story started on how I later that afternoon would play for the FCB Allstars. Here the link to the whole story of me playing .

So after lunch I had to do a couple of interviews and get some interviews organised. A friend in football wanted to meet me, but I just didn't have the time to do so as I was running from one thing to another until we had our team meeting at 3 pm. I was part of the playing squad, at 3.30 pm departure to the stadium after a series of pictures with the team bus, then a little coordination at the ground, get into match gear, warm-up, felicitations and then kick-off.

The FCB Allstars would go on to win 10-3 against the East Bengal Allstars, I would get to play more then 12 minutes and make it one of the most memorable days of my life. But it wasn't over yet as we had the prize ceremony, the press conference and the Audi Dinner party. So up to my room, quick shower, check my mails plus social network updates and then back down to the pool where the dinner was ready. It was great food and nice interactions with the highlight being former Cricketer Ravi Shastri, who introduced FCB, talked about German and football. A real media professional and a nice guy to chat to, who was there as the brand ambassador of Audi in India.

In-between I sneeked out and packed my bags then that night we would fly back to Germany. And returned for a late drink to the dinner. We would leave at 1 am from the ITC Sonar for the airport as at 2.55 am our flight would take us back to Germany. But at the dinner some of us had the chance to talk to one of our co-pilots and got the offer to be allowed to view the cockpit. And still while we were on the ground we used that chance to have a close look and get some things explained. This was the last thing we did before the Airbus A330-300 left Kolkata for Frankfurt. It ended another FCB trip to Kolkata, surely not the last one...

Scottish Referee's to Strike?

Those of us who follow international football will have heard or read about the strike threat from the Scottish referee's. We have seen footballers going on strike, fans coming late into stadiums to protest against their own clubs, but referee's on strike? They are not highly regarded, but lets be honest without referee's and match officials there could be no football. And surely referee's make mistakes, some more and others less, but match officials are a key ingredient of football.

What has happened in Scotland? Like around the world the referee's in Scotland are regularly criticized for their performances, but that has gone to a whole new level in Scotland with clubs not only questioning the quality of referee's in the Scottish Premier League but also their integrity. Such reactions from clubs and managers has led to the referee's saying that their standing has gone down with players and amongst fans alike. Some referee's have received threatening calls, while other even bigger threats. And the biggest culprit amongst the clubs are Scottish giants Celtic Glasgow, who openly have questioned decisions and the integrity of the referee's.

The referee's had to act themselves as their own security was becoming a problem and the Scottish Football Association didn't react in such a way to cover their backs as one would have expected. This has led to the category one officials (highest level of officials in Scotland) holding a vote and unanimously deciding to refuse to officiate over the weekend November 27/28. And such a strike would not only effect the Scottish Premier League, the Scottish Football League, but also the ALBA Challenge Cup final and three Scottish Cup third-round replays.

The Scottish FA has been looking to solve the issue with the Scottish Senior Football Referees' Association , but so far no solution has been found. And now they are scouting for alternatives in trying to bring in foreign referee's to avoid a total washout. Referee's from England, Ireland, Wales, Iceland or Scandinavia could be invited, but foreign referee's have stated in their local media that they support their Scottish colleagues in their fight.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming days in Scottish football...

Revised I-League fixtures released

The AIFF yesterday released the revised 26 Round fixtures of the 14 team I-League. A few weeks ago I had praised the AIFF and I-League for releasing the fixtures as early as never before, but uncertainly over title sponsor and television coverage has forced the postponement of the league by a week. The I-League will now kick-off on December 3 instead of November 26, but still the sponsorship and telecast issues haven't been resolved.

The 4th edition of the I-League will see defending champions Dempo SC face the challenge of local Goan rivals Churchill Brothers SC and Salgaocar SC; the Kolkata trio of Mohun Bagan AC, East Bengal Club and Chirag United SC; Mumbai trio of Air India, Mumbai FC and promoted ONGC; Pune FC; Punjab's JCT; Viva Kerala from the south; promoted HAL from Bangalore; and new entrants the AIFF XI (India Under-20) who have replaced disbanded Mahindra United.

The I-League is set to kick-off on December 3 with the league set to finish in May 2011. The league is set to have only a two week break in March 2011 for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. The league start had to be delayed for a couple of months due to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the India vs Australia cricket series which blocked the Nehru Stadium in Goa, the 2010 Asian Games in November and now the leagues own problems.

Some matches and fixtures have been changed, while HAL will start to play away as the Bangalore Football Stadium isn't ready as it is getting its artificial turf at the moment. Otherwise the AIFF and I-League committee tried to space out the matches as much as possible, but it wasn't always possible.


FIXTURES

Round 1
03-Dec-2010: Pune FC - Mohun Bagan AC
03-Dec-2010: Chirag United SC - AIFF XI
03-Dec-2010: JCT - HAL, Bangalore
03-Dec-2010: Mumbai FC - Air India
03-Dec-2010: Viva Kerala - Salgaocar SC
04-Dec-2010: Churchill Brothers SC - Dempo SC
04-Dec-2010: East Bengal Club - ONGC

Round 2
07-Dec-2010: Salgaocar SC - Chirag United SC
07-Dec-2010: JCT - Churchill Brothers SC
07-Dec-2010: Air India - Viva Kerala
08-Dec-2010: Mohun Bagan AC - HAL, Bangalore
08-Dec-2010: AIFF XI - ONGC
08-Dec-2010: Dempo SC - East Bengal Club
08-Dec-2010: Mumbai FC - Pune FC

Round 3
11-Dec-2010: Chirag United SC - Air India
11-Dec-2010: Dempo SC - JCT
12-Dec-2010: ONGC - Salgaocar SC
12-Dec-2010: Churchill Brothers SC - Mohun Bagan
12-Dec-2010: East Bengal Club - AIFF XI
12-Dec-2010: Viva Kerala - Pune FC
13-Dec-2010: Mumbai FC - HAL, Bangalore

Round 4
17-Dec-2010: JCT - East Bengal Club
17-Dec-2010: Air India - ONGC
17-Dec-2010: Mohun Bagan AC - Dempo SC
18-Dec-2010: Salgaocar SC - AIFF XI
18-Dec-2010: Mumbai FC - Churchill Brothers SC
18-Dec-2010: Pune FC - Chirag United SC
18-Dec-2010: Viva Kerala - HAL, Bangalore

Round 5
22-Dec-2010: East Bengal Club - Salgaocar SC
22-Dec-2010: AIFF XI - Air India
22-Dec-2010: Dempo SC - Mumbai FC
23-Dec-2010: JCT - Mohun Bagan AC
23-Dec-2010: ONGC - Pune FC
23-Dec-2010: Churchill Brothers SC - Viva Kerala
23-Dec-2010: Chirag United SC - HAL, Bangalore

Round 6
29-Dec-2010: East Bengal Club - Air India
29-Dec-2010: Salgaocar SC - Pune FC
29-Dec-2010: JCT - Viva Kerala
30-Dec-2010: ONGC - Churchill Brothers SC
30-Dec-2010: AIFF XI - HAL, Bangalore
30-Dec-2010: Dempo SC - Chirag United SC
30-Dec-2010: Mohun Bagan AC - Mumbai FC

Round 7
03-Jan-2011: Air India - Pune FC
03-Jan-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Salgaocar SC
03-Jan-2011: Chirag United SC - JCT
03-Jan-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - AIFF XI
04-Jan-2011: Dempo SC - ONGC
04-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC - East Bengal Club
04-Jan-2011: Viva Kerala - Mohun Bagan AC

Round 8
08-Jan-2011: East Bengal Club - Pune FC
08-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC - Viva Kerala
08-Jan-2011: Salgaocar SC - Churchill Brothers SC
08-Jan-2011: Air India - Dempo SC
09-Jan-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - Chirag United SC
09-Jan-2011: JCT - ONGC
09-Jan-2011: Air India - HAL, Bangalore

Round 9
14-Jan-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - HAL, Bangalore
14-Jan-2011: Chirag United SC - East Bengal Club
14-Jan-2011: ONGC - Viva Kerala
15-Jan-2011: Salgaocar SC - Mohun Bagan AC
15-Jan-2011: AIFF XI - Mumbai FC
15-Jan-2011: JCT - Air India
16-Jan-2011: Dempo SC - Pune FC

Round 10
18-Jan-2011: Viva Kerala - East Bengal Club
18-Jan-2011: ONGC - Mohun Bagan AC
18-Jan-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - Air India
18-Jan-2011: Chirag United SC - Mumbai FC
19-Jan-2011: Pune FC - HAL, Bangalore
19-Jan-2011: Dempo SC - Salgaocar SC
19-Jan-2011: AIFF XI - JCT

Round 11
22-Jan-2011: East Bengal Club - HAL, Bangalore
22-Jan-2011: Viva Kerala - Chirag United SC
22-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC - ONGC
22-Jan-2011: Pune FC - Churchill Brothers SC
23-Jan-2011: Air India - Dempo SC
23-Jan-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - AIFF XI
23-Jan-2011: Salgaocar SC - JCT

Round 12
29-Jan-2011: East Bengal Club - Churchill Brothers SC
29-Jan-2011: Viva Kerala - AIFF XI
29-Jan-2011: Pune FC - JCT
29-Jan-2011: Air India - Mohun Bagan AC
30-Jan-2011: Chirag United SC - ONGC
30-Jan-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Dempo SC
30-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC - Salgaocar SC

Round 13
03-Feb-2011: Air India - Salgaocar SC
03-Feb-2011: Viva Kerala - Dempo SC
05-Feb-2011: Pune FC - AIFF XI
05-Feb-2011: Chirag United SC - Churchill Brothers SC
05-Feb-2011: Mumbai FC - JCT
06-Feb-2011: HAL, Bangalore - ONGC
06-Feb-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - East Bengal Club

Round 14
12-Feb-2011: Dempo SC - Churchill Brothers SC
12-Feb-2011: ONGC - East Bengal Club
12-Feb-2011: AIFF XI - Chirag United SC
12-Feb-2011: HAL, Bangalore - JCT
13-Feb-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - Pune FC
13-Feb-2011: Salgaocar SC - Viva Kerala
13-Feb-2011: Air India - Mumbai FC

Round 15
19-Feb-2011: East Bengal Club - Dempo SC
19-Feb-2011: Pune FC - Mumbai FC
19-Feb-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - JCT
20-Feb-2011: Chirag United SC - Salgaocar SC
20-Feb-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Mohun Bagan AC
20-Feb-2011: Viva Kerala - Air India
20-Feb-2011: ONGC - AIFF XI

Round 16
26-Feb-2011: AIFF XI - East Bengal Club
26-Feb-2011: Air India - Chirag United SC
26-Feb-2011: Pune FC - Viva Kerala
26-Feb-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - Churchill Brothers
27-Feb-2011: JCT - Dempo SC
27-Feb-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Mumbai FC
27-Feb-2011: Salgaocar SC - ONGC

Round 17
04-Mar-2011: East Bengal Club - Mumbai FC
04-Mar-2011: Pune FC - Air India
04-Mar-2011: Salgaocar SC - HAL, Bangalore
04-Mar-2011: AIFF XI - Churchill Brothers SC
04-Mar-2011: JCT - Chirag United SC
05-Mar-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - Viva Kerala
05-Mar-2011: ONGC - Dempo SC

Round 18
08-Mar-2011: East Bengal Club - JCT
08-Mar-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Viva Kerala
08-Mar-2011: AIFF XI - Salgaocar SC
08-Mar-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - Mumbai FC
09-Mar-2011: Dempo SC - Mohun Bagan AC
09-Mar-2011: ONGC - Air India
09-Mar-2011: Chirag United SC - Pune FC

Round 19
12-Mar-2011: Mumbai FC - Dempo SC
13-Mar-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - JCT
13-Mar-2011: Pune FC - ONGC
13-Mar-2011: Air India - AIFF XI
13-Mar-2011: Salgaocar SC - East Bengal
13-Mar-2011: Viva Kerala - Churchill Brothers SC
13-Mar-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Chirag United SC

Round 20
02-Apr-2011: Air India - East Bengal Club
02-Apr-2011: HAL, Bangalore - AIFF XI
02-Apr-2011: Pune FC - Salgaocar SC
02-Apr-2011: Viva Kerala - JCT
03-Apr-2011: Mumbai FC - Mohun Bagan AC
03-Apr-2011: Chirag United SC - Dempo SC
03-Apr-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - ONGC

Round 21
09-Apr-2011: ONGC - HAL, Bangalore
09-Apr-2011: Dempo SC - Viva Kerala
09-Apr-2011: JCT - Mumbai FC
09-Apr-2011: East Bengal Club - Mohun Bagan AC
10-Apr-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - Chirag United SC
10-Apr-2011: AIFF XI - Pune FC
10-Apr-2011: Salgaocar SC - Air India

Round 22
15-Apr-2011: Dempo SC - AIFF XI
16-Apr-2011: Pune FC - East Bengal Club
16-Apr-2011: Viva Kerala - Mumbai FC
16-Apr-2011: Chirag United SC - Mohun Bagan AC
17-Apr-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - Salgaocar SC
17-Apr-2011: ONGC - JCT
17-Apr-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Air India

Round 23
22-Apr-2011: East Bengal Club - Viva Kerala
23-Apr-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Pune FC
23-Apr-2011: Air India - Churchill Brothers SC
24-Apr-2011: JCT - AIFF XI
24-Apr-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - ONGC
24-Apr-2011: Salgaocar SC - Dempo SC
25-Apr-2011: Mumbai FC - Chirag United SC

Round 24
29-Apr-2011: Salgaocar SC - Mumbai FC
29-Apr-2011: ONGC - Chirag United SC
30-Apr-2011: Churchill Brothers SC - East Bengal Club
30-Apr-2011: AIFF XI - Viva Kerala
01-May-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - AIFF XI
01-May-2011: JCT - Pune FC
01-May-2011: Dempo SC - HAL, Bangalore

Round 25
07-May-2011: East Bengal Club - Chirag United
07-May-2011: Mumbai FC - AIFF XI
07-May-2011: Viva Kerala - ONGC
08-May-2011: Pune FC - Dempo SC
08-May-2011: HAL, Bangalore - Churchill Brothers SC
08-May-2011: Air India - JCT
08-May-2011: Mohun Bagan AC - Salgaocar SC

Round 26
to be finalised later...

Senin, 22 November 2010

FCB Allstars: The Kolkata trip's day one

The FC Bayern Munich Allstars spend about 50 hours in Kolkata last week and we had a jam packed schedule and program. It was a memorable trip, the fourth trip by a team from FCB to Kolkata in the last five years.

We had an interesting first day with the FC Bayern Munich Allstars in the "City of Joy". We flew in about 20 minutes late arriving around 1.15 am on Tuesday morning at Dum Dum airport and a committee had gathered to welcome us with garlands and shawls, while a bus in Bayern colours was waiting to take us to our team hotel, the ITC Sonar. It was around 2.30 am by when we all had gone into our rooms, some to directly sleep, others freshened-up for a late drink, while some like me got onto the web to check mails.

We had an early breakfast and internally discussed the press conference, which was moved from indoors to outdoor due to bad light in the area where the press conference was supposed to be held. And this meant we would have to sit in the glaring sun and then it was also delayed by 30 minutes. The press conference saw Paul Breitner, Andreas Brehme, Paulo Sergio, Martin Haegele and myself from FCB sitting at the table besides the local organisers plus East Bengal secretary Kalyan Majumdar and former international Surajit Sengupta. More then 100 journalists attended with over 20 cameras pointed at us. It took us close to an hour, but thereafter started the one-on-one interview marathon and realising that Paul Breitner was the man capable of speaking English, Paul was the man everyone in Kolkata wanted a one-on-one interview. And a big credit to Paule who gave everyone an interview with the session lasting over 90 minutes.

A quick, non-existent lunch and we where off to Alipur to Bodyguard Lines, the home of Kolkata Police for the finale of the Friendship Cup. In May 2008 FCB had opened the tournament, this time around we were there for the closing ceremony but as we left late for Alipur and had to be on time for the next appointment our stay was really short. There I met P.K. Banerjee, who isn't the best of health, and it was sad to see him in such a bad state.

Next stop the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club for a kids clinic, something which we had done in 2008 to scout for six kids, who would come to Munich. This time 96 kids took part and in over two hours the FC Bayern Allstar players scouted for the six best players, who would have the chance to come to Munich for a two week training camp. The Allstars took their job of scouting so seriously that a final was organised for the best 12 kids, so the six best could be chosen. After the clinic at CCFC it was back to base to our hotel.

A short break once more, a quick freshen-up and we were ready for the official dinner. It was supposed to be attended by important people of all walks of life from Kolkata, but that wasn't to be and it was mainly footballers from both teams and the media enjoying an evening with food and drinks. I had the task of introducing the FCB Allstars to the gathering and did it in a rather informal manner, while the boys had fun on stage. It ended early for many, some stayed at the open air round tables while some did go to a private lounge party. This was day one of our Kolkata trip.

More to come from day two...

Blackburn Rovers to be Indianized?

Venky's (Venkateshwara Hatcheries Group) owned by the Rao family are now the new owners of English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers Football Club. The Rovers are now controlled by the Venky's London Limited, a company created to run and manage the affairs of the club. And the first takeover by an Indian business group has sparked widespread speculations what they could do with the club and such speculation has been aided by statements made by the Rao family members.

Some in Lancashire fear that Blackburn Rovers could be Indianized just like British cuisine has changed from Fish&Chips to Chicken Tikka Masala over the years. And it is a given that from now on some Indian aspects will play a role in the future of Blackburn Rovers, but the new owners of the club will also have to keep local sentiments in mind while trying out new ideas.

One of the first thoughts are about the renaming of the club's historic Ewood Park ground which had been opened in 1882, the second oldest ground of a Premier League team. The Rao's have cited 'The Emirates' Stadium of Arsenal as an example on how to maximise revenue from a ground. Ewood Park could be renamed Venky's Stadium or could adopt the name of another sponsor.

Then there are the possible links with India and there are numerous levels and ways to think about. The first one which comes to mind is an India tour in post- or pre-season to bring the Premiership feeling live to India. Then there is the exchange of expertise with youth coaches and instructors from Blackburn Rovers visiting India or coaches from India coming to Blackburn Rovers to learn the latest training methods. Then there is the chance of young, talented Indian footballers training at the Blackburn Rovers Academy.

And in the end there would be an Indian player playing for the Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League. But that day is surely still sometime away. The Rao's have meanwhile said in the media that they could approach Baichung Bhutia to sign for the Rovers, but that is very unlikely to happen. And honestly there is no player of Premier League quality at the moment in India.

Surely these are exiting times at Blackburn Rovers. And it will be closely followed in India...

Haryana to get Centre of Excellence for Soccer

Football in Haryana will get a major boost with a Centre of Excellence for Soccer (CoES) set to be build in the state. Partners in the project will be the Haryana Football Association (HFA), the Dutch Haryana Foundation (DHF) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI); who signed a Memorandum of Understanding for strategic cooperation at FICCI House in New Delhi on Friday. Besides the development of the CoES the partners will also try to develop, operate and manage football centres and infrastructures throughout the state.

In terms of the MoU, for the proposed Centre of Excellence, DHF will establish a consortium of Dutch sports organizations which have sports offering focused on a long term football development program, such as the Royal Dutch Football Association, the club ADO Den Haag, the Johan Cryuff Institute and others.

The MoU was signed by DHF president Oedith N. Jaharia; FICCI Secretary General Dr. Amit Mitra and Haryana FA president Deepender S. Hooda. The three parties to the MoU have agreed that the selection of probables will be done from various sources including the State Sports and Physical Aptitude Test (SPAT) program which consists a ready database of 46,000 athletes in various age groups across Haryana.

It is agreed between parties that a two weeks pilot program will be conducted to decide the further technical and infrastructural requirements of Haryana State to develop the said CoES plans. Thereafter, HFA and FICCI will invite the technical staff and youth players of ADO Den Hague to Haryana. During the two weeks the technical staff of ADO will make further analysis and give advice to the alliance.

FICCI will create awareness about the need of for increasing corporate participation in sports as sponsors at a more fundamental level that can bring about a critical difference in India's medal winning prospects. It will promote and market the concept of SPAT and PPP in sports development during its conferences/ events; coordinate with DHF and HFA to implement this concept; and facilitate greater interaction between industry and Government of Haryana to increase industrial participation in sports.

HFA will coordinate with the Haryana Government and on long term release provide stadium infrastructure required to operate the CoES, conduct all related surveys and collect all market information required for the project. It will also seek all necessary support from the State Government and make the project successful and will endeavor make CoES a Private Public Partnership model.

DHF will bring in all necessary knowledge required to impart world class training and coaching towards the operations of the project. The participants in the Dutch Sports Consortium as coordinated by DHF will under commercial conditions provide the project with expertise and technical know-how to create, plan, manage and operate the project. It will exclusively work with HFA and vice-versa in the field of football training & coaching and infrastructure management and development in the territory during the term of this MoU.

The discussions about such a partnership were started at the first-ever FICCI Sports Summit last year in New Delhi and followed up at this years event. Getting Dutch football expertise for Haryana would be something which should take their football forward.

Minggu, 21 November 2010

Tennis: Reunion of Indian Express!

There is great news for Indian tennis as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are going to be playing together again on the ATP Tour. This was announced today by Mahesh Bhupathi himself over his Twitter account. The message said, "So the Indian Express rolls again at the Aussie Open next year. Our first slam in 9 years..you heard it here first people..."

And fellow Davis Cupper Rohan Bopanna replied via Twitter, "Wow, that's huge news. Good luck boys."

An interesting way to announce and react to such big news for Indian sports. Paes and Bhupathi have been two of India's best tennis players and together the best in the business about a decade back, but a clash of egos and the duo would only play together in the Davis Cup, Olympics and Asian Games once in a while and still they would show their class together.

Now Paes, aged 37, and Bhupathi, aged 36; are back again and will play together in the 2011 Australian Open. To prepare for the Aussie Open they will also play two other ATP Tour tournaments and one of them could be the season opening Chennai Open, which would draw massive interest at home.

It seems with age the two have become wiser and have decided to play together again with the partner, who would be best for them. This year Paes played with Lukas Dlouhy of Czech Republic and Bhupathi with Max Mirnyi of Belarus. And the partnership is until the Australian Open, thereafter they will review the situation and if they can recreate the magic then could play together for the whole 2011 season.

Just to add a personal angle. Those of you who know me, know that I not only follow football but other sports as well like Formula 1 and Tennis. Actually I first started using the Internet when I joined university in late-1996 and one of the things I used to follow was tennis, especially a site from my friend R. Jayakrishnan and it was the time of the rise of the Indian Express tennis doubles team of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. And Jay's Indian tennis website was also a reason for me to start my own Indian football website, Jay surely was a source of support!

AFC to remain tough on Club Licencing

The AFC Ad-hoc Committee for Indian Professional Football held its third meeting at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur today to take stock and discuss where Indian football stands in its professionalisation of club football. The meeting was chaired by its chairman AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam with AIFF President Praful Patel, AFC Vice-President Manilal Fernando and FIFA's Director of Member Associations Thierry Regenass all attending besides other members.

AFC president bin Hamman said, "India has made good progress under the leadership of Mr. Patel and with the support of AIFF Executive Committee and clubs, I hope they will be a force to reckon with in the future."

Talking about the failure of a majority of Indian clubs to meet the AFC Club Licencing criteria of participation in the I-League, bin Hammam said, "The clubs need to understand what this criteria means and how it will serve them in the long run."

"I can't see the development of football in Asia without the active participation of India. I hope everyone will do their part in this endeavour and I believe that there is a way forward but we need to have a strong will to do it."

An AFC Special Mission Team visited India a few weeks ago and went to all 14 I-League clubs to assess their current status as per the AFC Club Licencing Criteria. The SMT submitted its report on the inspection visit and revealed issues related to competition, media, infrastructure, marketing, technical, legal, finance and audit in Indian football.

The results of the assessment of Indian clubs can be termed as a slap in the face of Indian club football. All clubs failed the tough I-League Club Licensing criteria, forget the even tougher AFC Club Licensing criteria; while only six clubs - Chirag United SC, Mumbai FC, Pune FC, Churchill Brothers SC, Dempo SC and JCT - could fulfill the watered down I-League criteria.


The AFC Ad-hoc Committee for Indian Professional Football approved the timeline for Indian clubs to fulfil the I-League criteria in the coming months. The clubs have been given a deadline of December 31, 2010, to fulfill the criteria and submit all the required documents to the AFC. An AFC SMT assessment will take place in January-February 2011 and a report will be submitted to the AFC Ad-hoc Committee for Indian Professional Football in its fourth meeting in March/April 2011. There a final decision on participants of the I-League 2011/12 will be taken.

Meanwhile FIFA's Director of Member Associations Thierry Regenass informed that the work on artificial turfs in Mumbai, Shillong, Imphal and Bangalore have either started or would start soon under FIFA's 'Win in India with India' project. He said locations for two turfs in Goa and one each in Kolkata and Pune have also been identified. He also revealed that apart from the eight artificial turfs, FIFA had also approved US$ 2.5 million, which will be used for football infrastructure development projects across India to strengthen football further.

KC Wizards become Sporting Kansas City

When Sunil Chhetri returns to his 'Major League Soccer' club in North America next year after the end of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup campaign with India he will be back at the same club, but under a new name. The Kansas City Wizards have renamed themselves to Sporting Kansas City this week to enter a new era for the club, which also coincides with the move to their new KC Soccer Stadium next summer.

But why would a club like the KC Wizards rename themselves to Sporting Kansas City? It is a trend seen across the MLS that as the football league grows across the US and Canada, the teams are becoming stronger entities and they are becoming more and more like European football clubs rather then being just North American sports franchises. Take e.g. Dallas Burn who renamed themselves to simply Dallas FC and they have grown their fanbase quite well over the last five years since changing their name.

Also in summer 2011 Sporting Kansas City will be moving into their brand new stadium which current has the tentative name of KC Soccer Stadium. The club owners OnGoal llc hope to sell the naming rights of the stadium to a sponsor on a long term contract. The stadium will have an initial capacity of 18,500 with the option of increasing capacity to 25,000 if the need arises and the venue will be another football only venue, which has become common practice in the MLS unlike in the past when MLS clubs used to play in huge American football stadiums with less then 10% attendence and no atmosphere.

As you can see from the above there is a strategy and long-term planning behind all decisions that such an MLS club takes. And as Sunil has said in numerous interviews, in Kansas City they have everything what players need to train and play football.


Follow the clubs new website under: www.sportingkc.com .

Sabtu, 20 November 2010

Me playing for FCB Allstars, A dream come true!

I still can't believe it, but on Wednesday night I did play at the Saltlake Stadium for the FC Bayern Munich Allstars against the East Bengal Allstars. It was a dream come true for me!

German giants Bayern Munich has been the club that I have supported since I was a small child and East Bengal is the club our family supports due to our roots. Their Allstar teams faced each other and I played in this game or rather was allowed to play a small part in the game. I simply couldn't have asked for more...

But how did it all come about? At lunch on Wednesday before the match I was speaking to the cameraman of FCB.tv and one of the players about the dream of having the chance to play for FC Bayern only once in my life. This was heard by FCB Allstar coach Wolfgang Dremmler and Wolfgang was quite happy the way I had integrated into the team and had professionally done my job. Wolfgang asked me to come over and asked me if I was serious with playing a few minutes and I said yes, I just wanted to play two minutes. Wolfgang said if the result and match performance allowed him to do so then I could come on. So I should be on the bench along with the others all dressed up and ready.

Honestly I was over the moon. I never ever thought that this day would come where I would play for FC Bayern Munich. And what was an even bigger highlight was the fact that I would play with World Cup winners and experienced professionals, some who had been heroes for me as a young kid back home in Germany.

Like the rest of the team I was there for the team meeting at 3 pm. And as Wolfgang Dremmler went through a number of things, tactics, etc he mentioned that I myself and Sven Bieler, the Adidas contact person who had come with the team from Germany, would both get a chance to sit on the bench and if the match allowed, we would come on. It was great to see that none of these experienced pros asked why the two of us were suddenly part of the playing squad, but welcomed us openly to the team.

The tension was rising as I got my playing kit and had to do my final work ahead of the teams departure to the Saltlake Stadium. The word had gotten out that I would play and I also told some friends around, so they wished me all the best. One could most probably see that I was over the moon...

I have travelled from hotels to the Saltlake Stadium on a team bus on a number of occasions, but never ever as a player so it was different on this day. I arrived with the team and entered the ground shaking many hands whom I have known now for many many years, but it was feeling somewhat different today...

We walked out onto the field to have a first look and feel of the artificial turf before we dressed up for the game. Realising that I don't have a training shirt and none available any more, I wore a training jacket and some did look surprised in seeing me on the field rather then besides it as I continued to shake many hands besides the field, amongst them Bijen Singh & Naoba Singh whom I have known for years and they me too, but never on the field. It was a great feeling.

We went back into the dressing room for a final team meeting and all got into the match jersey's before coming out again to line-up with the East Bengal Allstars. And this was the longest procedure of the day as both sides lined-up, everyone was introduced and important people had to speak, while we all only wanted to play football.

The match kicked-off, FCB Allstars showed their supremacy from the start and by halftime the Germans were leading 4-1, not really playing at full steam and gifting East Bengal a number of chances, but they only could score from one of them. I was on the bench and really as tense as it can get. I am normally quite cool, even in difficult situations but this was as big as my football career could get. At half time Wolfgang Dremmler came to me and said that he would bring me on for Paul Breitner, a legend in German football and a great guy, in the second session. Even more pressure for me...

After the break our German bench was getting bigger and bigger with our friends from Audi and the Lufthansa crew joining us, while for Sven and myself the time was coming closer and closer for us to come onto the pitch. Sven would come on first, then I was asked to get ready and finally I came on for Paul Breitner. Both Wolfgang and Paul simply said, enjoy yourself and don't worry about anything. My specs were off, but while concentrating on coming on I didn't realize that Bayern had just scored a goal so I sprinted into the East Bengal half only to walk back for the kickoff. A little unwanted comedy for my part.

I was told to play in the midfield in the centre of a 4-2-3-1 formation, but then as a left footer moved onto the left wing position before joining Carsten Lakies upfront as a striker. I was back in my usual position and I did get some contacts to the ball and in one situation I felt I deserved a penalty as the East Bengal keeper came out charging with his feet high as I intended to go for a header, but sadly no penalty was given. The match ended with a 10-3 win for the FCB Allstars, numerous East Bengal Allstars wanted to exchange jersey with me not knowing who I was, sadly as otherwise they would have known that I wanted to keep this prize possession to myself. But it wouldn't be as in the end I exchanged jersey's with Monojit Das and we went on to the prize distribution.

I changed in-between once more to be ready for my work thereafter and we went for the press conference with Paul Breitner and Martin Haegele. Paul as he had done over those two days answered all questions and we walked back to the dressing room and then came back an old reminder. A power failure at the Saltlake Stadium. We three were nearly in the dressing room, but also nearly banged out heads before seeing the large police contingent infront of our dressing room and after banging on the door were allowed in with the fcb.tv camera giving us all light. The lights came on again and we went back to the bus to get back to the hotel.

Some journalists did ask me how it was and I did give some small tv interviews, but that all didn't matter to me. I was still overawed by the occasion as every kept asking me, how was it. I only said great! A day which I will never forget, November 17, 2010 in Kolkata. A day to remember...

And I wanted to thank Wolfgang Dremmler and the whole team for such a memorable experience. It was great to be part of FCB Allstars and hopefully as I told them, I can be part of the team again in the future...


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