JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 27: Diego Maradona head coach of Argentina gestures to Lionel Messi of Argentina during to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Round of Sixteen match between Argentina and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium on June 27, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
In the history of the world, movements that have sprung from a common socio-political cause have a tendency to build a bond among its supporters. A bond so strong that sometimes it becomes too large to control. Football has that effect on many Indians.
Tonight, thousands of miles from the hallowed grounds of Camp Nou, a lone figure stands as the representative of F.C Barcelona and Argentina. Like everything else, we have an inclination towards tradition and in our minds; Argentina and Brasil are and will always be the favourties.
The language of football, as far as my dad (and many from his generation) is concerned only consists of eight letters- M-A-R-A-D-O-N-A. Diego was welcomed to India, a few years ago, in a manner that was reserved to very few people in our history, namely:
- 1) The Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi
- 2) Sachin Tendulkar (He’s the Pele and Maradona of Cricket and we do not take kindly to people who think otherwise).
Unlike most sports fanatics, Indians worship their heroes to the point of obsession. We build temples in their honour, literally. When given the chance, we show them the full extent of our adulation with the use of garlands and the Tilak (a traditional mark on the forehead used by Hindus). Suffice it to say, we treat our heroes as demi-gods and anything to do with said person is a matter of life and death.
I believe my father, although he will never admit it, stopped watching the beautiful game when Maradona retired. It was an end of an era that could never be repeated. Diego was the epitome of football and could never be surpassed.
History, however, has a funny way of repeating itself don’t you think? A couple of months before the 2010 World Cup when the fever set in, Argentina’s tribulations became mine. During one of my hysterical rants against Maradona (for not selecting Riquelme), I made the mistake of telling anybody who would care to listen that Diego would be surpassed.
In Lionel Messi, the world found its, heir. In the media-shy and introvert Argentine, India found a player worthy of the love which until now was restricted to only Diego Maradona. But La Pulga will be more than just a hero to us. Messi, unlike Maradona and Pele, will grace India at the peak of his powers. Football being in its nascent stages in India will get a huge popularity boost just because of him. The fact that the Argentinian team is with him is great but is to us, the icing on the cake.
Stars like Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Mascherano, although respected don’t sell tickets, atleast not in India. Due to some bad marketing and planning, out of a total of 120000 tickets only 80000 have been sold. Yes, Salt Lake stadium with its newly renovated avatar is capable of holding 120000 fans which is more than most stadiums world-wide, even Camp Nou. I assume that the majority of those 80000 fans will be there to watch only Messi.
That the man is Argentine, left-footed and so similar to his idol in playing style will only make it easier for us Indians to prolong that argument that will, henceforth, be everlasting between my generation and my father’s: "Has it finally happened? Has Diego Maradona been surpassed?
Like many Indians, I believe it is true. Seventy five percent of our population is under the age of 30 and that makes my generation the majority. After the World Cup finals in the summer of 2010, my dad called me and had this to say "You were right, Messi is the heir to Maradona and in many ways better than him (hinting at the eccentricities that Diego was (in)famous for)". Since then my dad has started watching football again.
After tonight, I believe football will be reborn in my country. Thanks to one man, Lionel Messi. He will make my country believe once again (about friggin time, if you ask me).
By the way, Argentina 1 – 0 Venezuela.
Now let us pray, "Dear God, I hope Lionel Messi visits India again. Amen"
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