Second Coming: Of FIFA World Cup, the Southern Century and Modi’s football diplomacy
Posted on 2014-06-18 13:21:47
[Second Coming is a regular column during the 2014 football world cup dedicated to my late brother]
Brazil had prepared 22 gold medals with the names of the Brazilian players printed on them. FIFA chief, Jules Rimet, had prepared a speech in Portuguese to deliver after the final match. All Brazil needed was a draw to win the world cup. As if on cue, Brazil took the lead through a Fracia goal immediately after the half time which led to huge celebrations at the Maracana where a whopping 207000 people were in attendance on that day. The year was 1950 and it was the first world cup after the debilitating second world war; an occasion to celebrate the beautiful game in true Brazilian style. Then the unthinkable happened. Uruguay scored two straight goals and caused the greatest sporting upset of the last century. Gold medals were disposed off, Jules Rimet was left stranded in the middle of the pitch with no organizers to help him to even make official announcements, a million samba hearts were broken that night and many hundreds even committed suicide.
On this side of the Atlantic, an urban legend was taking birth. A newly independent India had the opportunity to participate in the football world cup of 1950, but the country refused to participate in the world’s most famous sporting event of that era, outside of the Olympics. Ever since that humiliating refusal, a myth has been built around the 1950 fracas – that the Indian football team refused to participate in the Brazilian world cup because FIFA did not allow them to play barefoot. Like everything else of Nehruvian vintage, this is nothing but pure bunkum!
No less than the captain of the Indian Football team of 1950, Shailen Manna, has repeatedly asserted that the Indian Football Association refused participation in that World Cup because it was considered as “wasteful travel expenditure” by the Indian government of that time! Such were Nehru’s private socialist priorities! But a fawning news media and a set of left leaning sport historians have built a barefooted myth around 1950 just to keep the Nehruvian era unblemished from such blunders. Thus for 65 inglorious years we have lived the socialist myth of “Nehru couldn’t be wrong”.
While Indian economy was being systematically destroyed in the name of socialism, Indian foreign policy was held prisoner to Nehru’s mad concoctions of Non Aligned Movement and Indian sports were systematically corroded through corrupt practices. It is indeed hard to imagine today that the Indian football team finished 4th in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. From being among the top 4 in the world to absolute irrelevance, India’s 6 decade long nightmare of Nehruvian socialism may finally be coming to an end.
While Brazil has since achieved its footballing comeuppance after that 1950 death knell, India is making a slow transition from those Nehru-nightmare years that began in 1950 after the death of Sardar Patel. 2014 is an inflection point were Brazil and India should meet once again at the altar of history. So, if the Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, a former Marxist turned capitalist, has invited the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to the final of the FIFA World Cup, then India should whole heartedly accept this invitation and seize upon this opportunity for some Football diplomacy. Narendra Bhai has already made a historic break from the politics of past by inviting SAARC nations for his swearing in ceremony, it is now time to give shape to a new global economic leadership through BRICS.
Alejandro Sabella, the Argentinian coach, made a tactical error in the first match of the world cup by playing a 5-3-2 formation that created unnecessary clutter in the defensive midfield of Argentina and throttled Messi in the attack. It takes great courage for a coach to accept his mistake and make the necessary changes promptly at the break after the first half. Sabella simply accepted his mistake and brought in Gago into the midfield by replacing Campagnaro in defence and changing Higuain for Rodriguez. Thus the Albiceleste were back to playing their best formation of 4-3-3. In the second half, Argentina was a changed team in attack. Messi, who loves playing just behind the two strikers, suddenly started to create ample space in the midfield and began those searing runs into the opposition half which eventually resulted in that beautiful second goal. Even Di Maria, who was almost missing for the whole of first half, began to connect brilliantly with Aguero. This is how much a tactical shift could achieve on a football ground.
The ability to understand one’s mistakes and inculcate changes, midway through, can transform the mundane into extra ordinary. For India to reject its past Nehruvian-nightmare and go on a different global path is the necessary corner stone to build a new world order. Lionel Messi was a heavily marked man in that game against Bosnia-Herzegovina, but when he finally decided to up the ante he was able to break away from his three markers and find space hitherto impossible to envisage, which produced a stunner of a goal. India, for long has been tied down by her markers in the form of Pakistan and China, Narendra Bhai needs to break out of that pattern and find new spaces in global diplomacy. This Brazilian visit will not just be about BRICS, in fact, it can go much beyond that. Northern Hemisphere has for long controlled the destiny of the world, but now there is a clear shift in the geopolitics of the new world. India is in a great position to provide leadership to the southern hemisphere by building a great partnership with Latin America and Africa that can possibly create the biggest economic block of the 21st century.
After the first set of group matches when we witnessed some of the most attacking football in recent world cup history, Germany, Netherlands and France look to be the most formidable teams of the tournament. All three European powers, mind you. Does this mean that Europe shall dominate Soccer for a third successive world cup, leaving behind South America? History is against such an event-horizon though, for if we take the examples of all the post-modern world Cups since the 1980s as a template, then we find that those teams which make a slow start end up winning the world cups. Yes, every champion since 1982 has been a slow starter. Thus Germany and Holland are in great danger of peaking too early.
This “peaking too early” is an important philosophy of the world cup. For instance, while Germany made a whopping start to its world cup by beating Australia 4-0 in 2010, Spain opened its campaign with a 0-1 loss to Switzerland. What happened ultimately is that Spain went on to slowly build its campaign and win the World Cup, whereas Germany fizzled out after thrashing Argentina in Quarter Finals. A great contrast of this philosophy of “peaking at the right time” can be found in two of the greatest team goals in the history of the world cup.
In 1970, when arguably the greatest ever football team of Pele-Jazhino-Zagalo vintage played in Mexico, they kept on improving with each passing game and with literally each passing goal. In the final against the defensive superpower of world football, Italy, Brazil scored a 4-1 victory. That was a game considered to be the best that Brazil has ever played. In fact, the last and the 4th goal of that day is widely believed to be the greatest team goal ever when Jazhino, Pele, Carlos Alberto all combined together to complete more than half-a-dozen beautiful passes and some great dribbling to produce a wondergoal. Some 36 years later, Argentina, the other Latin American rival of Brazil, produced another such wonder goal when they completed a whopping 26 perfect passes before Cambiasso netted the goal against Serbia. While the first goal came as the last bit of action in the 1970 world cup which gave Brazil the ultimate victory, the second one from Argentina came in the group stages and the Albiceleste couldn’t even go beyond the quarterfinals. This is how much peaking at the right time with the right opportunity matters.
Today, USA and China might be on top of their game in the global order, but the fact is that they are already peaking and India still has huge upside potential that can last for many decades. India, with its sheer scale can surpass all of Northern Hemisphere in just two decades with the right leadership. Narendra Bhai is possibly the only leader who recognizes this true potential of the Indian century, which is the reason why he has been stressing on the fact that India is a truly young country while the whole world is beginning to get old. It is at this wonderfully opportunistic junction of history, when 60% of Indians are below the age of 35, that we as a nation have chosen to elect a prime minister who can potentially take us to a new golden age of global superpowerdom. Such a young nation also needs great sporting heroes and Modi has to rebuild an India with immaculate sporting prowess. Our socialist conditioning is so deeply entrenched that many even among the Indian Right believe that sport is a luxury which needs to be touched upon only after poverty alleviation. Maybe, our new Prime Minister will lay the foundation for a second coming in Rio de Janeiro on the 13th of July.